I’ve been meaning to write a post about the importance of Edward Enninful being named editor-in-chief of British Vogue since the day it was announced. I was sat at Shoreditch House when I saw the news ping up on my phone, pre-meeting, and found myself quietly sobbing. Whilst most people understood that I was filled with joy, most people couldn’t understand the tears.
Edward Enninful is a black man – a person of colour (oh how I hate the need for that term) – but that is something I never thought I’d EVER see at British Vogue. That was the first part of the tears. Below is the rest.
Mr Edward Enninful OBE
Edward Enninful has been one of my biggest fashion influences for years. He is incredible at what he does. He’s also one of the first stylists I noted to be socially conscious and aware within his work. You can Google and Wikipedia his CV, I don’t need to re-paste that all here, but for me, growing up and in to a career in fashion – he always stood out. Pre-Instagram, it wasn’t always easy to find influential people who looked more like me, than not like me. People like Edward Enninful were quiet champions of fashion, working hard at their craft, excelling, making statements with their work – but ultimately just getting on with it. So unless you were in the industry, you wouldn’t really know who they were. They weren’t the (white) faces featured in the party pages of the Sunday fashion supplements or the monthly fashion magazines – and back then, that seemed ok. It seemed normal.
The first time I came across Edward Enninful’s work was Vogue Italia’s ‘All Black’ issue published in July 2008. He was a Contributing Editor to what I thought was an astounding achievement. I became a huge fan of his styling, and the more I learnt about him the more fascinated I became.
I was lucky enough to attend a talk he gave and his advice remains some of the most valuable to any stylist – and especially to any beginning their career.
His advice was to, “Keep testing. The more you style the better you get, don’t give up. At a certain point the magic happens. I had a photographer friend, he was called Craig McDean, and a make-up artist friend – she was called Pat McGrath. We’d prepare for a shoot for two months and then hop on a train and Pat would pack the sandwiches. The more you put in, the more you get out.”
At that point in time, I had never tested. My career took me straight from internships and assisting to being passed on a number one worldwide artist signed to a major label. I had always thought ‘testing’ as we call it (collaborative shoots where you make no money but create images for your portfolio – and they actually end up costing you money be it in food, travel and prep) was something I’d skipped and thus didn’t need to do. However it was Edward Enninful who made me realise that this was the only way I would really discover my own identity as a stylist. It was his advice that made me realise that this too – this ‘identity’ would probably change and grow alongside my own career and the world in which we live.
He went on to say that as creatives, even though we may not have work in the diary or money in the bank (often the case for budding young stylists) there’s absolutely nothing stopping us from finding inspiration – especially in London. He highlighted the fact that we are a city with so many free museums and galleries so can never have an excuse for those creative juices not flowing. I remember him mentioning that he was about to pop on the Eurostar to see an exhibition (a samurai exhibition if I’m not mistaken) and that we can literally find inspiration, everywhere.
Everything he said was like lightning bolts to my tiny little career. I decided that I would embark on testing – and it was the best thing I ever did.
Trying to get a steady job
I was working for multiple magazines and on lots of different shoots – but having now established my own styling aesthetic I decided it was time to find some stability. I applied to be an assistant at W Magazine and got a great response but in the end was told I was overqualified. I had been working quite substantially in the industry back to back gaining experience and knew I was ready to find my feet so I was gutted. How could I ever ground myself at a publication if I was always going to be told I was overqualified? The response was often, “We’re really just after a courier and thus we think given your experience we don’t believe you’d find the role fulfilling enough.” LET ME LIVE I’D THINK. I just wanted to work at one place and focus on one title but I now ‘had experience’ so how on Earth would I do this if experience was turning out to be a negative?
Meeting Edward Enninful in Paris
I was sat in Paris in the stunning mirrored room at the Westin Hotel and down sits in front of me, Edward Enninful. I nearly slid off my chair. I mustered up the guts to say hi, he told me I looked fabulous, I think I fainted inside but managed to carry on talking and just blabbed something about what a huge fan I have been of his work. What struck me the most was his willingness to talk to a new stylist whom he had never met. During so many of my stints at publications the Editors and Senior Stylists didn’t even acknowledge you existed let alone have a conversation with you. Eventually the lights dimmed and the show started – Roland Mouret – and I was the happiest little stylist there could ever be.
A couple of months passed and it was announced that Edward Enninful was to take over as Fashion and Style Director at W Magazine. I couldn’t believe it. I remember saying to Mum, I have to email him and ask to assist in any capacity. Mum said do it now, and the next thing you know months had passed, I was working back to back work and I hadn’t done it.
The part where you should always trust your gut
I’ve continued to be a huge fan of Edward Enninful’s work and mark him as one of my biggest career influences to date.
At the beginning of 2017 I was telling my boyfriend the above story as I decided I really needed to ‘refocus’ my work structure. I’d been earning a lot of money, but not necessarily been doing enough of the creative work and editorials I know I should be doing and ultimately where my heart lies. And just like all those years ago, I said, I should really drop Edward Enninful a line, and even though I’m a lot older than your average assistant, I’d still love to assist him. It was a no brainer, what did I have to lose? I am believer that you are never too old to keep learning, to keep being inspired and I certainly didn’t feel precious about asking to assist. I also felt (feel) really passionately about his work thus it would still be a dream to work with him.
Did I send that email? Nope. I came back from LA and was booked back to back.
Revert to the start of this post – I go online and see that he’s been announced as Editor in Chief of British Vogue – inbox most likely full.
Moral of this story – trust your gut. Reach out to your inspirations – you wont get a response if you don’t – obviously. Keep setting goals, keep going, create, collaborate – be kind – always.
I am so excited for his first issue of British Vogue and for all the change he has brought – and is going to bring to the fashion industry in the UK.
⇒ Part Two: Maybe now I can get an internship at British Vogue – coming next.
Written by Sabina Emrit