Born in Wau, South Sudan, Alek Wek has gone from seeing her beloved country ravaged by civil war, to escaping and beginning a new life as a refugee in London, and finally finding international success as a supermodel. As a Dinka woman, Wek has spoken out about her prejudices she has faced, particularly in the world of fashion. She has continually fought for the same recognition and opportunities as those around her, a right which has not been easy to achieve.
As a result of these battles, milestones for Wek include appearing in the much coveted position as the ‘bride’ in Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel catwalk, and working with other top designers such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. It was, however, gracing the cover of Elle magazine in November 1997 that Wek truly acknowledges as a pivotal moment. This moment was significant for Wek not just as a model, but as a woman now able to publicly embrace, celebrate and educate about her Sudanese roots in an industry so often criticised for its innate racism.
‘Whether I like it or not, my skin defines me”, writes Wek in her autobiography. However, whether you know her as the face of high street brands or the face of numerous charities, it is clear that Wek is using this to her advantage. She continues to challenge not only her own expectations after a childhood characterised by terror, but also those of the world around her.
Wek with Karl Lagerfeld as the ‘bride’ in his Chanel catwalk show in Paris
An emotional return to Sudan on a charity trip