ON TRACK

Adut Akech in a Valentino dress. Pho­tographed by Ye­lena Yem­chuk.

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - by ALI­SON SYRETT pho­tographed by YE­LENA YEM­CHUK styled by JU­LIA VON BOEHM

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 .”

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