August 25, 2019
(AUSTRALIA) – South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech was having a bad day when she answered a phone call from an unknown overseas number.
On the line was the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I had no idea she would call,” the 19-year-old told AAP.
“I was having such a s****y day and then I got that call and I almost froze in shock. I am a really big fan of hers so I had to try so hard not to be a fangirl.”
The duchess was calling to let Akech know she would be appearing on the cover of the British Vogue September issue titled Forces for Change, which Meghan had guest-edited.
The cover – shared with 14 other women including New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, teen climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg and actresses Jane Fonda and Salma Hayek – came as a surprise to Akech.
“I wasn’t really told what the whole thing was about, I knew I was shooting with Peter Lindbergh but that was about it. It was very secretive up until a couple of days before it came out,” she said.
Akech stars on the cover of five Vogue September issues this year – a coup during fashion publishing’s most important month – but the British Vogue is her firm favourite.
Akech’s family was forced to flee war-torn South Sudan when she was a baby. She spent most of her childhood in Kakuma, a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, before her family moved to Australia and settled in Adelaide.
One of seven children raised by her single mother, Akech began modelling when she was 12.
“In my culture, nobody takes modelling seriously,” she said.
“Our parents have the mindset that it’s not a career unless you go to school, get a degree and become a lawyer or a doctor. Those are the things every refugee parent wants their kid to do.”
Akech promised her mother she would finish high school, become a successful model and buy her a house and car. She’s managed to keep all four promises.
Since walking for Saint Laurent at Paris Fashion Week at 16, Akech has starred in shows and campaigns for international fashion houses including Chanel, Dior and Prada.
In 2017, she was chosen by the late Karl Lagerfeld to close the Chanel couture show dressed as a bride – becoming the second black model to land the coveted spot. The first, Alek Wek, is one of Akech’s idols.
“For me, that tops any show. It was iconic, it was history-making. It’s fashion’s highest honour,” she said.
Akech hopes her success will help to change the narrative around refugees in Australia.
“I want to change how people view us. I say us because I will always be a refugee and that is something I will never be ashamed of,” she said.
“I think that Australia should be more welcoming of refugees and of people from other places and cultures. It’s a big ass country and there’s not a lot of people in it.”
Akech is an ambassador for Melbourne Fashion Week, which runs from August 28 to September 5
(South Sudan NEWS PORTAL)