Posted by Stephan Moskovic | May 18th, 2010
Edward Enninful, has played a key role in shaping fashion’s history. From his tenure as the youngest ever fashion editor of i-D, to his styling work with photographers like Steven Meisel and Craig McDean, Enninful has blazed a unique and influential path. A look back at his trailblazing career charts the evolution of some of last decade’s fashion milestones; from the rise of grunge, to the supermodel wave and fashion’s current curve fixation, Enninful has played a part in each development.
In an exclusive models.com interview One Management’s own Christopher Michael sits down with the always opinionated superstar stylist, to find out more about the man behind the movements.
Christopher Michael: In life there are usually two different ways of realizing our own personal evolution, sometimes it’s a moment of revelation and other times we simply realize things have changed when people begin to interact with us differently. With you having started at i-D magazine at such a young age, what was that experience like for you?
Edward Enninful: I was really thrown into it; it was a question of sink or swim, really. I was painfully shy when I started so it was an amazing growing experience. Sitting with Corrine Day and all of these people, having to act like a grown up but really being a child, having just left school… It made me grow, I guess. Looking back on that now, I realize how young I really was. I remember the fear every night, the fear of failure or the fear that things were not going to work out. The nice thing is when you are doing something at that age, people are really rooting for you. There were a lot of photographers behind me along with Terry and Tricia [Jones] from i-D. I was able to make mistakes and learn from them, whereas I don’t think people are really able to do that now…
Craig Mcdean, i-D,October 2002
Craig Mcdean, i-D, June/July 2002
CM: Well everything is much more of an instant gratification oriented process now than it was then…It is surely harder to notice the gradual evolution of the business when you are right in the eye of it, but there must be some definitive moments in time, since you’ve started, where you feel the business really went through change…
EE: Oh my God, Yes! When I started it was the late 80’s, early 90’s, when there was a whole excitement about grunge. It was this generation of people excited by fashion. Most of us grew up in London without a lot of money and none of us were from these sort of “grand families”, so it was this really great and exhilarating period. The industry was very different back then. People were creating things and making things, I remember all of us, the photographers and stylists, being invited to Paris to watch Helmut Lang, and Jean Colonna and Ann Demeulemeester…. these were the sort of people that would invite all of us from London. Actually, when I look back on it now, they were really the ones that were defining fashion at that time, and the Belgians… there was a new language, and they called it grunge. I remember when America embraced that, and then the next big movement when Tom Ford came and all of us were sort of momentarily lost. We were all into this anti-glamour glamour and then Tom came in and everybody embraced this new woman that was very sexy, and very predatory. All of that went on for awhile…I think that there was a good 10 years of that gloss… Fashion is very cyclical, things don’t happen every 2 years.
Also, I started at the time when street fashion was so relevant- the late 80’s kids off the street. Now you have Facebook and Twitter and all of these different media sources. My assistants are only 21 and they have access to so much! Now, anybody can be a star. In a funny way it’s kind of done a full circle, because when I started it was all about how you looked on the street and again it’s all about how kids look going out at night and what all of these blogs are talking about…“Even though things have gone back, it’s also changed and it’s really just become a new version of what it once was.”
CM: People always seem to look back on the 90’s and recall the money supermodels were commanding and sort of just assume that it went straight across the board…
EE: Well supermodels don’t exist anymore. I know almost all of them, and what is really interesting is that they were clever and astute business women; I don’t think that really exists now. “They had the chance to grow and work with photographers from Steven [Meisel] to Peter [Lindbergh], and the chance to really build characters.. The industry really cultivated girls and I think that is also gone.” I’m obsessed with models, I always have been, and I miss that, the girl taking the time to grow…. “I remember Kate Moss from when she was 14 years old. She didn’t just become famous…” It took a lot of years and a lot of people putting time into her, and I feel that we’ve lost that. That was another period in modeling where designers wanted models who wouldn’t overshadow or overpower the clothes. Suddenly people wanted models that were androgynous, there were not many models of color anymore, and they stopped creating stars. The girls before had so much power that there had to be some kind of a stop to it all…but now, they are back – I mean…everybody’s back.
CM: We talked about how there’s a process where things take a good period of time to really start and go through the spectrum of fashion’s inner circles and then eventually hit the runways and reach the masses, etc. For the past few years that mantra has really been all about the return of the supermodels. However, the new statement seems to be about putting the fashion editors of the world in front of the cameras and on the covers, blogs and in all sorts of media. What’s your take on this?
EE: Oh, I don’t know about that. It probably serves a time but it’s not something that I think about. I don’t feel that people really want to see what I look like or any of that…Obviously if they want to hear what you have to say that’s great, because you can really influence, you know, the kid at school that doesn’t think he’ll ever make it, and that sort of thing. The industry is always looking for stars I guess… Most editors I know are a little too, sort of, insecure. Most editors feel so propelled by their insecurities, whether it’s to create new images or not to copy what they’ve already done before…well… for me anyways, I can’t speak for anyone else. I always feel like the next story is “the one.” After all these years I tackle each project as if it’s the last. It’s the same blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. I never, for one second, feel that I can just sit back and not research. You are always questioning yourself; I don’t stop questioning myself from every angle, really. “I love the ones who can go “Oh I’ve done it,” and I mean, great for them. I just personally always feel under such pressure to greater things.”
CM: It seems as though most people in fashion tend to feel as though they loved the business but never really knew what it was that they wanted to do exactly. Did you always know that you wanted to be a stylist?
EE: It was exactly the same (for me). I mean, my mother was a seamstress so I grew up sketching with her; I knew how to construct dresses from a very young age, my sisters do and all my brothers do as well, but I didn’t really think there was a career in it until I met the stylist Simon Foxton and Nick Knight when I was 16. I just thought you were either a seamstress, or some kind of a designer. I never thought about the word stylist. “I didn’t know what a stylist was and at that time, it didn’t really exist.” You know, it was more like Grace Coddington, and the editors at magazines doing the styling- but they weren’t really “stylists,” they were more editors. I think it was in the late 70’s and early 80’s that the term stylist came about.
Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia, Sept 2004, Jul 2004, Jul 2005, Aug 2004
Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia March 2006
Steven Meisel, Lanvin, Spring/Summer 2008
CM: Some of my favorite people in the business have credited you with giving them their first chance or being one of the first people to support them in the beginning of their careers..
EE: “I believe in you, I believe in the next generation, I believe in youth.” I’m obsessed with street fashion and what I see on the street, it’s how I started, it was really reporting from the streets. The industry will not progress unless we find the new, so I always work with a few young photographers and designers…
CM: Who was that person for you in terms of your start in this business?
EE: Nick Knight, Simon Foxton….and of course, Terry and Tricia Jones…paramount. Basically, I was spotted on a train by Simon Foxton and he said that I should be a model, so I did that for a couple of years. Within the first week he introduced me to Nick Knight. Nick took a lot of pictures of me when I was younger and later on introduced me to i-D when I was 17 because I wanted to work for magazines. So, Nick introduced me to Terry and Trish, and I began assisting Beth Summers right before my 18th birthday. From early on in my career these people were very paramount. Then I worked for Calvin Klein when I was 22, did the advertising with Craig McDean and Pat McGrath and Art Director Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, that’s another part of me… Pat McGrath- we literally started at the same time; we’ve been friends over these years and worked together. The second stage was meeting Franca Sozzani and Steven Meisel, that propelled me to see another side of fashion. I was very underground and then I met Steven, and he really expanded my repertoire. “I always say that I was a London stylist but when I worked with Steven, I became a proper stylist.” We did all of these stories together, and I learned so much from him. The next step in my trajectory was when Anna Wintour called me in to work for American Vogue. “Anna, I mean Anna is an incredible editor, I don’t even need to talk about it… But with Anna, I learned that fashion can be fun and it didn’t have to be dark, fashion could be all these things and still have an edge, and still be a business.” I’ve been very, very lucky actually, to have met such amazing people along the way…
Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia, June 2004
CM: Aside from your obvious talent, the key seems to be that never ending passion for it all and not becoming complacent..
EE: I wake up in the morning like a kid, so excited to go to work… “If I’m working with somebody I love, I can’t sleep…You know?… I’m still a fan of all these girls.” I love going to work and being part of the creative process and I’m lucky that I’m still called upon to do that.
CM: I think with i-D it’s safe to say that you have the “carte blanche” but with your stories for Italian Vogue and Steven, or even when you are working on American Vogue, what is the sort of process?…Do you guys call each other at night saying “Oh, I have this great idea!” or…?
EE: Well, I think it kind of goes both ways. Sometimes you get a call from Anna with an idea, or a call from Steven, and when it works it works. But, “I think what’s on the bottom line of this is the passion and the excitement and wanting to say something new.”
CM: At the risk of sounding like every other voice in the industry right now I have to ask, this season four key shows brought bigger, healthier models to the runway and it seems to have given the world the impression that it was really the whole season that embraced this. Like so many other things, it takes time to implement and we’ve been hearing about this for a number of seasons now…Do you think the time has arrived where it will really change across the board?
EE: I’ve been a part of the CFDA health initiative that Anna has been working on for so long and they’ve really been trying for the past four or five seasons to get this to happen. I think it’s really a result of that; we were all made to look at what we were doing. I remember Nian Fish from KCD called all the stylists in and everyone had to look at what they were doing. I’m all up for healthy beautiful women, you know. Cindy, Naomi…they were 8’s, 10’s … They were amazing women, they were not stick thin insects. So, for me I hope this carries on and I know that most magazines are really happy that we now have just beautiful women. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. “I think everyone is excited by the idea of the woman and not the child or the girl.” I think it’s a sign of the times… “At one time, designers wanted to have models that wouldn’t overshadow the clothes and now designers want models that will enhance their clothes.” It’s been a long time coming. It’s a mood, isn’t it? When the black models started coming back- Muccia and Nicolas did it…there was a whole moment. I remember when Muccia used Jourdan in her show and then the next season there were ten black models. And then, to not have black models in the show was completely uncommon. I hope to see more of Karolina, and Ambrosio. And not just those girls in particular but even more like them…Everyone is excited. “A good designer is a good designer, and a good designer can adapt to the times. Unless you adapt you get left behind, so the good ones will always transcend.”
Steven Meisel, Vogue, October 2006