On the Runway: Edward Enninful as British Vogue Editor: A Barrier-Breaking Choice

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On the Runway: Edward Enninful as British Vogue Editor: A Barrier-Breaking Choice

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

He had been rumored to be a contender from the beginning, but most people didn’t believe it would ever happen. Not because Edward Enninful, the renowned image-maker, friend of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, isn’t supremely talented, but because he is a black man, born in Ghana, raised in London and working in New York.

To give Mr. Enninful the reins of one of the most storied woman’s fashion magazines would be to make a statement about diversity and gender that would resonate far beyond hemlines, upending decades of tradition and assumptions about men’s and women’s roles and reaffirming the importance of a global viewpoint for the fashion industry at a time when barriers are going up around the world.

But on Monday, Jonathan Newhouse, the chief executive of Condé Nast International, did just that, naming Mr. Enninful the first male editor of British Vogue since its founding in 1916, and the first black editor of any edition of Vogue.

Though Mr. Newhouse, contacted by email, was reluctant to engage in discussion of paradigm-shifting, other magazine insiders — and many on social media — were not. Twitter lit up with the news, and “British Vogue” became a trending topic.

Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor of American Vogue, where Mr. Enninful is a former contributor, said: “It is a brilliant choice, and I am thrilled for him. Edward will undoubtedly shake things up in a way that will be so exciting to watch.”

Stefano Tonchi, the editor of W (and one of the few men atop a women’s fashion magazine), who hired Mr. Enninful as creative and fashion director in 2011, said, “It’s a really historic moment.”

Of the 22 global editions of Vogue, three others are edited by men: Kullawit Laosuksri at Vogue Thailand, Kwang Ho Shin at Korean Vogue and Emanuele Farneti at Italian Vogue. The two editors of Italian and British Vogue, which along with American Vogue are arguably the most influential of the Vogues, were appointed this year. Mr. Enninful and Mr. Farneti were picked to replace two of the highest-profile, longest-serving female editors of any Vogue: Franca Sozzani at Italian Vogue and Alexandra Shulman at British Vogue.

In email, Mr. Newhouse offered only the innocuous-seeming “we try to appoint the best person for the job.” Yet given that up to now conventional wisdom had it that the best person to run a women’s fashion magazine of the stature of British Vogue was, well, a woman — someone who could wear the clothes, model the clothes and understand what her readers want from their clothes, both in terms of everyday functionality and personal identity — it is not an insignificant line.

As gender boundaries blur and the old distinctions between men’s wear and woman’s wear (not to mention men’s and women’s pronouns) disappear, perhaps, too, should the old assumptions about men’s and women’s magazines.

Increasingly, fashion brands, including Burberry, Calvin Klein and Gucci, are beginning to combine their men’s and women’s shows in recognition of this new reality. Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, has explained it this way: Both collections are part of the same story and reflect the same point of view, so why should they be separate?

Louis Vuitton used Jaden Smith to model its women’s collection last year, and Chanel has signed Pharrell Williams for its new handbag campaign. Men and women increasingly occupy the same space in real life; fashion is simply representing that truth.

And now, too, are fashion publications.

“Fashion is always among the first industries to recognize a new reality,” Mr. Tonchi said. “Maybe it’s an old notion that there are magazines for women and magazines for men, and it is time to just have magazines for people interested in fashion and creativity, whatever their gender.

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“It is true: I don’t look at women’s collections and think, ‘Oh, I want to wear that,’ or ‘Will it fit me?’ But I do think about the concept behind the clothes and the culture of the clothes.”

As ceiling smashing as Mr. Enninful’s gender is, however, so is his race. Fashion is a notoriously undiverse industry for one that is supposed to cater to a diverse clientele, and though the industry goes through regular paroxysms of mea culpas, most often in terms of the absence of minority models on the runways, the power structure itself rarely seems to change.

Nearly all of the design heads of major brands are white, as are the chief executives, so the fact that a black man will be in such a visible position is an important step — especially as Britain prepares to withdraw from the European Union and prejudice and cultural isolationism become more prevalent. Mr. Enninful’s background and experience of the world are bound to inform the sensibility of the magazine he will make.

As Ms. Wintour said: “He’s fearless. At a time when values are being challenged, Edward always stands up for what he believes in. You can see that clearly in the recent ‘I Am an Immigrant’ and ‘I Am a Woman’ videos he made for W. Each was so perfectly timed and hit the mark.”

Mr. Enninful himself is aware of what his new role means, on many levels.

“I believe we live in a world of possibility, and my appointment is a testament to this,” he wrote in an email. “The world is ever-changing, as are traditional roles of male and female. The outpouring of support from people of all backgrounds has been humbling.”

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