Style bible Elle magazine took a leap of faith when they featured a dark-skinned, Sudanese model called Alek Wek, on the cover of their November 1997 issue. However, the result was a phenomenon with thousands of readers writing letters of support, thrilled to see different standards of beauty in the fashion industry. Oprah later commented to Alek on her show, "If you'd been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was."
Alek was born in Southern Sudan and raised as a part of the Dinka tribe. At fourteen, she was forced to flee to London to escape the civil war. As fate would have it Alek was discovered by a top model agent at a London street fair, and she quickly rose to the top of the modelling industry. She was named "Model of the Decade" by i-D magazine; one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" and as one of the "50 Most Influential Faces in Fashion". New York magazine also named her one of the "50 Most Beautiful New Yorkers".
Alek's influence transcends the world of fashion and challenges the traditional concepts of beauty. She has spoken at the International Black Caucus Foreign Affairs as a member of a panel, which included Hilary Clinton, Congressman Daniel Payne, Danny Glover and many other distinguished speakers. She also serves on the advisory board for the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She speaks at schools in NY to bring attention to the famine in Southern Sudan and to educate children on the importance of nourishment. She has also launched the Bracelet of Life campaign in conjunction with Medicins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders. Alek also works closely with AIDS awareness benefits, children's charities, and breast cancer research.
She has featured in numerous advertising campaigns including, Clinique Happy, Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gautier, Banana Republic, Joop, Nars, Issey Miyake, Moschino, the Gap, Ann Taylor, Michael Kors and MAC Cosmetics. Alek also appeared in Coach's "Most Influential People" campaign. She worked with De Beers to promote the company's new ethical diamond brand, "Forevermark".
Alek has worked with the most talented photographers including Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Annie Liebovitz, Arthur Elgort, Michael Thompson, Ellen Von Unwerth, and Steven Klein, and she has appeared on numerous prestigious magazine covers including i-D, Elle, Essence, L'Officiel, London Style, Deutsch and New York Magazine's Fashions of the Times, as well as the Sunday New York Times Style issue.
She remains one of the most iconic catwalk faces and regularly walks for Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Christian Dior, Gucci, Fendi, Jean Paul Gautier, Vivienne Westwood, Chanel, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Helmut Lang.
In her free time she indulges her love of art and design. She has an eponymous handbag line - Alek Wek 1933 which has been successful for several seasons. Alek also enjoys acting and debuted in the film Four Feathers, along side Kate Hudson and Heath Ledger.
Alek has written and published a memoir. In ALEK: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel (Amistad/HarperCollins; Publication Date: September 1, 2007), where she reflects on her native home of Wau, Sudan, her life in London, and the world of fashion.