Alek Wek

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Alek Wek
Alek Wek, Red Dress Collection 2007.jpg
Alek Wek at the Red Collection 2007 for The Heart Truth campaign
Born Alek Wek
(1977-04-16) 16 April 1977 (age 37)
Wau, South Sudan
Modeling information
Height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Hair color Dark Brown
Eye color Brown
Measurements 34-23-34.5 (US) 86.5-58-88
Dress size 4 (US)
Manager Storm Models, London

Alek Wek (born 16 April 1977) is a South Sudanese British model and designer who began her fashion career at the age of 18 in 1995. As the first black model whose looks did not conform to Caucasian aesthetics, she has been hailed for her influence on the perception of beauty in the fashion industry. She is from the Dinka ethnic group in South Sudan,[1] but fled to Britain in 1991 to escape the civil war in Sudan.[2] She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.[3]

Early life[edit]

Wek was born in Wau in Sudan (now South Sudan), the seventh of nine children, in a two-bedroom house without electricity or running water.[4] Her mother Akuol (b. 1946) was a housewife, and her father Athian (1933–1985) was an education official. Her name reportedly means "Black Spotted Cow".[5] Alek has stated that physically, she resembles her father, who was 6'5" and also had unusually long limbs.[4] Wek suffered from the skin condition psoriasis from infancy until age 14.[4]

Her father Athian once broke his hip in a bicycle accident; his hip was repaired with metal pins. When the civil war broke out in Wau in 1985, the Wek family had to flee from both rebel and government forces. Long periods of walking caused Athian's hip to get infected, and upon the family's return to Wau, he became paralysed and endured a haemorrhage. He died at a relative's home in Khartoum.[4]

Career[edit]

After arriving in London at age 14, Wek's psoriasis immediately cleared, possibly due to the damp climate.[4] She enrolled in London's College of Fashion with a concentration in fashion business and technology.[4]

Wek was discovered at an outdoor market in 1995 in Crystal Palace, London[2] by a Models 1 scout. She appeared in the music video for "GoldenEye" by Tina Turner that year, and shortly thereafter began fashion modelling. She was signed to Ford Models in 1996[1] and also appeared in the "Got 'Til It's Gone" music video by Janet Jackson that year. She was named "Model of the Year" in 1997 by MTV,[6] and was the first African model to appear on the cover of Elle that year.[7]

Advertising and catwalks[edit]

Alek on the cover of the October 2013 issue of Forbes Africa[8]

Wek has modelled, either on runways or in print advertisements, for Issey Miyake, Moschino, Victoria's Secret, Clinique, Shiatzy Chen, John Galliano, Chanel, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Jasper Conran,[9] Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Armani, Fendi and Christian Dior.[10] She has also been featured in articles in American and British Vogue. And has been on the cover of Elle magazine, i-D Magazine, Canadian, German and Japanese Vogue, Cosmopolitan magazine, Glamour magazine, Forbes Magazine Africa, and Ebony magazine. In 2002 she made her acting debut in The Four Feathers as Sudanese princess Aquol.[11]

Herb Ritts photographed her for a 1999 calendar in a Joanne Gair body painting that was a highlight of Gair's first retrospective.[12]

Wek has also been a guest on both The Tyra Banks Show, America's Next Top Model and The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.

Image[edit]

Dark-skinned models were rare, if not unheard of, in the high fashion industry. Wek was "the first black model who didn't conform to a Caucasian aesthetic, the first with an uncompromising, sub-Saharan beauty... her industry saw her as new and exotic – a savage beauty."[4] As a result, Wek's mainstream success was celebrated by black women all over the world. Oprah Winfrey commented that “if [Wek] had been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.”[13]

While giving a speech on beauty and self-perception, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o mentioned Wek, stating that she had been a self-conscious, insecure teenager before seeing Wek in the spotlight: "When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” she added, “Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty".[14]

Handbag line[edit]

Wek also designs a range of designer handbags called "Wek 1933", which are available throughout selected Selfridges department stores. The name refers to the year her father was born.[15] Her inspiration for the designs came from the brass-clasp briefcase carried by her father.[16]

Campaigning[edit]

Since 2002, Wek has been an advisor to the U.S. Committee for Refugees Advisory Council,[17] which helps to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan, as well as the plight of refugees worldwide.

She is a missionary for World Vision, an organisation which combats AIDS, an ambassador for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan, and devotes time to UNICEF.[18]

In 2007, she released an autobiography, entitled Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, documenting her journey from a childhood of poverty in Sudan to the catwalks of Europe.[19]

In 2011, she appeared as a guest judge in the sixteenth cycle of America's Next Top Model.

In July 2012, she returned to South Sudan with the UN Refugee Agency to highlight the stories of refugees returning from the north and the massive efforts needed to build and stabilise the country.[20]

In 2012 Alek teamed up with Amarula as the face of their campaign African Originals.

Personal life[edit]

Wek has been in a relationship with Riccardo Sala, an Italian real estate developer, since 2003.[4] She is aunt to the runway model Ataui Deng.[21] She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Refugee from Sudan takes runways by storm". Articles.baltimoresun.com. 9 January 1997. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "BBC – Radio 4 Woman's Hour -Alek Wek". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  3. ^ Alek Wek – Model Profile
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Louette Harding (9 November 2007). "'I went hungry, not to fit into a dress but because I was a refugee,' says model Alex Wek". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Tavis Smiley . Archives . Alek Wek . August 30, 2007". PBS. Retrieved 23 February 2009. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Alek Wek – Fashion Model – Profile". 
  7. ^ "Fun Black Fashion Fact: Alek Wek on November 1997 Elle Magazine". 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Jasper Conran Spring/Summer 2009 Collection[dead link]
  10. ^ Askmen.com profile of Alek Wek
  11. ^ "The Four Feathers". Salon.com. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  12. ^ Herrick, Linda (10 December 2001). "Joanne Gair's designs on celebrities". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 
  13. ^ Supermodel Alek Wek on the Business of Fashion, Being the Face of Refugees, and Life After the Runway
  14. ^ Lupita Nyongo's Moving Speech at Essence Event
  15. ^ Campbell, Denise (2006). "Couture carryall: fashion model Alek Wek designs luxury handbags". findarticles.com. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Steve Dow, journalist". Stevedow.com.au. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "Alek Wek profile: news, photos, style, videos and more â€" HELLO! Online". Hellomagazine.com. 31 December 2000. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "Alek Wek". AskMen. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  19. ^ Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel[dead link]
  20. ^ "Alek Wek's Journey Home". Bluekeyblog.org. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "Meet The New Girl". nymag.com. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  22. ^ Alek Wek – Model Profile

External links[edit]