TIME TO SHINE

From her for­ma­tive years in Ade­laide to the run­ways of Paris, Adut Akech shares her jour­ney to the top as a young black model.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

From her for­ma­tive years in Ade­laide to the run­ways of Paris, Adut Akech shares her jour­ney to the top as a young black model.

Be­ing the sec­ond black woman to close Chanel since Alek Wek in 2004 makes me feel very, very proud. It’s hard to ex­plain the feel­ing, be­cause I never ever thought I would even work with Chanel, let alone close its au­tumn ’18/’19 haute cou­ture show in July. Dur­ing the whole process of my fit­tings I would cry – I guess be­cause I just didn’t have any words for the ex­pe­ri­ence; it was all so crazy and un­be­liev­able, and I’m still on cloud nine about the whole thing.

Then, clos­ing for the Valentino show a few days later as well … that was such an hon­our. I ab­so­lutely love Pier­paolo [Pic­coli, Valentino’s cre­ative direc­tor]. The first time I met him I didn’t even know who he was and I was chat­ting to him like I’d known him my whole life. I thought he was the coolest and most down-to-earth per­son and he holds a very special place in my heart. He took me to the Met Gala! That ex­pe­ri­ence was crazy. When I first ar­rived at the Gala, I didn’t ap­proach peo­ple be­cause I was too ner­vous, but there were so many peo­ple say­ing hi to me and talk­ing to me and af­ter that I was like: “Wow, you’re fa­mous but you’re re­ally cool.”

When I was grow­ing up, the role mod­els who in­spired me in my ca­reer were Alek Wek and Naomi Camp­bell, who is like a sec­ond mum to me now. I also look up to Lupita Ny­ong’o, and through her, I’ve learnt about beauty and be­ing com­fort­able in your own skin and I gained the con­fi­dence of know­ing my own beauty and worth.

My mother, Mary Eli­jah Akech, has al­ways been my big­gest role model, idol and in­spi­ra­tion in life and she still is. She is so proud of what I have achieved – from my early mod­el­ling days in Ade­laide to walk­ing the cou­ture shows in Paris – and even though she doesn’t re­ally un­der­stand a lot about the in­dus­try, she has never given up on me. At the start, I had so many peo­ple against my mod­el­ling, who didn’t be­lieve in me, and be­cause of that, I’ve al­ways been very driven and have worked my ass off to make things hap­pen just so I could prove those who doubted me wrong.

Be­cause of my suc­cess, I re­alise I’ve be­come some­thing of a role model to young girls and I am ex­cited about that, but I’m not go­ing to lie, I also feel a bit of pres­sure, be­cause I think peo­ple are go­ing to ex­pect so much of me and I don’t want to do any­thing wrong. If a young girl of colour as­pir­ing to be a model asks me for ad­vice, I would say: know who you are and stay true to your­self be­cause be­ing in this in­dus­try it’s so easy to lose your­self, which is the ad­vice that Naomi Camp­bell gave me when I started. Also, work hard, be­cause noth­ing is go­ing to come easy. You have to want it so bad and give it ev­ery­thing you’ve got.

I do un­der­stand how some peo­ple who hear about my re­cent suc­cess might think: ‘Why has it taken this long to have a woman of colour close a show?’ And while I’m so hon­oured, it is a bit up­set­ting. But there have def­i­nitely been changes in the in­dus­try since I was of­fi­cially signed to an agent at 15, and I feel happy about what’s hap­pen­ing. I’m see­ing a lot more di­ver­sity on the run­way and in cam­paigns, and be­ing picked to do the David Jones 2017 cam­paign last year was a very sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment for me. In Aus­tralia, I feel like I’m see­ing more black girls and Asian girls and more mod­els of colour be­ing used for ad­ver­tise­ments. And work­ing over­seas, there are so many black girls and so many more women of colour walk­ing … it’s great to see that peo­ple are fi­nally com­ing to their senses about be­ing in­clu­sive.

I ar­rived in Aus­tralia from South Su­dan when I was six years old and knew I wanted to model from the age of 12. But never did I think I would be out of my mother’s house at 17, liv­ing in New York and hav­ing to pay my own rent. New York is a hard place to be and is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to how I lived my life in Ade­laide. I get very home­sick and Aus­tralia is al­ways go­ing to be ‘home home’, but I have to make wher­ever I am in the world home, oth­er­wise it’s very hard. You have to learn to adapt very quickly in this in­dus­try.

I’m go­ing home to Ade­laide af­ter the shows and I can’t wait. My fam­ily is su­per­tight, so be­ing away from them was the hard­est thing, but I knew I had to do it for their sake. All I ever wanted is to make sure my fam­ily is set for life.

I just bought my mum a car for her birth­day and that was one of the prom­ises I made to her when I was younger. When we first moved to Aus­tralia I said: “Mum, I don’t how or what I’m go­ing to do but I prom­ise you I’m go­ing to fin­ish high school, I’m go­ing to buy you a car, and I’m go­ing to buy you a house.” I’m now 18 and have achieved two of those things and am now on my way to get­ting her a house.

That’s an­other thing about me: when I make my prom­ises I make sure I keep them. I don’t care how long it takes me to achieve them, but I al­ways stick to my prom­ises.

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