‘She could swat him like a fly’: How a party packed with A-list stars this week will prove that Anna Wintour has spectacularly skewered her former protege and Vogue’s King of Woke Edward Enninful
This Thursday, on the eve of London Fashion Week, some of the biggest names in British showbiz will gather at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for a glittering, one-night-only extravaganza.
Billed as a ‘multi-act celebration of the British performing arts’, Vogue World 23 is due to feature celebrity guests including supermodels Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne and Adwoa Aboah, as well as actors Ian McKellen and Sophie Okonedo and singer-turned-designer Victoria Beckham.
For £150 a head, members of the public can rub shoulders with the glitterati at the charity event.
But the star of the show is the woman who dreamed it up. Vogue’s all-powerful editor-in-chief, Dame Anna Wintour, who, having lived in the US for 35 years, has recently switched her flinty gaze back on to her beloved home city.
Aside from her plans for Vogue World 23, aimed at raising funds for Britain’s cash-strapped arts scene, The Mail on Sunday reported last weekend that 73-year-old Wintour is house-hunting in the capital, looking for a pad fit for a fashion queen – with, or close to, a tennis court and not far from her friend and constant companion of late, Bill Nighy, also 73.
She is still basking in the glow of the Companion of Honour gong presented to her by the King in his Birthday Honours List in June.
But what, then, of British Vogue’s own editor, Edward Enninful, a man once tipped to knock Wintour off her gilded pedestal?
For while the 51-year-old will co-host Thursday’s big event, no one is in any doubt that he will be overshadowed by the legendary woman who rules over all national editions of Vogue as global editorial director at the magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast.
As a Vogue insider put it to me last week: ‘Why does Anna need to come riding into London on her white horse to rescue British culture if Edward is here and supposedly in charge of British Vogue?’
The answer, according to sources who spoke to The Mail on Sunday, is that Wintour’s much-trumpeted return to the capital is just one of several clear signs that Enninful has lost his power struggle with the woman he had hoped to eventually replace.
It comes just three months after the shock announcement that the British-Ghanaian former model and fashion stylist is to step down as editor-in-chief of British Vogue after six years at the helm.
When he leaves at the beginning of 2024, Enninful will take up a ‘global advisory position’ at Vogue, ‘with the freedom to take on broader creative projects’.
‘He made no secret of wanting the big job [global editorial director] but he hit the glass ceiling and he’d gone as far as he could go,’ explains the Vogue insider.
‘He thought he would be in London for a few years and then head for New York, but he now knows that he’s never going to get Anna’s job at Condé Nast.
‘Anna is the undisputed boss. She has seen off many rivals and continues to do so. She could swat him like a fly.’
A fashion source put it more bluntly: ‘I think Edward underestimated her power. He had so much smoke blown up his arse when he was appointed editor that he couldn’t see his own trousers.’
The end of Enninful’s relatively short-lived tenure as British Vogue editor is a far cry from the hype and hyperbole that surrounded his appointment in 2017 on a salary said by some to be £1 million.
Back then, he was seen as Condé Nast’s golden child, a fresh face to modernise a magazine which, under his predecessor Alexandra Shulman (now a columnist for The Mail on Sunday), was under fire for its lack of diversity and being full of ‘posh white girls’.
Enninful’s arrival prompted a mass exodus of staff, including baronet’s daughter and deputy editor Emily Sheffield, the sister of Samantha Cameron.
No expense was spared to launch his editorship, which was done via several glitzy events and under the auspices of Matthew Freud, the PR supremo who spin-doctored New Labour’s rise to power.
As the first male, black, gay editor in the magazine’s then 125-year history, he set about transforming it with gusto, increasing the number of black and ethnic minority models on its pages, featuring transgender models for the first time and championing LGBT voices.
In May, he included five disabled stars in an edition also produced in Braille. This month’s bumper issue is perhaps the most controversial, not just because of the heavily photoshopped 50-something supermodels – Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford – who appear on the cover, but because of Enninful’s decision to include transgender cyclist Emily Bridges in the style bible’s annual ‘Vogue 25’ list of ‘powerhouse women’, while leaving out some of this year’s most successful female athletes.
It was a move described as ‘cynical wokery’ by former British masters cycling champion Victoria Hood, who was among those stunned that, in what has been an extraordinary year for British women’s sport, even the likes of England’s footballing Lionesses didn’t merit a mention.
But according to the Vogue insider, Enninful’s often controversial editorial decisions have provided perfect ‘click bait’ fodder at a time when Condé Nast is guiding its attentions from the print magazine towards a digital, subscription-only readership model.
‘He was a good hire for Condé Nast because of the way he embraced diversity, grabbed headlines and garnered column inches,’ says the insider.
Nor has any of the hoo-ha he has created done Enninful himself any harm.
For while Shulman, his Vogue predecessor, quietly edited the magazine for 25 years, he has become a celebrity in his own right, appearing as a guest on Graham Norton’s Saturday-night BBC chat show and launching his autobiography A Visible Man with a star-studded cocktail party at Claridge’s in London, followed by a book tour.
The past six years have seen stars flock to the very woke flag he has been flying.
Some showbiz pals, such as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, hark back to his days as a fashion stylist, but now Enninful has the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey and the Duchess of Sussex on speed dial.
Another dear friend is Emma Thynn, Marchioness of Bath.
One of his closest confidantes is the fashion-loving billionaire Indian businesswoman, Natasha Poonawalla, who is said to have given Enninful use of her private jet.
Another fashion source tells me: ‘From the start, Edward wanted to be a megastar. By embracing diversity and being so political, he has gained himself a lot of glory.
‘He has worked that job to the max in terms of making himself a name.’
But the real problem, say both sources, lies with Enninful’s own far-reaching ambitions.
For while Wintour – a skilled observer of cultural politics – is said to have given her tacit approval to his appointment, there was never any doubt in her mind that she was in overall charge from her office on the 26th floor of One World Trade Center in New York.
The Vogue insider says: ‘There’s nothing fun or fabulous or creative about being editor of British Vogue any more. There’s no real power.
‘If you want to put a photograph in the magazine, you have to speak to six people first and get it cleared by Anna, who is in charge of all global editions. She micro-manages everything.’
The fashion source adds: ‘Edward was suddenly massive. It looked for a while as if he was putting her in the shade and making her look like an old woman, stuck in her ways and on her way out.
‘But Anna Wintour is still a force to be reckoned with and perfectly able to put him in his place.
‘I don’t think she’ll ever step down, not while she’s still breathing. Why would he stay if he knows he’s not going to get the big job at the end of it?’
Now that Enninful has made a name for himself, there are also huge financial incentives for him to step down from his editor’s role.
The fashion source explains: ‘If he goes to fashion shows as a Vogue editor, the magazine may benefit from that in terms of paid-for advertising.
‘But as a one-man brand he can be paid directly to turn up to events and promote them on social media.
‘He should be able to make more money than the million a year he is said to get now.’
And the Vogue insider adds: ‘He’s used the editorship of British Vogue to make himself into a brand, but he can’t capitalise on that while he’s in position.
‘Once he leaves he’ll be offered no end of consultancies by global names.’
Above all, Enninful’s departure tells us as much about British Vogue’s future as it does about his career.
His replacement will be called ‘head of editorial content’ instead of ‘editor-in-chief’, bringing British Vogue in line with other global editions.
‘They are not looking to replace Edward with a new editor who’s a big personality like him,’ says the Vogue insider.
‘It’s a one-size-fits-all brand now. Eventually, the covers will all be the same and the magazine will just be a shop window for digital Vogue, which is where the future lies.’
Nor will this new ‘head of content’ take up position in an office at Vogue House, the magazine’s iconic seven-storey HQ in London’s Hanover Square.
After 65 years, British Condé Nast staff will be moved to more modern offices near The Strand by January.
Vogue’s global and digital revolution is being overseen by Roger Lynch, who took over as CEO of Condé Nast in 2019 – two years after Enninful’s appointment – and began looking for new revenue streams.
In April last year he told The Sunday Times of his ‘big retooling’ plans to create a digital and magazine membership costing around £19 a month that would include tickets to velvet-rope events hosted by Condé Nast editors and give access to films, podcasts and e-commerce.
He is also ramping up Condé Nast Entertainment, the company’s video business, which Lynch predicts will make up a third of its revenue by 2027.
His strategy has been heavily criticised by those who argue that it is a mistake to merge the American and international editions of Vogue and that the globalisation of culture doesn’t work.
Among critics is former Vanity Fair and Tatler editor Tina Brown, who said last year: ‘If you try to appeal to everyone in the world, you end up so vanilla you appeal to no one.’
She also warned: ‘I fear Condé Nast is going to go down like the Titanic.’
The Vogue insider says: ‘The glory days of Vogue are over. If it really is the Titanic, then Edward was just rearranging the furniture on the deck.’
As for the woman known as ‘Nuclear Wintour’ because of her frosty demeanour and fearsome personality, Anna Wintour’s power is effectively still growing – at an age when most would be happily ensconced in retirement.
Sources close to the grande dame of fashion say she is loving her job more than ever and plans to spend more time in the UK while overseeing not just US and British Vogue but all the European issues, too.
Ultimately, the fashion source says of Enninful: ‘He’s a really talented fashion stylist, and you can’t take that from him, but he doesn’t have what Anna has, which is a high intelligence and understanding of strategy.
‘That’s not his strength. He’s no match for her.’