Adut Akech on Fragrance, Self-Celebration, and $11 Drugstore Foundation

This 19-year-old knows what's up.

Updated 10/10/19

Adut Akech is no stranger to the runway. In just three years, she's walked for legacy brands like Valentino, Saint Laurent, Dior, Givenchy, and Versace. She's covered more Vogue issues than I can count on one hand. But her story isn't all glamour. Born in South Sudan, Akech spent eight years in a refugee camp before moving to Australia and then the U.S. "I wouldn't change it," she tells me over sips of coffee. When we talk, she's thoughtful in her responses, pausing every few moments to choose her words. But she's also fun. Her age, 19, is apparent during her breaks for laughter and wide-eyed wonderment when she discusses her career. "I still can't believe it," she muses. But her awareness, both about the industry and life in general, feels wise beyond her years. 

Today, we're here to talk fragrance as she's the new face of Valentino's campaign alongside Anwar Hadid. The collection, Born in Roma, is meant to be an ode to self-celebration. We talked about her childhood, sure, but it felt like Akech wasn't looking for a sob story. She's confident, successful, beautiful, and cool. This is about her rise, not her past. It's about celebration. We clinked our mugs together and high-fived. Below, find her thoughts on Valentino, skincare, beauty, and writing as therapy.

adut akech valentino
@adutakech

On her relationship with Valentino...

"I got involved with Valentino in September 2017, and since then Valentino has been my family. We’ve done every show together. The first time I met Guido Paulau we instantly hit it off. He is one of the most incredible human beings I know—I genuinely mean that. Doing a fragrance campaign for a brand so close to my heart is honestly a dream come true, such an honor. I get to represent inclusivity, diversity, and show everyone can be included. You don’t see a lot of people my age included in campaigns for such classic brands. I feel like people our age are going to love this."

On how her childhood shaped her definition of beauty...

"I grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. The way I grew up has made me always appreciative and thankful for the things that I have now, because I didn’t have these things growing up. And I’m honestly glad—I wouldn’t change it. It taught me a lot of things about life in general; discipline, hard work, and independence. All these aspects have helped shape me into the young lady that I am today. And these are things that are going to serve me for the rest of my life."

On diversity in the fashion and beauty industries...

"A lot of people haven’t had the right foundation shades for my skin tone. But that has improved overtime. People and brands are starting to get the message now, that you need to be open-minded and inclusive of everybody. That you need to create something that’s for everybody. In the last three years I have noticed, its definitely changed. There’s still a long way to go, but there are changes being made and there’s a movement going on. It’s 2019, we’re in a world where you have to be mindful."

I get to represent inclusivity, diversity, and show everyone can be included.

On her beauty icons...

"Can my mother be one of them? Definitely my mother, with or without makeup. And Lupita [Nyong'o] taught me a lot about beauty and accepting who you are. There are so many. Honestly, any female I have come across in my life has taught me something about beauty."

On how she practices self-care...

"I love writing. I write when I'm depressed, when I’m angry, when I’m happy. Reading is another great way to get out of this world. When things that are getting a bit too much for me, I talk to my mom and my sisters—my family. They bring me back to Earth and keep me grounded. I enjoy cooking too. And running and boxing. I never notice a difference in my body, but it feels amazing on the inside. It’s kind of like an escape for me. And, you know, by being myself. All the time, I try to just be me, stay true to myself, and that’s my way of celebrating myself."

On her skincare routine...

"Being a model and having makeup on your face every single day can really mess with your skin. My skin has not been the same since I started, its always breaking out. I started using Dr. Barbara Sturm's products and they're so good. I’m sticking with that right now because it’s the only thing that’s going well for me. She has a range for darker skin tones, which I think a lot of brands need to really think about. Especially luxury brands, you know, a lot of people buy their things. But I wouldn’t go and buy something that’s not meant for my skin. So I love Dr. Barbara Sturm, the whole range."

On the foods that make her body feel best...

"I definitely eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. I didn't like vegetables at all until I went vegan, then I had to. Being vegan makes you appreciate food way more because you’re limited. I’m pescatarian now, but I’m eating my vegetables, fruits and making sure I stay hydrated."

On her favorite makeup product... 

"When I don’t have to, I don’t wear makeup. I love the L’Oréal's True Match Super-Blendable Foundation ($11). The best thing about being in America is you have so many things. I’m from Australia, and I never saw foundation this dark until I moved to America. And the fact that you can just go into a local CVS and pick up a foundation that’s your skin color for $11 is amazing."

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