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A Visible Man

Edward Enninful

(Bloomsbury, 2022)

Review by Suzanne Harrington


In the summer of 2020, while they were dog walking in Hyde Park, a friend asked Edward Enninful about his forthcoming memoir, A Visible Man. The editor-in-chief of British Vogue replied it would be about ‘a boy from Ghana making his way in a racist, classist industry’ – fashion – but his friend, who had also grown up in an African household in London, reminded Enninful of how others saw him.   

‘You move with leaders and tastemakers;  you’re surrounded by the most powerful, amazing women,’ said the friend. ‘We don’t see a struggling Black person. Make sure you give us power and success. We need that.’ Enninful and his friend, Idris Elba, had grown up in council estates on opposite sides of the city.

A fiery seam of anger propels Enninful’s erudite, revealing yet measured memoir. Despite being ‘private by nature’, he says he wrote it for young people: ‘My hope is that I can do something for the future if I tell the story of my past… It’s important for me to inspire them, because the world as it is isn’t set up to do that – it’s quite the opposite’. He includes unhappy relationships, addictive behaviours, frozen emotions, imposter syndrome – it’s not just glamorous name-dropping (although there is plenty of that, too).  

 An agent of change, his reach extends far beyond fashion, particularly as he disrupted the posh white demographic at Vogue by putting BLM activists on the cover, unstyled and in their own clothes. This, he says, has meant that ‘model scouts are finally realising it is worth their time to go to Lagos as well as Tallinn’.  

Despite having the biggest job in fashion this side of Anna Wintour, replacing Alexandra Shulman in 2017, Enninful still gets racially profiled. On his first day back to the Mayfair office of Vogue post-lockdown, having just appeared on the cover of Time magazine in the US and completed a cover shoot with Beyoncé (who thanked him ‘for all you stand for’), he was stopped by a white security guard, who directed him towards the loading bay for deliveries.

Born in Ghana in 1972, the shy, studious son (‘I was the family librarian’) of an army major and a high-end dressmaker, he’d accompany his mother to fittings at the presidential palace: ‘As much as I loved books, I loved clothes even more’. As he was about to start at a prestigious boarding school, a coup meant the family had to flee Accra and start again in West London.

Aged 16, reading a copy of Blitz on the tube, he was talent-spotted for modelling. By the time he was 18, he was the fashion director of i-D magazine – it’s these younger years, when he was part of a West London scene bursting with fresh, diverse creativity (Judy Blame, Mark Lebon, Nick Knight, Steve McQueen, a schoolgirl called Kate Moss) which fascinate most. He moved to styling for Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana and the ‘holy grail’ of Vogue Italia, working with the photographer Steven Meisel, before his appointment to Vogue. His friends are no-surname-required: Kate, Naomi, Rhianna, Beyoncé, Oprah. At the party for his OBE, Madonna danced with his dad, who has no idea who she is. Such is Edward Enninful’s visibility.