Supermodel Alek Wek speaks to Adia Barboza about her catwalk career, running a handbag label and educating Sudanese children.
Who is your favourite designer?
I like to mix and match clothing ranging from high street to vintage. It’s about what you feel comfortable in and what works. I like vintage pieces, and young designers. I can mix a Chanel jacket with a Ralph Lauren skirt. It’s what fits well.
Do you have a favourite shop?
I like to explore. It’s not just the main stores. I like Atlantic in Brooklyn, New York, and army surplus stores. The vintage shops in Berlin are great too.
What is your favourite piece of clothing?
Jeans with long legs. You have to find something that fits you right. Diesel has been really great with sending me stuff lately. Levi’s is good too. But I don’t take fashion too seriously. It’s more a reflection of how you feel.
Where do you think is the best place to go shopping?
Sudan, because it’s so simple and beautiful. You can identify with a tribe there or be creative in London. I’m thinking about getting a place here in London but my mother says no. She says I need to come home to Sudan and live with her. Paris is beautiful too. Milan is nice but not to live. I’m a wanderer, you know?
What is next on your agenda?
I’m working with my uncle in the Sudan embassy in London to open a secondary school on the Nile in Sudan. It would be made up of 50% boys and 50% girls. At first the authorities said there should be more boys but I said no. We need to educate the girls to bring up the kids. My father always stressed education. I didn’t understand it when I was young but I understand now. I’m also developing new handbags and adding more jewellery to my Wek 1933 label. I’m also writing more. I’ll keep on modelling but in moderation – I’ve done my share. I don’t want to be too busy and I would like to have a family of my own. But that takes a lot of time.
Your Wek 1933 handbag label has been around for a few years now. What does the 1933 signify?
It’s the year of my father’s birth. I wanted it to be a celebration and a reminder to never give up. My dad was always lovely. He embraced all of us and taught us not to let go of what we love.
How involved are you in the design?
Having a business is a challenge. I actually design the bags and jewellery. We need to pay respect to the places where the jewels come from too through the designs.
You’re involved with Africa Rising, which promotes ethically-focused organisations in Africa. Why did you want to be a part of it?
The project is amazing, the whole spirit. I was happy to even have a small part in it. The Africa Rising concert at the Royal Albert Hall in October was not only amazing but helped raise awareness for the organisation. It’s not about the fashion or music, it’s bigger than that. I applaud everyone involved.
How do you feel about the fashion industry getting involved with such an important issue?
It’s great because Africa Rising is important to everyone. Things are happening here but we all have to work together. We can make a difference if we put our differences aside.
Alek Wek is a supermodel and designs her own handbag range, Wek 1933
Who is your fashion icon and why?
Wow, that’s a strong word. Can I say more than one person? Diane von Furstenberg is one – her wrap dresses are always great. The other is my mother, but no one knows who she is. She wears these head scarves that I always said I never would. But for the past two or three years I have been. They are perfect for when it rains.
Diane Von Furstenberg
Diane von Furstenberg began her career in fashion in 1972 and within four years she was seen as a top-flight designer. Her signature wrap dresses were her first major success and the printed jersey styles quickly became a must-have item for Studio 54 disco divas. Today her collection includes swimwear, sportswear, cosmetics and accessories. DVF’s spring 09 collection is full of jewel tones and floral prints.
As president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, von Furstenberg has become a flagbearer for controversial issues including the lack of models from different racial backgrounds, and underweight models.