Titled FASHION NOW, the momentous all African British Vogue February 2022 cover spotlights nine striking young black models – Adut Akech, Anok Yai, Amar Akway, Majesty Amare, Akon Changkou, Maty Fall, Janet Jumbo, Abény Nhial and Nyagua Ruea pushing the boundaries not only of beauty but of the entire fashion world, redefining what it is to be a model.
The models are “representative of an ongoing seismic shift that became more pronounced on the spring/summer ’22 runways. Prada, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Miu Miu and many more were awash with dark-skinned models whose African heritage stretched from Senegal to Rwanda to Sudan to Nigeria to Ethiopia. For an industry long criticised for its lack of diversity, as well as for perpetuating beauty standards seen through a Eurocentric lens, this change is momentous,” the mag writes.
“I saw all these incredible models from across Africa who were just so vivacious and smart,” recalls Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief and European editorial director, dishing on the inspiration behind shooting an all-Black, all African stunning cover by
Rafael Pavarotti, “These girls,” he continues, “are redefining what it is to be a fashion model.” This, he asserts, is well overdue. “You know, fashion tends to follow waves. We’ve had the Brazilian wave. We had the Dutch wave, the Russian wave, the Eastern European wave… And while, in the last decade, the Black model has come to prominence, I love that we are finally giving more space to African beauty.”
At 22, Adut Akech is arguably the most successful African model working today. Following her runway debut at Saint Laurent, in 2016, her international Vogue covers have run into double digits, she has notched up numerous fashion and beauty campaigns – from Valentino to Estée Lauder – and recently bought a house in LA.
Speaking in the new issue and recalling the landscape of five years ago as compared to now, Adut says; “When I first started modeling internationally, I would literally be the only Black, dark-skinned girl in the show. There were no Sudanese models, no African models. Now,” she says, smiling, “I go to a show and there are girls from my country, girls from Africa who look like me. So yes, there has been a huge change. It has gone from me being the only one at a show to 15 or 20 of us. I’m just so happy that we are finally at this place. I was tired of always feeling out of place and feeling like an outcast.”
She added that she hopes that the rising of African models goes beyond a trend: ‘I mean, that is the goal, that it becomes more than a moment. Actually, I don’t see it being a trend. Also, there are so many of us – we are just not going to go out of style.’
The top model has inspired other African models, such as Janet Jumbo, 18-year-old Nigerian model ( the youngest on the list), the first Nigerian to ever walk for Louis Vuitton when the French fashion house signed her for wide exclusive for Louis Vuitton in their AW19 show. She has modeled for Burberry, Balmain, Louis Vuitton and Tod’s. Jumbo says the wave of success African models are riding right now “gives me hope that I can succeed at this”. Janet’s modeling career started after she was discovered by the Raw Model Management boss, Raphael on the streets.
Anok Yai, a fellow Sudanese model, who in February 2018 became only the second Black model ever to open a Prada show (the first was Naomi Campbell, in 1997), also knows what it feels like to be an outsider. “In the beginning, I felt really isolated,” she says. “I got thrown into the modelling industry very quickly and I kind of had to navigate it on my own. I also have social anxiety, and so I struggled a lot with connecting with people. Backstage, there would maybe be one other Black girl, but now my tribe is backstage. I can speak my own language to my friends. They are basically like my family.”
The February 2022 issue of British Vogue hits newsstands on 18 January