Alek Wek and Adut Akech are an important part of Karl Lagerfeld’s history in fashion
The paradox of Karl Lagerfeld: Breaking barriers in design, ignoring diversity in representation at Chanel’s haute couture shows
Models regard being chosen as the bride of a couture house’s collection to be one of their greatest professional achievements. This is because usually, this garment is the designer’s best work and it is unveiled as their piece de resistance, in front of an audience of the most influential people in fashion.
To have the honour of wearing such a masterpiece is an immense milestone for any model. The career changes that come with it, are immense. Few models have been chosen to be a couture bride. And no designer has made the couture bride more important than Karl Lagerfeld at the House of Chanel.
As the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute prepares to honour the late Lagerfeld (1933- 2019) with an exhibition titled ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’, many are looking back at the designer's impressive career and impact on fashion.
The opening of the exhibition, the Met Gala, taking place on May 1 in New York, will be a tribute to Lagerfeld and his many contributions to fashion. It is sure to be a night full of glamour and style, and we can only imagine what kinds of stunning looks will be on display.
Although Lagerfeld always maintained that he saw all women as potential muses regardless of race, he was frequently criticized for lack of diversity in his work. This was most evident in his haute couture shows, where the bride - traditionally the star of the show - was almost always of European descent.
The CHANEL Spring/Summer 2004/2005 show. Video by Fashion Channel
While runway casting has gradually become more diverse over the years, it's still surprising that Lagerfeld only ever had two Black models as his couture brides: Alek Wek in 2004 and Adut Akech in 2018.
For the Chanel Couture Spring 2004 show, Wek presented the showstopper gown- a pearl encrusted column dress worn with a feathered cape. For the Chanel Couture Fall 2018 show, Akech wore a mint tweed skirt and blazer, with intricate, jewel encrusted embroidery and an edgy veil. Both were moments that were not forgotten, especially since they were 14 years apart.
For Wek and Akech, being chosen as Lagerfeld's couture bride was an important feather in their cap. It not only put them in the spotlight but also helped to elevate their careers.
The CHANEL Fall/Winter 2018 show. Video by Chanel
When you think of iconic African models, the names ‘Alek Wek’ and ‘Adut Akech’ will always be on top of the lists. And they have a number of things in common, even though they are from different generations. Famous for their killer walks, their personalities and how the fashion world can't get enough of them, they also share something rare.
Wek and Akech are of South Sudanese descent. Wek was born in Sudan and fled the country with her family during the civil war. She eventually settled in London, where she was discovered by a modelling scout while working at a McDonald's.
Akech was born in South Sudan and fled to Kenya with her family when she was just six years old. She eventually ended up in Australia, where she was discovered by a modelling agency while shopping with her mom.
Wek is known for being a pioneering figure in terms of changing the landscape of beauty ideals by being one of the first dark-skinned models to grace mainstream fashion publications. Akech has earned admiration for her incredible professional success at such a young age as well as representing both South Sudanese heritage and African diversity on international runways. They have broken barriers within the fashion industry through their immense talent, courage, and determination.
Lagerfeld was a trailblazer in the fashion industry. He was known for his creative and often controversial designs that pushed the boundaries of what was considered fashion. And yet, for a man who was so ground breaking in his designs and creative vision, it is surprising that Lagerfeld was not more inclusive when it came to the models, he chose to represent his work.
About the 2023 Met Gala
Award-winning actress and Chanel ambassador, Penélope Cruz, Emmy-winning actress and director Michaela Coel, tennis icon Roger Federer, musician Dua Lipa and Vogue's Anna Wintour will be taking on the prestigious role of co-chairs for the 2023 Met Gala in honour of Karl Lagerfeld.
This year's Met Gala dress code is an homage to Karl Lagerfeld. Those in attendance can peruse the wide selection of designs from Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, Balmain, Patou and his own label for inspiration.
When is The Exhibition Opening?
The 'Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty' exhibition will show 150 looks from his fashion design tenure at Balmain, Patou, Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel with accompanying sketches. From May 5 to July 16, 2023, visitors can see the exhibition inside the Met's Tisch Galleries.