At just 18-years-old Adut Akech has ticked off almost every item on any model’s wish list. She’s walked in some of the world’s biggest fashion shows, fronted the cover of the world’s biggest fashion magazines, counts some of the world’s biggest supermodels as friends and mentors, and just last night was named Model of the Year at the prestigious Australian Fashion Laureate Awards.
While it’s exhausting reading that list alone, for Akech, it’s only just beginning. The South Sudan-born, Adelaide-raised teenager was signed to Chadwick Models a mere two years ago and after headshots of her were passed along to Saint Laurent, she was instantly booked – off the photos alone – for the French fashion house’s spring summer ’17 show in Paris.
As soon as Akech stepped her patent leather-boots on the runway, her agent was fielding calls from the likes of Valentino and Chanel, the former who invited her as a guest to the Met Gala and the latter who bestowed her the honour of closing the Chanel show, something usually reserved for the likes of Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner or Lily Rose Depp.
Thankfully, the whirlwind pace at which Akech’s career has taken off has meant that she hasn’t had any time to overthink. “I’m just going with it, really. I don’t really have much time to process what’s going on,” she says. “But when I do have some downtime and come home, that’s when I reflect on what an incredible year I’ve had and what I’ve achieved.”
So what is it that makes her stand out from the millions of other beautiful, young models in the world? When you put the question to the woman herself, Akech laughs and takes a moment to consider her answer. “I think it’s probably my personality for sure. I’m quirky and – I don’t know – I would want to be around me,” she giggles, before adding in the way only a teenager would: “Not to sound up myself or anything!”
If she wasn’t residing in New York and travelling the world with modelling, Akech says she’d be home in Australia doing her first year of a business degree and probably working in retail on the side. “I always wanted to work in a clothes or accessories store, something to do with fashion,” she notes, saying that she knew she wanted to model since she saw Campbell as a child and thought, “wow, I want to do that.”
Noting that Campbell was one of her idols and someone she looked up to growing up, Akech is open about the fact that it’s now “crazy” she can call or text the British supermodel, who has become an industry mentor since the pair met on the set of the Pirelli calendar.
Born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, in 2008 Akech emigrated to Australia aged six with her siblings and mother and settled in Adelaide, before she moved to New York City to pursue modelling age 17. “I come from a really big family. I have four younger siblings and an older sister,” she says. “It’s a big household. In our culture, we’re very family orientated. I feel like that has helped me as a person. My family keeps me grounded and keeps me sane. I’m grateful that I have them.”
“Moving to New York was hard, I’ve always been a mother’s girl. I never thought at 17, I’d be out of home and living in big old New York City on my own. It was definitely hard in the beginning. It was super hard. I won’t lie about that.”
On diversity in the fashion industry, Akech says that even in the short time she’s been modelling she’s noticed a significant shift. “I haven’t even been modelling for that long – just three years – but there’s definitely been a change,” she says. “It’s getting better and better every season, but there’s definitely always room for improvement, we still have a long way to go. I feel happy and proud that I get to be a part of this movement and this change.”
Akech now works with the United Nations to help refugees, something she wants to expand on in the future. But when pressed on other upcoming projects, Akech deflects and says she’s being careful not to “jinx herself” by revealing too much.
Looking at her year in review, it’s safe to say that being jinxed is about the last thing this trailblazing young woman has to worry about.