Edward Enninful’s eureka moment came when he was working on an editorial for Italian Vogue in the mid-1990s. He was styling a fashion shoot with the renowned American photographer Steven Meisel, the pair having been introduced by the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
‘For the first picture, I put the shirt on, put the slacks on; picture one done,’ he says, holding court from a plush velvet armchair in the drawing room of London’s Soho House, one chilly December afternoon. ‘For the next picture I put the shirt on, rolled up the sleeves; picture two done. For the next picture I went to put the shirt on and Steven said, “I’m bored. What else can you do?”’ The stylist responded quickly to the affront. ‘From that moment,’ he says, ‘my styling moved up a gear.’
Enninful is one of the British fashion’s great success stories, emerging in the golden age of London street-style titles. He was scouted as a model for i-D magazine on the London Underground in 1990, when he was a 16-year-old schoolboy. By his late teens he was running the magazine’s fashion department. Enninful has been responsible for some of the most arresting editorial and advertising imagery of his era, tackling industry taboos including racism and plastic surgery head on, working with the giants of photography and enjoying productive tenure at the two blockbuster Vogues – Italia under editor Franca Sozzani, US under Anna Wintour. He is currently fashion director at W magazine, uniquely placed to cast his exacting eye over an industry reinventing itself for the digital age.
To commemorate 25 years in the fashion business, at the start of 2015 Enninful was approached by the tech giant Beats by Dre, the headphone multinational kickstarted by former NWA rapper Dr Dre and record producer Jimmy Iovine, to collaborate on a major new film initiative. Acquired by Apple in a $3 billion takeover last year, Beats now controls an estimated 70 per cent of the premium headphones market, so its promotional campaigns are a very big deal indeed.
First, Enninful was taken to see the largest billboard in the world, a recent acquisition for Beats on New York’s Times Square, to do with as he chose. The result, a year later, is a filmic reimagining of the seven deadly sins, shot by British Fashion Awards winner and fellow i-D alumnus Nick Knight, starring eight of Enninful’s favourite supermodels. ‘I’ve known Kate [Moss] since I was 16 and she was 14,’ he says casually. ‘I’ve known Naomi [Campbell], my gosh, forever. She’s like a sister to me. All the others I’ve seen since they started.’
Campbell reciprocates his understanding of their relationship. She refers to him as ‘a brother’, and says, ‘When I first met him it was just like meeting family. We connect on so many different levels. The sky’s the limit for Edward. He’s patiently waited for his time, and this is his time. He’s so respected by the greats. He’s worked his arse off to be where he is and I’m just so proud of him.’
Enninful says each of his preferred girls was quick to sign up to the Beats campaign. ‘Straight away Kate said, “I’m lust.” She claimed it.’
The film is still in production when we meet and plans to roll it out from its New York launch are getting ever more elaborate.
Never one to knowingly underplay his hand, he cast Lara Stone and Anna Ewers as a double-header to play Gluttony. Jourdan Dunn, whose first cover he shot for i-D after wooing her at a west London retail park (‘She loved Nando’s! She was obsessed! When she started she was so west London and I loved watching Jourdan grow into this icon’), was a speedy signatory. Karlie Kloss and Karen Elson followed. As each sin was to be represented by a block colour, he cast Campbell as an emblem of Black Pride in a voluminous Yohji Yamamoto gown. Ethnicity is a subject both feel strongly about.
During his quarter of a century in the business Enninful has become one of the major power brokers of the global fashion world. It was not supposed to be this way. Born in Ghana, he was raised in Ladbroke Grove, where his first-generation immigrant parents decamped when he was an infant, and where they endeavoured to protect their children from the evils of the metropolis. ‘I was really sheltered growing up, with six brothers and sisters,’ he says. ‘We played together all the time and I was living in a fantasy world, like most creative people. He knew little to nothing of fashion when it first came knocking but had been schooled in key technical skills. ‘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.’
The first of several fashion fairy-godfathers to play a role in Enninful’s ascendancy was the influential menswear stylist Simon Foxton, who spotted him on a Hammersmith & City Line Tube carriage the first day Enninful traded his milk-bottle spectacles for contact lenses. ‘I saw this man who kept staring at me. I was trying not to freak out. Then we got to King’s Cross, he came over, gave me a card and said, “My name is Simon Foxton and I’m a stylist for i-D and Arena and I work with Nick Knight, and I’d love you to model for me.” I was like Arena? Nick Knight? Modelling? I couldn’t imagine any of it.’ His religious mother was particularly suspicious of the stranger’s enquiry. ‘I remember going home, saying to my mum, “I met this man,” telling her the story and my mum said, “No. That industry? No.”’ But Enninful was in safe hands with Foxton – another genial fashion giant who wears his authority lightly.