The Enduring Impact of Alek Wek

Photographs by Quil Lemons
Styled by Rebecca Ramsey
Interview by Jenny Comita

Alek Wek wearing a Miu Miu jacket, shorts, briefs, and belts
Alek Wek wears a Miu Miu jacket, shorts, briefs, and belts.

The 50th Anniversary Issue of W is an all-out supermodel celebration featuring 17 cover stars ranging from the world’s most famous names to women who are well on their way to total fashion domination. See every cover model here and read Jenny Comita’s essay about the evolution of the beauty standards that define the industry here.

Since your debut in the mid 1990s, you’ve made fashion history several times over, including when you became the first African “bride” to close a Chanel haute couture show. Now, at 45, what do you see as your biggest impact on the industry?

Everybody has a story, but my story, I think, has a lot to say about how people can persevere. I was a kid when I started, coming from South Sudan, fleeing a civil war. Now when you see Alek Wek, you see diversity. When you see Alek Wek, you see opening doors. I never thought I would still be working at this age, and I thank my mom every day for that. It’s genetics. I’m like Benjamin Button. Nineteen-, 20-year-olds try to chat me up!

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello coat; Cartier necklace.

Prada sweater, skirt, belt, and shoes; Wolford socks.


Do you think the fashion world’s definition of beauty has changed in recent years?

I think fashion has come a very long way. I can see a beautiful range of diversity now, of people of color. But I think we’re very insecure, people in fashion, and we mustn’t forget that we are ever-evolving and that more people have to be given a chance. Because fashion is so powerful as a platform, and we can use it to shed light on important issues.

Hermès top, shorts, and boots; Cartier bracelet and rings.

How has your approach to modeling changed as you’ve gotten older?

I make my own choices now. I don’t have to be in a place where people disrespect me. And for the first time, I’m honoring not just my work, but me as a human being and as a woman.

Michael Kors Collection coat and catsuit; Christian Louboutin shoes.

Givenchy dress and boots; Cartier earrings.

Quil Lemons has gone from up-and-comer to the top of his game in record time. The New York-based photographer worked with Alek Wek on this simple, elegant shoot that reflects his signature style.

Hair by Joey George for Mizani at MA World Group; makeup by Marcelo Gutierrez for Chanel Beauty at Bryant Artists; manicure by Jin Soon Choi for JINsoon Audacity at Home Agency. Model: Alek Wek at IMG. Casting by Michelle Lee at Michelle Lee Casting.

Lighting director: Matthew Yoscary; photo assistant: Allen Jiang; lab + retouching: picturehouse+thesmalldarkroom; fashion assistants: Tori Leung, India Reed; hair assistant: Kat Cabrera; makeup assistant: Alex Levy; tailor: Lindsay Wright