If anyone has what it takes to knock legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour off her gilded perch, it is Edward Enninful.
That at least was what they used to say; what many in the fashion industry concluded when, after being appointed editor of British Vogue, Enninful outlined his vision for the world’s most glamorous magazine.
Change from inside was his credo, diversity and inclusion his watchwords. Enninful, 51, made woke an art form.
During his five-year reign, the magazine featured a transgender model for the first time and Oscar-nominated actor Timothée Chalamet was the first man on the cover. Last month’s cover featured five disabled stars and was also released as a Braille edition.
Wokeness, however, is not a quality commonly ascribed to 73-year-old Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue and grande dame of fashion – and the woman said to have inspired Meryl Streep’s fearsome editor in hit film The Devil Wears Prada.
If anyone has what it takes to knock legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour (right) off her gilded perch, it is Edward Enninful (left)
That at least was what they used to say; what many in the fashion industry concluded when, after being appointed editor of British Vogue, Enninful outlined his vision for the world’s most glamorous magazine (pictured: Enninful with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex)
Yet she closely eyed her supposed protege’s mini-revolution and, while not approving of all his innovations, incorporated some into her magazine. Times were changing, after all.
Some said this was merely manoeuvring, a knee-jerk reaction by a consummate player of cultural politics to safeguard her legacy.
Whatever concessions she made, surely it was only a matter of time before she was forced to make way for the young pretender?
While publicly coy about his future, Enninful has made little secret of his ambition to succeed Wintour. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that he threatened resignation unless given Wintour’s job by the end of last year. That, of course, never came to pass.
So Enninful’s announcement that he is moving to another role within publisher Condé Nast seemed to signal that he had thrown in the towel, ‘Make no mistake, this was a power struggle,’ said one insider.
Make no mistake, this was a power struggle… and he lost
‘Edward pitched his new vision against old Vogue – and lost. Succession [the hit TV drama about a toxic media family] has got nothing on this.’
There are reports of blazing rows between the pair with one source saying that simmering rancour boiled over when Enninful planned to make the magazine gender neutral.
‘This was too much,’ said the insider. Another Vogue source added: ‘There would be differences of opinion. Wintour would say, ‘Don’t listen to Edward’ and he would say ‘Don’t listen to Anna’.’
Known as ‘Nuclear Wintour’ and famous for her sleek bob and dark sunglasses, she has a reputation for being the demanding titan of the industry.
Vogue insiders called Enninful the only ‘real threat’ to her power. Insiders whispered that the pair ‘don’t talk’, with a source five years ago saying: ‘I don’t think she ever felt he was qualified for that role.’
DIVERSE: A Vogue edited by Meghan Markle, far left, a cover featuring black activists for an edition that was produced mainly by a black team
As far back as 2018, there had been speculation that Enninful’s position at British Vogue was only temporary and that he would take over from Wintour when she retires.
But he said in an interview: ‘Everybody wants to know what I’m doing, but I would like to tell you that I don’t want Anna’s job. I’ve spoken to her about it a few weeks ago.’
Couched in dry business speak, Friday’s announcement revealed that he is moving into ‘the newly appointed position of editorial adviser of British Vogue and global creative and cultural adviser of Vogue’.
It betrayed nothing of the alleged behind-the-scenes turbulence. Enninful spoke of optimising ‘my increased global responsibilities’ and how he ‘can play a broader role in enhancing Vogue globally’.
There was one clue as to his motives in his mention of now ‘having the freedom to take on broader creative projects’.
For many months, Enninful has been frustrated at having to turn down lucrative consultancy projects because of a potential conflict of interest. Relinquishing the editor’s chair means he is free of such constraints.
I learned you don’t need perfect vision to create
A source said: ‘He was talking months ago about going into business with his husband Alec, a filmmaker, who makes an absolute fortune.
Edward has been very frustrated for a very long time about being offered so many opportunities to do creative consultancy and production but having to turn them down.
‘As a business partnership, they could do creative work for brands and make millions.’
Other sources said he still desires a tilt at the top job and might be in the frame should Wintour (now said to be dating actor Bill Nighy) quit, though she has expressed no intention to retire.
‘But this new move is far from being a promotion,’ said an insider. ‘He would have had a better chance of taking over had he remained in place. His power base has been reduced.’
Vogue’s publisher Conde Nast has strongly denied the rift claims in the past. A spokesman for Wintour also denied the rumours at the time, saying that Anna was ‘very proud’ of Enninful and ‘loves having him as a colleague’.
As a consultant, Ghanaian-born Enninful would be much in demand.
As a stylist he had a reputation for making beautiful – and sometimes controversial – images. Jonathan Newhouse, the chief executive of Condé Nast International, once described Enninful’s work at Italian Vogue as attaining ‘landmark status in recent cultural history’.
He has worked with A-listers (Cara Delevingne and Emma Watson) but also championed diversity of models and celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Ruth Negga and Jourdan Dunn.
Not all his woke adjustments met approval from younger readers. He faced a backlash for darkening models’ skin tones on the February 2022 cover, which was meant to celebrate African beauty.
One Twitter user noted: ‘The framing, the deliberate darkening in post-production, the dead expressions and the absence of joy saying so much about how white fashion institutions view black women…We’re in 2022 and Vogue still can’t properly light black women.’
He has worked with A-listers (Cara Delevingne and Emma Watson) but also championed diversity of models and celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Ruth Negga and Jourdan Dunn (pictured: Enninful with (left to right) Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Adut Akech)
In 2016 he was appointed an OBE for services to diversity in fashion. Naomi Campbell – who, along with Kate Moss, he’s been best friends with since they were teenagers – accompanied him to Buckingham Palace to collect his honour.
‘We connect on so many levels,’ she said. ‘When I first met him, it was just like meeting family.’
That evening, Enninful hosted a party at Mark Birley’s private members’ club in Mayfair, where the cream of fashion celebrated with him – including Kate Moss, Madonna and Erin O’Connor.
In an editor’s chair or not, few doubt that he will remain at the epicentre of the fashion world. And his A-lister friends including Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs, Iman and Rihanna will likely be useful as he forges a new role.
Although his mother was a seamstress, he had little knowledge of the fashion world until he was on the Tube one day and was scouted by stylist Simon Foxton, who worked for cult magazines i-D and Arena.
Enninful said: ‘I was sheltered growing up, with six brothers and sisters. We played together all the time and I was living in a fantasy world, like most creative people. My mother was a seamstress so I always grew up with her making clothes.
‘I knew how to construct outfits, I knew how to sketch, I knew how to customise. But I could never imagine it as a career.’
I would like to tell you I don’t want Anna’s job
He has had poor vision for much of his life and has said losing his sight is his biggest fear. He has had four operations for problems including a detached retina.
‘I always had my minus 10 glasses and I had four retinal detachments [needing] surgery each time.’ he said. ‘Then three weeks looking at the ground in a dark room and not lifting up your head. And yes, it was very psychologically intense.
‘But what I’ve also learned is… you don’t need perfect vision to create. You don’t need 20/20 vision to see images. So that’s the irony of it: though I have bad eyesight, I’m still able to create images that people seem to resonate with.’
He also has the blood condition thalassaemia, causing regular bouts of severe pain and for which he had several transfusions before coming to Britain from Ghana at age 13.
He landed his first taste of fashion as aide to photographer Nick Knight. He then began working for Foxton, and a job at i-D followed. At 18, he abandoned an art degree to become fashion director at the title, a position he retained for 20 years.
He became a contributing fashion editor for American Vogue in 2006 before moving on to Condé Nast’s W magazine in 2011 and finally British Vogue in 2017.
But his glorious run pales in comparison to that of Wintour, who has been editor since 1988. ‘Who knows how many more years she will be in charge?’ said an insider. ‘One thing is for sure – unlike Edward, she’s not moving any time soon.’
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