Adut Akech in a Valentino dress. Photographed by Yelena Yemchuk.
TThe fashion industry can’t get enough of Adut Akech, and neither can we. She’s only been a model for two short years, but flick through September’s fashion magazines and you’ll find that Akech is everywhere, wearing every possible combination of styles like a seasoned pro. The girl’s got soul too, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. And now that gorgeous face, which means so much to so many, is the face of Valentino’s latest fragrance, Donna Born in Roma.
“Valentino is like my family,” says the 19-year-old South Sudanese model, who was handpicked by the Italian house’s creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, to headline the campaign alongside Anwar Hadid (yes, the brother of fellow supers Gigi and Bella). “It never feels like work with them.”
Akech made her modeling début at Saint Laurent’s spring 2017 show (she had a contract with the brand for three consecutive seasons). Her next big break came while attending a casting call for Valentino, where she fell into easy conversation with a “cool, laid-back” man she assumed to be just another member of the atelier.
“When I got inside, it eventually clicked: ‘Oh, shit, he’s the designer,’ ” she says laughing as she remembers her first interaction with Piccioli.
“But since that day I’ve loved working with him—he makes me feel like the most beautiful girl.”
Not that Piccioli needs to try very hard. With her signature full pout, flawless skin, and strikingly long legs,
Akech stands out in an industry of abnormally attractive women. However, as one of the buzziest black women in fashion right now, she is acutely aware that her presence represents a greater good that extends beyond the runway.
“Since starting my international career, I’ve noticed a change in how the industry is becoming more inclusive,” she says, recalling that even just three years ago there were no women of color at certain jobs. “People have been calling out designers, brands, and casting directors [on social media], and I think it’s helped a lot.”
Akech still thinks there is a long way to go, but she’s happy to be part of the cultural shift. “There’s definitely been progress,” she says, citing her Valentino gig as an example. “It’s uncommon to see a black girl as the face of a high-end perfume—that makes this moment even more special for me.”
While Akech’s professional life is on the rise, she knows she can always feel grounded when she goes home to Adelaide, Australia. Her family moved there in 2008, after living at a refugee camp in Kenya. Akech sounds as content as can be when describing her chill life Down Under: walks with her baby sister (she has six siblings), painting (she recently took up the hobby), and “normal stuff” like going to dinner and the movies.
As a globe-trotting model, Akech is finding her footing in the world and is happy to explore wherever the next job takes her. “I’ve learned to be comfortable in whatever country or city I’m in,” she says. “I think everywhere for me is home.”
“IT’ S UNCOMMON TO SEE A BLACK GIRL AS THE FACE OF A HIGH-END PERFUME—THAT MAKES THIS MOMENT EVEN MORE SPECIAL FOR ME .”