Paper magazine’s newest cover face is not a social media influencer or a music industry up-and-comer, or even a Gen Z icon like Madonna. It’s a 50-year-old (soon to be 51) editor of a legacy print brand. Edward Enninful, editor in chief of British Vogue, leaps through the air wearing a black Gucci suit, his Cutler and Gross eyeglasses and a wide-open smile. A second digital cover — both were shot last December in London by Nick Knight — has Enninful sitting on the floor surrounded by models he has featured on the pages of British Vogue since taking over in 2017. The accompanying story is a conversation between Enninful and his friend Linda Evangelista.
Evangelista, of course, appeared on the cover of British Vogue last August; it was the first interview in which she spoke in depth about being “brutally disfigured” by cosmetic surgery. Enninful styled Evangelista himself for the shoot; she was covered head-to-toe in florals and tweeds.
The Paper cover is an interesting choice for the once avant garde publication — most famous for featuring a very oily and naked Kim Kardashian. And the choice to feature Enninful — the new guard at an old guard institution that has ceded dominance to an unruly self-publishing social media generation — is an interesting one.
Enninful, who was born in Ghana and emigrated with his parents to London, got his foot in the door at Condé Nast in the Aughts as a contributing stylist for flagship American Vogue. Enninful, who is also European editorial director at Vogue, radically diversified the models featured in the pages of the magazines. In 2018, he put Rihanna on the cover of British Vogue’s September issue; she was the first Black woman to grace the magazine’s all-important issue. That same year, Halima Aden became the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of British Vogue. He featured plus-size models Candice Huffine, Tara Lynn and Robyn Lawley on the cover of Italian Vogue and also did an all-Black version of the magazine.
In Paper, in a conversation with writer Mikelle Street, Enninful and Evangelista talk about their long friendship, the evolution of the media and fashion industries and the challenge to create buzzworthy content in a splintered media universe. “You have to surprise, you have to create conversation,” Enninful tells Street. “So I’m very aware of that. I know that the Linda September [British Vogue] cover was the most spoken-about thing that month, but it also sold very well. The video is my personal highest-viewed video. I called Linda when it hit one million views.”
Justin Moran, who was named editor in chief of Paper last year, told WWD that Enninful had no concerns about appearing on the cover. “If anything, it’s an opportunity [for Enninful] to speak to a new audience,” he said.
Paper, which was launched as a counterculture monthly, is currently very much grounded in youth culture and LGBTQ storytelling. So it’s not exactly a competitor to Vogue. The interview celebrated Enninful’s impact on diversifying an industry that has long glorified and promoted Eurocentric and heteronormative ideals of beauty.
The conversation did not touch on Enninful’s future at Vogue or his allegedly fraught relationship with Anna Wintour, global chief content officer for Condé Nast, who has been editor-in-chief of American Vogue since 1988. Once a protégé, Enninful may be an obvious heir apparent to Wintour, 73 — if not a competitor, as Enninful’s British Vogue has distinguished itself as more creatively dynamic than the flagship.
Moran said no topics were off limits during the conversation. (Evangelista does not talk about her disfigurement.) But he notes that the Paper audience is not exactly pining for revelations about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the media industry power base.
“I think generally people are less interested in the power of institutions and just trusting something because it is powerful and we’re not supposed to question why or how,” said Moran, who at 28, is very much a digital-native editor. “Paper is an independent publisher, so the way that we can move is very different from a lot of other publications. I think that’s why our work resonates with younger people. Edward wasn’t born into something that made it so that he was going to be successful in this industry. That’s why I connect to him on a personal level. And I think that’s why so many people connect to his work, because even though he is now in the top position of a hugely respected, historic publication, the way that he got there is much more relatable.”