Photograph by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott; Styled by Jacob K.
What is fashion now? If you were to take a look at the latest runways, one name certainly emerges: Anok Yai, a new mainstay on the runways, show after show, designer after designer. And come Fashion Week each season, the model has her hair braided into cornrows. It is not so much a beauty statement as a social one—an appeal to the fashion industry for more cultural awareness. “A lot of people are not well versed about how to do black hair,” she explains. “When I started out, I had so much breakage and heat damage, I lost 10 inches off the length.” Born in Egypt to Sudanese refugees, Yai grew up in New Hampshire, where her parents worked long hours to make ends meet. Their work ethic instilled in her a desire to effect change; and just two years into her career, she appears to be doing just that. During her debut season, she became the first black model since Naomi Campbell to open a show for Prada, a house previously called out for its lack of diversity on the runway. And last year, she was appointed an ambassador for Estée Lauder, where she offers input on creating products for all skin tones. “Everyone should see themselves represented in fashion,” she says. In her free time, Yai fields DMs from young women eager for advice. “I tell them, ‘When you walk into a room, demand respect and attention.’ ” Here, lensed by Mert and Marcus, Yai and a cast of the industry’s new supers take a look at what happens when punk, New Wave, and grunge collide. Here, behold the new youth culture sophisticates.