Egyptian-born Sudanese Model Yai then aged 19 was studying biochemistry at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, aiming to be a Doctor in future, when she decided to turn up for Howard University’s homecoming celebration in 2017. A camera man aimed a shot at her, that picture would go down as life changing. Just more than a week, that photo brought Yai Instant fame, gaining the attention of nearly a dozen modeling agencies. Now many thanks to that photo, she’s ultimately living a dream that decided to choose her and yes, doing the damn thing!
Yai of Egyptian and Sudanese heritage, grew up in the United States since she was 2. Compliments about her being exotic were a norm while growing up and although Yai alongside her sister often fantasized about gracing countless runways. For Yai, something clicked right awaywhile watching Naomi Campbell walking in the 2003 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, she got inspired. However,
somehow she decided that world wouldn’t accept her as white models were everywhere, besides the industry was much too crowded and complicated.
So down the drain went her modeling dreams and instead she chose enrolled at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. So when a friend suggested a trip to Howard’s homecoming, she decided to tag along. While Yai was immersed with the beauty of other girls and how well they looked so put together, spotlight was on her.
“I didn’t even think that anyone would look at me,” she said. “I was looking at the girls and they had nice outfits put together.”
Some people asked to snap photos of her, including Steve Hall, a Howard graduate who works at the university and also as a professional photographer who lives for documenting black fashion, beauty and culture.
He literally stumbled into Yai as someone else was taking a photo of her with a camera phone, he got entranced by her melanin drip and swung into action. He then asked for her name and Instagram handle, uploaded the picture the next morning with the caption: “Saw her right at the end of Yardfest,” he wrote. “Stunning” and just like they say, the rest is history.
He told her she is “the physical embodiment of what my art is,” he recalled to The Post. “Mysterious. Just a tall, dark-skinned and insanely beautiful person. I told her ‘I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you should definitely be photographed and you should be modeling.’ ”
The picture instantly went viral, garnering over 20,000 likes in 24 hours. Hall’s notification was flooded. At first, Yai couldn’t figure out why her phone suddenly began buzzing, then she saw the picture. She didn’t really like it and thought it looked just about average, but lots of people did.
“When it got to a couple thousand and it just kept going higher and higher, I was surprised. And I was happy. I always wanted it to happen, but it was something I never expected.”
New found fame: Tons of calls and messages started coming in from modeling agencies that wanted to hire her including IMG, but ultimately she signed with Next Models worldwide a week later. There’s been no looking back ever since.
Anok Yai in 2018 became the first black model to open a Prada show since Naomi Campbell in 1997. In July 2018, Yai became an Estée Lauder spokesmodel.
Anok has appeared in various of the brand’s campaigns, has also featured in editorials for British Vogue, Dazed, V Magazine and Other Magazine, and covered issues of Vogue Italia, CR Fashion Book and W Magazine. Today, she is one of the modeling world’s popular faces.
“Me opening for one of the top fashion houses is a statement to the world — especially for black women — that their beauty is something that deserves to be celebrated,” she said in an interview for Vogue in her groundbreaking moment.
Now aged 23, Yai currently ranks as one of the “Top 50” models by models.com.