Reading Between the Lines of Edward Enninful's Goodbye to British 'Vogue'
He gushes over his cover stars, but not Condé Nast.
A quick note before today’s issue: I got to go on the Infamous podcast to talk about Anna Wintour! Check out the full episode here.
In today’s issue (and tap the headline to read it in the Substack app or your browser so it doesn’t get cut off):
Analysis of Edward Enninful’s final cover and letter to readers as British Vogue editor-in-chief.
What sources have said led to Enninful’s departure.
Other Loose Threads from the week, including Zac Posen for Gap (!), New York Fashion Week’s new home, Anna Wintour’s reaction to recognized, and more.
Edward Enninful’s final cover as British Vogue’s editor-in-chief ignited social media when it dropped Thursday morning in a “break the internet” moment that magazines rarely seem to produce these days. Enninful and his team managed to assemble 40 famous women who had previously appeared on the magazine’s covers over the course of his six and a half year tenure as editor-in-chief for a single memorable image.
It’s a stunning display of the type of creative work that has long been unique to Vogue and that feels increasingly — and sadly — of a past era. Enninful leaves the job in the midst of staff unrest over planned layoffs. He will be replaced by the hugely talented and highly respected Chioma Nnadi, but she steps into the position with a title of “head of editorial content” instead of editor-in-chief. It’s a sign of the times at Condé Nast, where those running titles oversee a vast array of digital channels and content ranging from microblogs on X/Twitter to feature articles to short-form video on TikTok, and whose success is measured in things like traffic and e-commerce revenue generated from carefully optimized shopping recommendations. In the coming years, as the media industry at large flails, the company is sure to continue finding ways to save money. As Back Row reported exclusively last week, Condé Nast is considering running AI editorials when the technology improves.
Enninful, who started his career in fashion as a model at age 16 before becoming fashion director of i-D magazine at 18, has overseen 76 issues featuring a total 153 cover stars. Getting one celebrity into a studio for a photo shoot can be an ordeal, to say nothing of FORTY. Enninful writes in the magazine that this feat required a wild degree of logistical and creative horsepower. He described it as “the biggest set I’d been on in my career,” including 40 hair and makeup people along with “an exciting array of personal stylists” who helped him with the clothes. Enninful favorite Steven Meisel took the cover photo, and his assistant Ned Rogers photographed the women hanging out, walking around, and laughing against a plain gray backdrop for a black-and-white “behind-the-scenes”-style editorial that felt very Vogue in its cheeriness.
The cover wasn’t just a totem to these celebrities, it was a totem to Enninful. When you have this many people in one photo, you can’t do a lot with the fashion, otherwise it becomes too busy. That made the clothes beside the point, which perhaps was a fitting way to say farewell. In a final letter to readers, Enninful reflects on both the job itself and his legacy (the very word he uses, though he admits it’s odd to do so at his age with so much career ahead of him).
Straight off the bat, can I just say that you come into this job knowing everything and nothing. First, of course, you are a custodian, ever mindful of the magazine’s unique history, of its power to elevate almost everything it touches. Yes, there are some prosaic concerns too. You give over quite a bit of brain space to making sure you don’t drop the ball. But above these tenets, you soon learn the most important lesson of all: find your bravery, because when you boil it down, the most crucial impact you can have as a Vogue editor is to change things up.
One can’t help but read between the lines.