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The most powerful black man in fashion

INFLUENCE: Edward Enninful is one of the most influential men in the fashion world, overcoming a lack of diversity in the sector

ONE OF Edward Enninful’s earliest childhood memories is rushing into his home from a game of football to sit with his mother, a Ghanaian-born seamstress, and sew colourful garments for her friends.

Football was his father’s hope, but sewing with his mother was his love.

“My father always wanted me to go out and play football and I hated it,” Enninful recalls. “I would run back into my mum. She was my life and we were so close, I didn’t want to spend a minute away from her.”

On Thursday, October 27, the hours spent by his mother’s side as a young boy were recognised at Buckingham Palace when Princess Anne awarded the revered British stylist an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to diversity in fashion.

Enninful is one of the most sought-after stylists in the industry and has shaped numerous advertising campaigns and runway shows for brands including Gucci, Christian Dior and Calvin Klein.

He has spent years at the helm of fashion and has earned a roll call of achievements.

At 18, he became fashion director at i-D magazine, the youngest person to ever hold that position at an international publication.

He has also held top positions at both Italian Vogue – where he worked on the infamous “Black Issue” in 2008 – and American Vogue, while his 2011 takeover as creative and fashion director of W Magazine, a position he still holds, saw the title, which had been affected by the recession, spike in advert pages.


However, despite travelling across the world and listing highlights, which include “being able to work for Italian Vogue in my early twenties, going to work for American Vogue when Anna [Wintour] called me in my thirties and becoming the fashion director at W Magazine,” Enninful says nothing compares to the moment he collected his OBE.

“It was such a great moment for me and my family,” he recalls. “It was like being in a fairy tale, to be honest.”

And his father, who had hoped Enninful would become a lawyer, was right by his side when his son was bestowed with the “highest honour” he’s ever received.

“When I started in fashion, my dad didn’t know about the world of media and magazines. To him, it felt like I was taking a step into dangerous territory. He still doesn’t know what I do, but on October 27, he understood that I did something,” he laughs.

Also by his side on the special day was friend and collaborator Naomi Campbell, who he affectionately calls his “sister”.

“We talk every day and know each other’s lives inside out,” he says of his relationship with the catwalk star.

“She’s there for me and I’m there for her. We’re very close and always have been. It’s so funny that our careers have come to a certain level, but we are the same now as we were in 1993. It’s one of the most important relationships in my life.”

In 1988, Campbell became the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue after her friend and mentor, designer Yves St Laurent, threatened to withdraw his advertising from the magazine if it continued to refuse to place black models on its cover.

The following year she appeared on the cover of American Vogue, which marked the first time a black model graced the front of the September issue, traditionally the year’s biggest and most important issue.


In a recent interview, she said she would not stop talking about diversity in the fashion industry “until it improves”.

Enninful believes it is because of people like Campbell that the industry has become more inclusive.

“I feel like it’s become more inclusive over the past few years as people have become more vocal about it,” he says.

“Before, people thought one black model in a show was okay, but for me, it was never about that one token model, it was about ‘how do we get this industry to move forward as a whole?’ Working behind the scenes is what I always set out to do and that was as important as what is happening out there. Now, diversity is the topic in the world and I feel like the conversation is open now.”

Enninful was born in Ghana, but at a very young age, moved to West London with his family and has worked in the British fashion industry from the age of 16 when he began a modelling career after being spotted on the train by leading stylist Simon Foxton.

As a black man in a predominantly white industry, though, Enninful understands his career has been “luckier than most”, and embraces the fact that it is one that comes with responsibilities.

“How many people, black or white, were given a magazine to run at the age of 18? Not many. So I understand I have been very lucky, but what I realised is with that came responsibility. Whenever I came up against obstacles, I would work even harder to overcome them. Maybe it comes from my dad. I think fighting is part of the nature of being an editor and being someone who wants to say something to the world.”


His role, he says, also provides a platform to showcase his African roots.

“I guess my Ghanaian influences come from my love of colour. There’s certain ways I put colour together and people will be like, ‘I never would’ve done that’, but when you look at kente cloth from Ghana, it’s all those colours together; oranges mixed with greens.

"Also certain shapes that I love, like the small waist and big shoulder. Little details. It won’t be obvious, but it’s there. And there’s the way my mum and her friends used to dress in the Seventies, with the cute midi and maxi dresses.”


The mainstream has also embraced African-inspired fabric and fashion on both the catwalks and high street, which is something Enninful is accepting of – within reason.

“I think it’s great that the wider world accepts it, so long as they know where it comes from, so it doesn’t just become a fashion article. If it is used in a frivolous way without any thought then it’s not great.”

He also welcomes music stars making the move into fashion if it “makes the ‘regular Joe’ want to learn more about the industry”.

ROLE MODEL: Edward Enninful receiving his OBE with friend Naomi Campbell

“Everyone knows I love Rihanna and Kanye. I feel like the times we live in, celebrities have so much power. They reach so many people and, for me, if they can bring fashion to the normal person, like we’ve been trying to do for years, then it’s great.”

And inspiring a generation is what Enninful considers his life’s work.
“I would like my legacy to be that I did great work and I had fun doing it. If it inspires at least one person, my job has been done.”

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