At 44-years-old, South Sudan-born supermodel Alek Wek laughs that younger models call her “Benjamin Button.” It’s an apt description for the fashion icon who’s been in the business — and at the top of her game — for the past twenty-five years.
Wek is undeniably ageless and her joyful exuberance spills over into painting, cooking and now designing, with a signature capsule collection for Weekend Max Mara, called A.W.orld by Alek Wek. The collection is a celebration of Wek herself — from luxurious knits in the colors of the South Sudan flag to a print that comes from her own painting of her palm print.
As one of Grazia’s September cover stars, the multi-hyphenate spoke to veteran fashion editor, Maggie Kim, for an exclusive and extremely personal interview. Wek got candid about her career, her family, and why humanity has become more important than ever in our post-pandemic world. Oh, she’s also still trying to get Mom’s approval (just like the rest of us).
Here’s a sneak peek of their conversation…
On what she learned from the lockdown
Wek worked on the A.W.orld designs during the lockdown in New York while reflecting on what it means to be human, the universal experience that connects us all. “Humanity is so essential. It’s good to be human. It’s good to be present,” she says. “We need to celebrate that and if you couldn’t learn that from the pandemic, then you missed the point. You’re just fighting a war you can’t win.”
On trying to impress her mom
“For her, I’m not really that successful. She’s had nine children so her life is very different,” says a bemused Wek. “My mother’s the one who taught me to knit and she always reminds me that I can’t speak Dinka [the language of Wek’s ethnic group]. But I’m in a good place. I’m so humbled and touched by all of this. I’m not the smartest cookie, but there’s still excitement about my work.”
On being seen as more than just a face and body
“Fashion celebrated the way I looked and not how I felt, so I always felt like something was missing. Hollywood was the same way… But with this collection, people I never thought would celebrate me are celebrating me and how I feel.”
For the full interview with Alek Wek, grab Grazia’s September Issue, out on stands September 23. Are you ready for our biggest issue ever? (We don’t think you’re ready!)