A STAR IS BORN

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Fan­tasy and re­al­ity col­lide as newly crowned model su­per­nova Adut Akech re­turns home to Ade­laide to take a turn in cou­ture: bold, spir­ited and sur­rounded by her ground­ing force, fam­ily.

STAR IS BORN

AA para­dox of youth­ful élan and un­com­mon strength, Adut Akech is the newly crowned model su­per­nova, claim­ing the spring/sum­mer ’19 sea­son walk­ing in 33 shows from New York to Paris. Fan­tasy and re­al­ity col­lide as she re­turns home to Ade­laide to take a turn in cou­ture: bold, spir­ited and sur­rounded by her for­ever ground­ing force, fam­ily. By Alice Bir­rell. Styled by Jil­lian Dav­i­son. Pho­tographed by Charles Dennington.

As­torm sys­tem is qui­etly wend­ing its way across the Ade­laide Hills on a spring day as Adut Akech Bior steps out of a car. Ten­drils of charged cloud float men­ac­ingly down­ward as the 18-year-old hikes up a cou­ture gown heaped in cake-like tiers. She catches it by a hair from trail­ing on the ground as the first plump rain­drops fall over Saint Columba Col­lege. The name the in­dus­try is re­peat­ing world­wide is back home and back at school – a clus­ter of but­ter-coloured weath­er­board build­ings flanked by rose­bushes and gums an hour’s drive from the Ade­laide CBD – al­though this time she’s hur­ry­ing to save an Alexis Ma­bille dress from the weather.

“There’s De Jager,” she says from un­der the safety of an um­brella, recog­nis­ing the head of the se­nior school greet­ing us warmly. “He’s ex­cited,” she says with droll fond­ness. “I used to get home­sick about my room, my car and school. Who would have thought?” At a clip be­hind her to get un­der­cover is Bri­anna Lang, her best friend, who she met in year 10, also here to be in Vogue’s shoot. Adut re­turns to her fam­ily as of­ten as her sched­ule will al­low. This time she’s back for a few weeks be­fore fly­ing straight to her base in New York for the start of the spring/ sum­mer shows. It will be her big­gest sea­son yet and ce­ment her in the minds of fash­ion’s lead­ers as un­doubt­edly one of the faces of the year, giv­ing way to rum­blings about a once-in-a-life­time type of model, but she’s not to know that yet.

Right now there is a feel­ing of home­com­ing and re­union, mak­ing it easy to for­get she was study­ing here less than a year ago. For Adut a year might feel like a long time. Af­ter two sea­sons booked as a Saint Lau­rent ex­clu­sive, be­gin­ning in Septem­ber of 2016, she has had two blue-chip fash­ion months, the kind agents dream of. In July, hand-picked by Karl Lager­feld, she be­came only the sec­ond black model ever to walk as Chanel’s bride, an over­due mo­ment, pre­ced­ing her in­duc­tion to The Busi­ness of Fash­ion’s 500 – a list of the most in­flu­en­tial names in fash­ion. It was all book­ended at one end by a turn in Tim Walker’s mo­men­tous 2018 Pirelli cal­en­dar, the first with an all-black cast, and on the other by the Septem­ber shows, with 33 ex­its, open­ing one and clos­ing three, in­clud­ing Valentino, where she is a favourite.

Shut­tered in­side her for­mer science class­room, the wind is whistling out­side. A text­book school lab, it is filled with beakers, Bun­sen burn­ers and anti-bul­ly­ing posters: ‘Change starts with you!’ Her old teach­ers come to say hello while she waits for the shot to be set up, one giv­ing her a hug. “Do you re­mem­ber me wear­ing these?” she asks Louis de Jager, hold­ing up a pair of school shoes with ev­i­dently the wrong coloured sole. He mock scoffs. “He told me I couldn’t wear them but he gave up.”

“We were rebels,” says Lang. “But we were good,” says Adut. “We were the best hu­mans in the school. We used to hang out to­gether in that room at lunch,” she says, ges­tur­ing to an ante-room off to the side that looks per­fect for con­fer­ring se­crets. Adut has an ob­vi­ous en­ergy that you can imag­ine would make her fast friends with any­one: warmth that is mag­netic and a joy­ful vi­tal­ity that doesn’t feel con­certed. With a smile that re­veals a gap in her teeth, the kind of cheru­bic lips de­sign­ers draw in ex­ag­ger­ated fash­ion sketches and legs with a length hard to un­tan­gle in your mind, she is both in­no­cence and grace. In her gown for the shot she slouches into her heels, tog­gling into a louche

youth­ful­ness with alarm­ing speed. It’s why she in­hab­its the clothes, be it streetwear and chunky sneak­ers or con­cep­tual high cou­ture, in a way that fits seam­lessly with her per­son­al­ity. The com­bi­na­tion is trans­fix­ing.

Al­though she has met al­lies all over the world, Adut main­tains a small group of friends. “My cir­cle is so tiny. I pick my friends very wisely, and very care­fully,” she says. “I get along with ev­ery­one and any­one, but there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween just getting along and ac­tu­ally be­ing friends.” She counts mod­els Kaia Ger­ber and Fran Sum­mers as ac­tual friends. “Adut is amaz­ing. She has this pres­ence about her that goes be­yond her un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful looks,” Ger­ber writes over email. “Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate work­ing with some­one as kind as her, who cre­ates a pos­i­tive at­mos­phere.” Sum­mers feels the same: “Adut is my best friend in this in­dus­try as we started do­ing shows at pretty much the same time. We tell each other ev­ery­thing. She can make any­one feel spe­cial.” As they’re in the run­ning to book the same jobs, it would be un­der­stand­able if com­pe­ti­tion reared its head be­tween friends. Adut doesn’t go in for this. “I get so happy when I see my re­ally good friends go­ing so well; they’re open­ing shows, they’re clos­ing shows,” she says. Dur­ing fash­ion month she gets texts ev­ery morn­ing from them check­ing on her, say­ing: “How are you feel­ing to­day?” or: “I hope you have a good day.”

It’s a world away from the fierce model moguls of the 80s, or the anony­mous seen-not-heard girls of the early aughts. It also tips past the so­cial-me­dia model and into a new gen­er­a­tion of model-muse: the girl with heart, who makes it cool to be nice. “I don’t think I’m more beau­ti­ful than any­one or any­thing, but I feel like my per­son­al­ity is the rea­son why peo­ple ac­tu­ally do fall in love with me,” she haz­ards with­out con­ceit. “If you are just a nasty, hor­ri­ble per­son, but you’re the most beau­ti­ful per­son, no­body’s go­ing to want to work with you. I just feel like it’s hard not to be nice to some­one, you know?”

To that end Adut says when she sees a new face back­stage she asks if they’re okay. “I know ex­actly how they feel. I tell them it’s nor­mal to be ner­vous, it’s nor­mal to be this or that. I feel like a mum when I’m giv­ing ad­vice,” she says, laugh­ing. When Adut walked for Saint Lau­rent in 2016, her ma­jor run­way de­but, she was 16, had rep­re­sented her home town as the face of the Ade­laide Fash­ion Festival, been signed to Chad­wick in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney for less than a year and had trav­elled alone to Paris af­ter do­ing a cast­ing from afar. “It’s rare that we book a model hav­ing never met them in per­son, but in Adut’s case we de­cided to con­firm her af­ter view­ing only her cast­ing video,” say Pier­gior­gio Del Moro and Sa­muel El­lis Schein­man, cast­ing di­rec­tors for the Saint Lau­rent show. “She was de­mure, but she was not shy, and the way she in­ter­acted with the cam­era fore­shad­owed her in­cred­i­ble pres­ence and en­ergy on the run­way.”

When a model is talked about in the terms that Adut cur­rently is, as a revo­lu­tion­ary force, a mod­ern-day Alek Wek, it is a sig­nal. Hit­ting on what de­sign­ers want to ar­tic­u­late and who women want to be, a model can de­fine an era, or, at least, de­fine a year. This sea­son there was un­prece­dented di­ver­sity on the run­way, but deeper than that, an ed­i­fy­ing sense that this new co­hort of mod­els, ac­cept­ing of ev­ery­one, aren’t just there to check a box.

“When I first started there were a se­lect few black mod­els who were do­ing good, and no­body else was no­ticed, but now ev­ery sea­son there’s some­body com­ing in, there are black girls, and Asian girls – dif­fer­ent girls,” says Adut, who in just three years has no­ticed a change and

“I don’t think I’m more beau­ti­ful than any­one, but I feel like my per­son­al­ity is the rea­son why peo­ple ac­tu­ally do fall in love with me”

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