The Enninful EnduranceA Conversation with Edward

written by Christopher Michael

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Natalia Vodianova, W December 2012
photography by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott

 

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photography by Willy Vanderperre
styling by Dena Giannini

With each decade, the fashions of a generation continually change from one entity into another, often expiring their makers and influencers at each changing of the guard. Such is not the case with Edward Enninful, whose longevity alone is something to be celebrated and revered. Let the pages turn.

CM You are 25 years into a business that’s increasingly demanding more in shorter periods of time. What role does insecurity play for you?
EE I think if anything, it’s kind of a motivator. I get quite scared of the idea of resting on your laurels. You always want to do your best, and I think that’s really what propels me is that insecurity.

CM What’s your relationship with nostalgia? Are you someone that refuses to look back?
EE To me, I can only refer to my work and to W Magazine. I always say it’s about projection, reflection, and documentation. I will look back and look at old films, or listen to old music – but I’ll use it to influence what goes into the work today. It’s very much about today. I don’t look back in such a nostalgic way, but I do look in the past to pick things and sometimes use it as an inspiration.

CM You don’t really lament the passing of a time in your career that’s different from now…
EE I’m having so much fun now. As you probably know, I’m so obsessed with social media and it’s just perfect for where I am right now. It’s kept me involved with the world. I think before, stylists in a way worked in isolation – and now you have this entire world opened up to you with one simple click. You can see what anyone in particular is doing.

CM You do have a shy past, and you’re one of the stylists that’s lived that shift from being behind the camera to in front of the camera with such ease that I was curious as to whether or not that was an easy process for you.
EE I still feel very much like I’m behind the camera. We have a responsibility to show people new things, to show new ideas, to answer to the reader. It’s not your average reader that reads other magazines – our readers want to know, they want to question. So I think for me, it was a great fit between that audience and social media. If they’re not happy, I’m going to know. If they are, I’m going to know. For me, it felt very natural – it wasn’t forced.

CM That’s an interesting comparison, because initially I was curious as to your thoughts on the experience of fashion directing an independent title like i-D versus an American Conde Nast publication like W. The reality is, however, you’re working in two entirely different eras in fashion, so I suppose that alone plays a massive role in whatever difference there is between the two…

 

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Cara Delevingne, W October 2014
photography by Inez and Vinoodh

 

EE When I started back then, we didn’t have what we have today. There was no social media, there weren’t that many stylists, and there were just a few people sort of creating an industry and learning and making mistakes. Digital media has given a greater access for me to the world today that we did not have at that time. News, street style, Caitlyn Jenner – it’s all available. The times are different. The whole idea of the underground and the mainstream to me, it’s all one now. You scroll down that Instagram feed, and you go from one cult to something on Obama… it’s become such a fusion. It’s one world we live in now. I like the globalization of fashion. When we were in London back then, we didn’t even know what was going on in New York. To get to Paris was the furthest you could go, and I find it so exciting to now be able to look into other worlds so effortlessly.

CM After a good couple of years of our industry feeling as though it had no real definable traits that we could look back upon and say, “Oh, that time was all about…” or “That time was really defined by…”. We finally seem to have arrived at a time where we can say those things. What do you think looking back 10 years from now will be the most prominent references to this time?
EE Social media, as we’ve been discussing, has definitely and to answer questions – the reader comes to W to escape from their every day life and to dream about fashion and art and music. So we are very lucky in that way, that speed doesn’t really affect what we do and what we’ve always done. We have that curious reader that wants to know more than just the latest trend or hottest dress. That’s been the best challenge for me right now. The DNA of what this title has always stood for historically is being plugged in to the moment. It’s a brand that’s bigger than me or anyone that works there at any given time, and when you’re there, you hope to do the best you can. I’m not restricted to girls looking a certain way or to be cast from a certain list of approved models, I can see someone that I love like Molly, who maybe in previous years would have had a harder time modeling – and go, let’s push this girl, and the world embraces her. That’s a luxury to still be able to do, and you can only really do that in a magazine like this.

“SOCIAL MEDIA HAS DEFINITELY CHANGED
THE WAY WE SEE THE WORLD.”

CM That brings me to the subject of muses, you’ve talked about the Kate’s and Naomi’s – who could be deemed the changed the way we see the world. Cultural icons are not what they used to be. Today, they are so much more diverse. A guy in the Deep South can become a hero from breakdancing. Someone who was already iconic like Jane Fonda, suddenly finds herself being reinvented for today. Anyone with something to say will be heard. I think that’s what’s so different from when I was growing up. That excites me. CM Over the years, like anyone else, you’ve no doubt found yourself being influenced in different ways by the people you’ve worked with. Be it through osmosis or any other sort of natural process, I wanted to find out what ways in particular you feel as though you’ve been influenced by Terry & Tricia (Jones), Anna Wintour, Franca Sozzani… now Stefano Tonchi…

EE What all of those editors have in common that you’ve mentioned (I’ve been very privileged to work for the best) is that they all have a vision. They all have an approach to creativity that’s really individual. I always say, Stefano Tonchi, thank you so much for giving me a platform where I can express myself in my later years. They’ve all allowed me to express myself, from when I was 17 until now. They all gave me this creative freedom and believed in my vision and what I had to say. I think I’ve been luckier than most really. Working with Stefano has been so encouraging, he’s always so supportive and behind the ideas of new. He has curiosity and embraces change. He’s so much a big part of what I do and such a huge part of this whole industry that he loves like I do. I’ve been very lucky to never have had an oppressive editor-in-chief for a boss.

EE What all of those editors have in common that you’ve mentioned (I’ve been very privileged to work for the best) is that they all have a vision. They all have an approach to creativity that’s really individual. I always say, Stefano Tonchi, thank you so much for giving me a platform where I can express myself in my later years. They’ve all allowed me to express myself, from when I was 17 until now. They all gave me this creative freedom and believed in my vision and what I had to say. I think I’ve been luckier than most really. Working with Stefano has been so encouraging, he’s always so supportive and behind the ideas of new. He has curiosity and embraces change. He’s so much a big part of what I do and such a huge part of this whole industry that he loves like I do. I’ve been very lucky to never have had an oppressive editor-in-chief for a boss.

CM Do you feel that the speed with which the industry has changed, has affected you or your work in any way? Obviously we always talk about how it’s affected the designers, having to create so many more new collections each year – but does it affect you and what you do at the magazine?
EE We are encouraged to be different, and to push creativity modern day muses of Edward Enninful? EE My muses, I still work with every day. You just have to look at the magazine to know. I love Jourdan Dunn, I love Joan Smalls, I love Karlie, and I love Cara Delevingne. When I bring in the old favorites, I don’t think it’s ever really a surprise; I’m very consistent in the girls I love. It’s never about: “She’s the right look of the moment” if I don’t get a feeling or some kind of sensitivity, then it’s very hard for me to relate to a girl. There has to be a personal connection. So I think the girls who are my muses, you will keep seeing and always see.

CM Do you have muses that are not necessarily models?
EE Oh yes. I’ve always loved Jane Fonda. She is one of my favorite actresses, so iconic and I’ve had the chance to work with her. I’m crazy about Charlize Theron and Rihanna. I love Kathryn Bigelow, the director, she’s another one. To work with Jane Fonda and get this energy of confidence and so very into working and creating… that for me was a total high point. I like strong women – I always have. I also love Mickalene Thomas, the artist. I love a woman with a point of view.

CM I think it’s great to be in a moment that people are excited about again after hearing the moaning and complaints that our business has become so driven by commerce for the past several seasons. We are in a time where people are once again excited about the newly discovered elements of our time. You also seem to have a great relationship with both digital and print, rather than the age-old idea that one works against the other…
EE I think they complement each other. We have a great digital platform, but you have to have the right product and then your digital will enhance that. We are never scared to embrace the new, that’s the key, to be open to embracing the new and what’s coming and not being shut off to influences. I’m very excited to be working during this time in our industry.

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Anna Ewers, W December 2014, photography by Craig McDean
Kate Moss, W April 2015, photography by Paolo Roversi
Cara Delevingne, W February 2013, photography by Mikael Jansson