Q&A With Supermodel Alek Wek
Posted under Celebrities, cosmetics, designer, fashion, fashion show, inspiration, Interviews, Uncategorized by RobynIt is rare when beauty has the power to move you, force you to come to terms with your own, and inspire/challenge the way your eyes and mind process the idea of it on a whole. While fashion continuously brings on new concepts, ideas, and aesthetics, it’s ever-changing nature can sometimes leave bystanders (and even those involved) struggling to catch up. “It” factors are lost, philosophies overruled, and it’s subjects placed more or less back where they started. To have substance, understand the business, and continuously stay afloat, it takes a very special kind of person.
Enter our lady of the hour, Alek Wek.
I remember the first time I saw her. The impact of her difference stood out in such a new and refreshing way – it was like nothing else I had ever seen. In a sea of sternly inaccessible poses and out of reach campaigns, came a vibrant young glowing thing whose cheery disposition questioned the entire fashion game. Before I knew it, her face was everywhere – showing off bold and colourful makeup looks (and what a canvas to display them on!), walking runway after runway show, and proving to women all over the world that it is in fact enough to just be yourself (no wonder Oprah declared “If you’d been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.” publicly, while hosting Wek on her show).
How did she get her start?
Born and raised as a part of the Dinka tribe in Southern Sudan, the civil war forced her and her family to move to London at a mere fourteen. It was there, in a market, that she was discovered. Having taken a risk (black cover models were not as prominent as they somewhat are today – something I still feel could be improved upon, diversity-wise), Elle featured her on the cover of their magazine. The outpour of comments from readers verbalizing their appreciation for a “break in the beauty mould” was overwhelming. The rest my dears, is simply history! Multiple campaigns, unstoppable momentum, and an array of stunning editorials… all kept going by her strong sense of self, and down to earth work ethic.
Alek took time out of her international jet-set schedule to answer my questions – indulge, enjoy, and adopt her incredible outlook…
RC – You seem to be amongst the few in the fashion industry whose star keeps on rising, consistently gaining strength and staying power as the years roll on. How do you survive in an industry that is so “of the moment” (and whose beauty ideals consistently change)?
AW – I really believe that my understanding that fashion is a business, not a hobby or a game, is what has allowed me to continue on. I never grew up dreaming about being a model or having exposure to fashion, per se, but once given the opportunity, I understood very clearly that I could either have a career and make a difference or I could do this for a few years and not accomplish much at all. I’ve never been one to do anything half-way, so once I decided to do this, I gave it my all. I think that people in this industry really do appreciate someone who is willing to work with them and be part of the team.
RC – You’ve been dedicated to many philanthropic efforts over the years. Can you shed some light as to the causes you are currently working with and how they are making a difference?
AW – Yes, I’ve partnered with organizations like Doctors Without Borders and most recently, I’ve been doing some work with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This means a lot to me because as you might know, I was a refugee from Southern Sudan as a teenager. I know firsthand how difficult it is to leave everything you know and love behind to get to a place where you are safe and can rebuild your life. So my work with UNHCR is very important and very personal. I’m returning to Southern Sudan this summer on my first UNHCR mission. I am so excited and humbled to be able to be a part of anything that means Southern Sudan will have an opportunity to rebuild and grow.
RC – You frequently guest speak at a variety of New York City schools on the famine going on in Southern Sudan, alongside the importance of good nourishment on a whole. As the fashion industry can turn a blind eye to women starving for lower dress sizes (and even involuntarily encourage unhealthy lifestyles in the name of “perfection” and image), this must feel worlds away from your career as a supermodel! How do you keep a realistic vision of beauty, health, and fashion?
AW – You know, my mother always told me to be myself and if someone cannot accept you, then you do not need them in your life. I’ve carried that philosophy with me and it allows me to ignore the nay-sayers. At the end of the day, it’s important for me to be happy, not just with me but everything that makes up my world. There is no such thing as perfection so I don’t really put much stock into thinking that this and that is wrong with me. I like to focus on and celebrate what’s right with me. So yes, I have fun with fashion; I play with colors and a number of styles. I am not too rigid about it at all. I love yoga because it relaxes me and helps me to put things into perspective. As far as beauty, it comes in so many colors, facial shapes, body shapes, hair colors, etc. For me, there has never been one definition of beauty. I think we all have something to offer and when beauty shines from within, there can be no denying it.
RC – You have worked with influential designers and brands such as Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Chanel, Alexander McQueen and Helmut Lang (to name but a few). Would you say the men and women behind the designs reflect the collections they put out? What would you say your most memorable runway moment was?
AW – I think that the designs we see reflect their sensibilities, passion, and experiences. So many things can inspire a designer after all, and we’re the lucky recipients of such amazing talent and vision. I honestly can’t say that I have a most memorable runway moment because there have been so many. Every time I walk down a runway, I feel like anything and everything is possible, and that I’m so fortunate to be able to do what I love and be a positive voice at the same time. I can’t help but name a few others who have also meant a lot to me, including Giorgio Armani, Diane von Furstenberg, and Karl Lagerfeld. Love them all.
RC – You have always given off such a confident and comfortable air in your beauty (I adore your campaigns radiating with happiness and smiles!). What advice would you give to women who feel awkward, less-than, or like they are still coming into their own?
AW – I would say to them to ignore the negativity and embrace everything positive. I know it seems much easier to say than do, but it really does work. We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by other’s beliefs and perceptions because in the end, why do they matter? And whose to say that they are right? People come in and out of our lives all the time, but we should invest in the relationships with people who support and love us – and those people do really exist. That’s what I love about artists like Lady GaGa. Her song, “Born This Way”, really does sum it up for me. Also, Jill Scott’s anthem, “Hate on Me”. Any time you feel like you are less than or awkward, or that someone doesn’t like you or mean you well – listen to those songs and really embrace the message.
RC – What was meeting Oprah like (I had to ask!)?
AW – Meeting Oprah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I love her and am always inspired by who she is and everything she has accomplished. Bless her!
RC – You’ve branched off into acting (Four Feathers featuring Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson) and designing handbags in the past (Alek Wek 1933). Are these arenas you wish to continue pursuing in the future again?
AW – Yes absolutely! Bring it on!
RC – You have been named Model Of The Decade by i-D Magazine, counted amongst People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”, Frank’s “50 Most Influential Faces In Fashion”, have graced the covers of international publications, extended your influence and reach to speaking on behalf of others in need through political platforms… What’s next for you?
AW – The sky is the limit, isn’t it? Stay tuned. There is so much more to come!