'I'm so into the young royals. I'd love Meghan and Kate both to be on the cover of Vogue'
In his first year as editor, Edward Enninful has reinvigorated Vogue - and sales are up. He tells Susannah Butter about loving the royal family, his previous career as a model and why he likes to invite children from inner-city schools into his offices
Edward Enninful is in his element, showing me one of his favourite features he has worked on since he was appointed editor of Vogue last year. "See how beautiful they look," he says. Appearing next month, it stars Karen Elson, smart in a hat and pink suit. Behind her, Grenfell memorial graffiti is just visible. "I grew up on those streets," explains Enninful (46). "This is under Trellick Tower and here are Karen and Shanelle Nyasiase (from Kenya), dressed like they are visiting from Buckingham Palace. Only Vogue can do this mix; even if the models are wearing clothes you can't afford you can see a neighbourhood that you know. It's about accessibility, showing that diversity does not mean downmarket. We are leading a global conversation about what it means to be British today. And that," he adds, pointing at a pink object on the page and lightening the tone, "is an octopus." He hoots with laughter.
Diversity is at the heart of Enninful's vision for Vogue. Not only is he the magazine's first male editor in its 103-year history, he's the first to be gay and black - he was born in Ghana and his parents moved to London when he was two. So who are the readers he's catering for? "They are curious, they like to see the best the world has to offer. They are predominantly women but in this day and age can we really separate the sexes? I'm a man working in a woman's publication. Femininity sounds old-fashioned."
His gender, he says, "has helped me". Since he was spotted by a modelling scout on the Hammersmith and City line aged 16, to becoming editor of i-D aged 18, then at Italian and American Vogue and W magazine, "it has given me a different perspective - as a man, a gay man, a man of colour".
We're in Enninful's bright office, high up in Vogue House. It's immaculate, revealing the military precision that Enninful says he learned from his army officer father. The windows are lined with orchids and there is a shrine to his Boston terrier Ru, who he describes as "my right hand" and is named after Drag queen RuPaul. A photo of Ru with Claudia Schiffer sits next to a Marc Quinn artwork, a present from Kate Moss.
Driven by what he calls "an immigrant mentality, to do everything to the best of my ability", Enninful is ambitious for Vogue. "We could sit here and do the most incredible magazine, with the most beautiful clothes, but everybody who I've employed thinks there is a deeper meaning. I want to change the face of fashion to make it more inclusive. When we say diversity it's not just race. We're looking at religion, age, size."
It's working - sales are up. "This year I'd like to continue to use my voice to normalise the marginalised," adds Enninful. "If you're a child living in a village in Devon you might not know what a trans person or a black person looks like and so to see them in a magazine is so powerful and can give you empathy. Growing up and seeing images that looked like me and my friends made me think I could get into this industry."
It's about "not being scared of the other". "There was a time where people were scared of black people, then of gay people, and now it's normal. Now we just have to understand that non-binary people are human beings who just want to live their lives and be accepted."
Does he think we will look back and compare transphobia to racism? "Yes, of course. But I believe in the next generation: whatever you call them, millennials. They don't see colour."
When he was modelling he was rejected from jobs because he was so dark. "I was devastated but my father told me to never let that stop me from what I was doing. So I barrelled through. My dad taught me that nothing comes for free, and not to blame people when things go wrong. We can all say, 'I didn't get this job because I'm black,' but you need to not dwell."
It was his mother, a seamstress, who introduced him to fashion. "You have to understand, my family didn't know what the media was," he says. "But my earliest memories are of being transported by her fashion magazines, seeing there was a world outside west London."
His mother made "incredible colourful African garments, with peplums, frills". Enninful is getting animated. "I remember zipping my mum's friends into their clothes. It was a lively, colourful house. Now I like wearing black and white, what does that say about me? "
Today's monochrome outfit, black trousers, white shirt and black shoes - no socks - is all Prada, as is the coat he tries on for our shoot. He's pleasantly surprised when it's too big - his ascetic regime of early morning boxing and the salad with linseed oil he keeps on his office shelf is paying off. "I'm not getting any younger," he jokes.
Enninful had to "pester" his mother to let him model at 16. Looking back, he says, "I think 16 is too young" - despite this year's Fashion Award for Model of the Year going to Kaia Gerber, who is 17 and appeared in Enninful's Vogue last year. "I love strong women - so just wait until a model gets to 18. We have the Conde Nast code of conduct, which says models have to be over 18 and have to be chaperoned. That's a good age to appear in a magazine - no younger."
His mother accompanied him on shoots. "So there would be no messing around with me with this African mother - good luck," he says. If she hadn't been there, would he have been at risk of the sort of abuse that is now being reported? "I'm sure. I was so innocent and quiet and naive. She protected me - thank God I had that."
Changing the industry means starting young. Enninful invites kids from inner-city schools to meet him in his office, and has made an effort to hire staff from a range of backgrounds. "When you look at the staff it's not about positive discrimination, it's about the best person for the job."
I present him with a scenario: one job application is from an Indian woman who went to comprehensive school, the other from a white, privately educated person ... he interrupts with a wry laugh. "Have you seen most of our staff?" Enninful agrees they fall into the latter camp, but he's working on it.
A stint in New York strengthened Enninful's pride in his home city. "When Brexit happened people were asking if my country was xenophobic, so it was important when I came back that my first issue was about Great Britain, to show the world that despite Brexit this is the most creative, diverse, fun - the best country in the world."
The Prime Minister declared that Vogue is the luxury she would take with her to a desert island - is its editor a fan of hers?
"She has a hard job on her hands. Every day for her is like going to war, so she uses clothing as armour. My armour tends to be the same outfit."
He's more enthusiastic about the royals. "I am so into the young royals," he declares, gesturing at a picture of Princess Beatrice on a card from his friend Sarah Ferguson on his shelf. "Meghan is an example of how far we've all come." Which duchess has better dress sense? He's diplomatic. "They are different, it's all fun and games. I'd love them both to be on the cover of Vogue."
Enninful still lives in Ladbroke Grove. He was there when Grenfell happened and has seen the devastation it is still causing. "Ru and I heard the helicopters - we couldn't sleep. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. We are trying to help. Hopefully lessons have been learned and it won't happen again."
He lives with his partner, American film-maker Alec Maxwell. They met at a party he was hosting and have been engaged for 15 years. "Over dinner I just asked if we should get engaged. We'll marry eventually - there's no rush." It's typically Zen of him - he starts each day with transcendental meditation, learned at the David Lynch centre in New York, because "you can't do this job and be all over the place".
Would Enninful like children? "Yes. I'm so busy now but eventually I would. I'm the best uncle. I don't see it but according to my partner Ru is very spoilt too."
Would he use a surrogate? "I will do whatever I can to bring a beautiful baby into the world, but I am open to adopting. There are so many kids that need homes and love that it doesn't matter what the process is, just somebody I can impart knowledge to."
New York gave him "a rigorous work ethic", but London is easier - "You can have a weekend here. But if you email I'll reply in two seconds, I'm on it."
He won't tell me what time he gets up - "let's say 6am" - and "by 10pm I'm done". "I try to fit in a bit of Outlander on TV. Not a whole episode, I fall asleep. Please don't laugh at me, but I'm obsessed." He doesn't drink - "I can't imagine doing this job and drinking" - and now has teetotal company in Kate Moss. "You get to a time where you decide whether to carry on or not - it's that simple. She looks incredible."
The future of print media doesn't worry him. It just has to "work in tandem with social media. All our staff are hired to work on both print and digital." His first day at Vogue was nerve-wracking. "I now had to move this ship." Can he be a scary boss? He cocks his head. "I don't set out to be scary, but I can be. I love working with assertive women and surround myself with them - that is when I come alive." What's next, would he like to edit US Vogue one day? "I'm so happy with what I'm doing now, I've got my hands pretty full."