Alek Wek is one of the biggest names in fashion. She re-defined beauty standards, challenged the status quo and created a more diverse industry. Alek Wek is a game-changer.
Alek Wek was born in South Sudan. Fleeing the country at the age of 5, she and her family moved to London. There, she studied fashion at university, mainly focusing in fashion business and technology.
At the age of 19, Alek was scouted at an outdoor market in Crystal Palace, London. She then appeared in Tina Turner’s music video for “GoldenEye”. Not long following the music video, she became a fashion model. By 1997, Alek had starred in Janet Jackson’s music video for “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”, was named “Model of the Year” by i-D magazine and was the first African model to appear on the cover of Elle Magazine.
“A black woman is not ‘a type’. I never had any interest in those jobs that asked for only black girls. What the hell is that? Would you be comfortable saying you wanted only white girls, or Latin? Are you kidding me? It’s baffling.” Alek told The Guardian.
Alek is noted for being the first African model that does not “conform to a Caucasian aesthetic, the first with uncompromising, sub-Saharan beauty,” said journalist, Louette Harding.
Alek Wek, photographed by Ian Harrison
“If [Wek] had been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have a different concept of who I was.” said Oprah Winfrey, a huge fan of Alek.
Alek has walked for over 30 designers on the runway, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs and Chanel. She has also appeared in 14 designer campaigns including makeup icon, NARS, Ralph Lauren, GAP and H&M.
Alek Wek as the Black Swan
“When I started, I’d hear other people saying, ‘God, she’s so bizarre-looking’, because I didn’t look like the girl next door. But I was just normal. I was the girl next door. There were people in high fashion I could better relate to, who were doing something more interesting and not talking this sort of rubbish.” said Alek.
She has inspired many models and actresses who may have thought they were too dark for the industry they were reaching, such as Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Alek is proud to have such an influence over young girls, “I felt that girls growing up needed to see somebody different, who may have been criticised for their nose, or their hair, or anything – that they could be beautiful. It’s about telling girls from a young age that it’s OK to be quirky, it’s fine to be shy. You don’t have to go with the crowd.” she said.
Alek Wek for NARS
Alek has designed her own collection of handbags, “Wek 1933”. Inspired by her late father, who passed away when she was five, and is named after the year he was born. The collection is also inspired by her father’s briefcases that he often wore when at work.
Alek Wek continues to inspire and challenge the fashion industry in more ways than one, “Fashion should celebrate women and I’m glad that I grew up in a culture that celebrated them,” she said.
Alek is one of the biggest game-changers in the fashion industry, and will continue to inspire for years to come.
By Ally Feiam