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At the Apollo, Edward Enninful Talks Career, Never Settling and Why 'Fear Is Not an Option'

In conversation with Lupita Nyong'o to kick off the book tour for "A Visible Man," the fashion veteran reflected on identity, love and a refusal to compromise.
enninful nyongo apollo 2022

Guests poured into Harlem's historic Apollo Theater in regal fashions on Thursday night to hear Edward Enninful, European editorial director of Vogue and editor-in-chief of British Vogue, in conversation with Oscar-winning icon Lupita Nyong'o to kick off the book tour for his highly anticipated memoir, "A Visible Man." 

Enninful began the event with a dedication to the late Queen Elizabeth II. Nyong'o followed by leading the crowd in a calming, deep breath. A profound conversation about identity, determination, love and fashion followed.

Enninful penned "A Visible Man," an autobiography that tells the story of his journey from childhood in coastal Ghana to seeking refuge in the United Kingdom and becoming a voice of authority in fashion around the world. He credits much of his sharp eye and lifelong love affair with fashion to his mother, who was a dressmaker. Her atelier planted seeds of inspiration in Enninful, who fondly spoke of her vibrant designs and the beautiful women that wore them.

But his path to the heights of fashion — in which he first began as a model — was filled with obstacles.

"If you're different in any way, I always say just find your tribe. Just find people who are like you, who understand you," Enninful told the crowd.

In the book, the editor writes of experiencing impostor syndrome as he rose through the ranks of the fashion world. "It takes a lot of inner strength to want to be different — trust me," he said. "Whether you're gay or Black or a woman… it's tough. It's tough in this world we live in. So you have to have fortitude. Be really strong."

Impostor syndrome wasn't the only thing weighing upon him: Enninful was repeatedly told he didn't belong in the world of fashion, but he persisted, guided by mentors like Vogue's Grace Coddington and his own conviction to the work.

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"I knew from early on that the hustle was important, that you had to fight for the best of everything," Enninful said. "There were times when it's like, 'Okay, you can't have the best.' But I never settled… I wouldn't be able to sleep if I compromised myself."

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The idea to write the book came in 2020, Enninful told the audience. He was moved to write his story during the height of protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd.

"I realized it was time to tell a story about struggles I have been through," he said. "When young people see people like yourself [Nyong'o] and myself in certain positions, they think we just got here. In lockdown, in the middle of the pandemic, I really knew this was the moment to share my story, just to show that I didn't get here just because of my successes, but mainly because of my failures."

Throughout the night, Enninful spoke of proud moments: becoming fashion editor of i-D magazine at 18, spearheading Vogue's 2008 "Black Issue," being the first Black editor at British Vogue.

"I'm fearless. I came from nothing. I came from another country. We came penniless. We had no money. Fear for me is not an option — it's not an option at all," Enninful said, drawing the crowd to cheer. "I remember saying to myself, 'I'm going to do exactly what needs to be done. And if I get fired, hey, at least I got fired for doing something I believe.'"

Enninful and Nyong'o closed the conversation and left the stage, and the crowd cheered once more. Inspired eyes poured out of the theater, springing onto the avenues of Harlem with prideful smiles.

You can purchase "A Visible Man" by Edward Enninful here

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