British Vogue Editor Edward Enninful on Diversity in Fashion: 'We're Doing Better Than We've Ever Done'

Edward Enninful and Naomi Campbell - Getty - H 2017
Getty Images

Colorful covers have led to great sales, but he warns: "We have to make sure that it’s not something that is spoken about as a trend.”

It was the cover that shocked the fashion world — or rocked, depending on whom you ask. But when British Vogue’s first black editor-in-chief fronted the fashion bible with nine women of color in May, it certainly caused a stir.

“That’s the world we live in. When I leave my house that’s what I see, but I think seeing it on the cover of Vogue was new for other people," Edward Enninful said of the reaction to the shot.

The month before he’d featured actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw draped in red, a singular woman of color also on the cover of the magazine. Not to mention his first issue last year, which featured biracial model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah.

It flies in the face of critics and every convention about fashion magazines. “There were all these stories that black women don’t sell on covers,” he said. Gugu’s sales were gaga, he said. “She sold so much…we’re doing better than we’ve ever done.”

While the EIC didn’t offer numbers to the ad exec crowd at Cannes Lions, he said that it’s proof that diversity is working in the fashion industry. The pages of the magazine are also filled with women of all ages, races and sizes, and what he sees outside the narrow corridors of fashion informs his view. 

“Culturally, fashion can make great statements,” he said, but cautioned that, while fashion is all about trends, we can’t risk making diversity one of them.

"This whole conversation about diversity, there’s a fear that it could turn into bandwagoning,” he said. Counteracting that means bringing young people into the fashion industry, giving unexpected opportunities and nurturing talent the way he was mentored by the late Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani. “We have to feed it, we have to nurture the young generation like I was nurtured. We have to make sure that it’s not something that is spoken about as a trend.”

Enninful is both all talk and action. The editor said British Vogue has started a program to bring kids from the inner city to work at the storied magazine, and that the old guard is no longer standing guard. “We’re trying to open the doors so everybody is welcome to work at Vogue,” he said.

But for all his efforts, with less than a calendar year of covers under his belt, he still feels pressure. “We’re all here doing our best, but we’re not doing enough.” Talk about pressure.

Enninful has big hopes for the future. “I want to see the marginalized normalized. I want the new generation to look at an image and think, ‘A gay couple, what’s the big deal?’ ‘A mixed couple, what’s the big deal?’ It’s very important that I show images that make the world think it is normal to be who you are.”

He added: “Until we’re not talking about diversity [and] it’s just a given, that’s what I’m trying to work for.”