“I didn’t know there was such a thing as modelling when I was growing up. When I was discovered, I was five years out of South Sudan and was just getting used to living in London, to the new culture and to the language. The scout got my home phone number, called me and kept insisting that I should come in.”
When Alek Wek’s career launched, the fashion industry was, in many ways, very different from what it is today. To begin with, there was a group of models named Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Claudia and Christy, who were on the top of every designer and label’s wish list. To make it into that exclusive group and be on those lists, the industry demanded something extra, something special and something new. That was Alek Wek – a model of colour, whose gorgeous Dinka features were far from the conventional beauty ideals at the time.
“Fashion draws inspiration from all over the place, and therefore it’s natural that it should celebrate all cultures and colours. I’ve always been told that beauty isn’t the clothes or makeup you wear; that those are only things that can enhance the natural beauty of a woman. Which is within. I remember when Steven Meisel said ‘Alek, take that wig off. What kind of music do you want? I just want you to be you,’” she says and continues: “Having walked for thousands of miles looking for safety, I thought: this is it. This is my chance and fashion should represent all the different beauties of women.”