Alek Wek’s Trailblazing Career

Alek Wek was born in the South Sudan, educated in London, and traveled the world for the likes of Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Oscar de la Renta as a top runway model. Tim Blanks reflects on the career of the onetime-refugee-turned-catwalk star, entrepreneur, and activist.

Released on 11/20/2014

Credits

Starring: Tim Blanks
Featuring: Alek Wek

Theme Song: "#1 In Heaven," MNDR
"Wild Ones," Letters
"Getting Better," Pablo Sebastien

Transcript

00:00
So it was just like me?
00:02
Like no way!
00:04
But it's after a while, when you really get to work, you
00:09
get to realize that it's not just about the way you
00:11
look too, it's work, you know?
00:14
(runway music)
00:27
This is Throwback Thursdays.
00:28
I'm Tim Blanks.
00:29
Today we're talking to Alek Wek, in 2002.
00:33
There's a lot more like this the style.com YouTube channel,
00:36
so why not subscribe?
00:38
Even the word extraordinary is inadequate to describe Alek
00:42
Wek's life.
00:42
She arrived in England in 1991 as a refugee from the civil
00:46
war in the Sudan.
00:47
My sister was living in England at the time.
00:50
My mother said-, wrote in a letter don't come back, it's not
00:54
looking so good.
00:55
My father ended up passing away just shortly before I came
00:58
to England.
00:59
So it was a lot of things going on.
01:03
[Blanks] And from that beginning, she found herself
01:04
gracing magazine covers and runways all over the world.
01:08
That does constitute some kind of fairy tale.
01:11
It was beautiful, being able to get and opportunity to
01:14
where I don't have to worry, to pick up and go the next day,
01:17
you know?
01:18
Having that freedom and having the opportunity to get my
01:22
education, it was amazing.
01:24
[Blanks] When I think about all the models we've looked at
01:26
on Throwback Thursdays, it seems like most of them have been
01:29
trailblazers, one way or the other.
01:31
Alek Wek is definitely a trailblazer.
01:33
Lupita Nyong'o, for instance, says she wouldn't even exist
01:36
if it wasn't for Alek.
01:38
What immediately set Alek apart as a model, is that she was
01:42
a true African, not an African-American, not an
01:44
African-European.
01:45
But there was a time in fashion when African models were
01:48
very, very fashionable with designers like Yves St. Laurent
01:52
and Emanuel Ungaro.
01:53
So, actually, Alek was keeping alive the tradition that had
01:57
been allowed to fade.
01:59
And I also think that with Africa as the next financial
02:02
frontier, we're maybe going to see more girls like her on
02:04
the catwalk.
02:05
[Alek] I think, deep down, I mean we gotta be thankful,
02:09
especially I have to be.
02:11
It's just incredible, it's powerful, the voice of what
02:16
entertainment can bring forward.
02:18
[Blanks] The simple fact of the matter was that Alek was
02:20
such a joy to work with, that everyone wanted to work with
02:22
her. Peace out!
02:26
[Blanks] She could be supremely elegant.
02:27
She could be supremely fierce.
02:29
And she always did it her way.
02:32
(runway music)
02:36
Given her own personal history, it's no wonder that she
02:38
became such an activist with a special focus on refugees.
02:42
[Alek] I wish I can do more and it's something that, you
02:45
know, is really, really close to my heart.
02:48
And I think it would be selfish of me to not give back,
02:52
because after all, one of the most beautiful things this
02:55
business has given to me is the voice and to be able to do
02:59
something with it.
03:00
And I think that that's like priceless.
03:03
(runway music)
03:18
Do you think there's enough diversity on the catwalk?
03:20
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
03:22
This is Throwback Thursdays, and I'm Tim Blanks
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