Alek Wek: From Refugee to Supermodel & UNHCR Good will Ambassador


The South Sudanese with her distinctive features and unconventional looks is one of the most instantly recognisable supermodels in the world. Alek Wek born on 16th April 1977 in Wau, South Sudan first received attention when she appeared in the music video for "Golden Eye" by Tina Turner, in 1995 and from there entered the world of fashion as one of its top models. Alek left South Sudan with her sister in 1991 to escape the civil war ravaging the nation at that time. Arriving in London at age 14, she was discovered in 1995 by a model 1 scout at an outdoor market in South London.

She was signed to Ford Models in 1996 and was also seen in the "Got 'Til It's Gone" music video by Janet Jackson that year. Wek made her debut on the runways for Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Ralph Lauren in Paris and New York in 1997. That same year, she was named "Model of the Year" by MTV and “Model of the Decade” by i-D magazine. Alek is the first African model to appear on the cover of International magazine Elle.

When Elle chose Alek Wek for the cover of their November 1997 issue, they were taking what many magazines considered a risk: a dark-skinned African girl on your cover did not, theoretically, sell issues. The result, however, was monumental reader response with letters-to-the-editor from women and men ecstatic about seeing the standards of beauty in fashion redefined.

The 5 ft. 11 inches tall, Alek Wek who inherited her jet black skin and long limbs from her father said in an interview, "I look like any other Dinka girl from the Sudan, I never imagined that somebody would ever look at me and recognize me and think I'm beautiful."

This “black spotted cow” as her name implies has modeled for most of the world’s leading designers from John Galliano,Gap to Chanel; walked on the runways of Paris, Milan, New York, to London and graced the covers of British Vogue and American Elle as well as done advertisement for Issey Miyake, Moschino, Victoria's Secret and make-up company, Clinique.

Alek was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in May of 1999 as well as one of the "50 Most Influential Faces in Fashion" according to i-D and Frank magazines. In 2002, she made her acting debut in the Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson film The Four Feathers as Sudanese princess Aquol.

She launched Wek1933 in 2005, a line of handbags that included gorgeous alligator clutch bags and big, elegant travel bags, all with hand-painted silk-screen linings named for the year of her father’s birth which are sold in select Selfridge departmental stores. Her inspiration for the designs came from the brass – clasp briefcase her father carried.

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

Alek's influence extends far beyond the fashion world and societal concepts of beauty. She spoke at the International Black Caucus Foreign Affairs as a member of a panel, which included Hillary Clinton, Congressman Daniel Payne, Danny Glover and many other distinguished speakers. She is a member of the U.S. Committee for Refugees' Advisory Council and is helping to raise awareness about the situation in South Sudan, as well as the plight of refugees worldwide. In July 2012, Wek 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 stabilize the country. She is also a missionary for World Vision, an organization which combats AIDS, an ambassador for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan, and devotes time to UNICEF. The UN Refugee Agency on June 16, 2013 appointed the supermodel as its National Goodwill Ambassador.

Ny Mag .

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