By: Mazuba Kapwambe
When I think of an African supermodel, the names Liya, Alek, Oluchi and Iman instantly come to mind.These four women have been featured in countless editorials, campaigns, magazines and have walked the runways of internationally known designers, sometimes even becoming their muses. Yves Saint Laurent is known for saying of Iman, "Iman is my dream woman."
Now it is time to look to a new crop of talent who will carry on the legacy of these women and represent a section of colored women who are not always seen on the runway. The criteria used to judge who is a top model usually follows these characteristics: designers walked for, shows done, International magazines featured in and campaigns done. A few names that come to mind that fit the criteria are Ataui Deng, Ajak Deng, Knee Diouf, Nana Keita, Aminata and Millen Magese.
More about this
At only 19 years of age, Sudanese model Ataui already has a career that rivals other models that have been in the industry for many years. After her first show for New York Fashion Week in 2008, Ataui has landed a coveted Macys deal, has appeared on the front page of Lurve magazine in a shot that has now become iconic, has appeared in two editorials for V magazine and closed the spring Lavin show in Paris. Fellow 19 year old model Ajak also walked for Lavin’s show in Paris and was described as a break-out star and is said to be following in the footsteps of Naomi Campell. She has already been featured in V and Interview magazines and has booked campaigns with Top Shop, Nordstrom, and United Colors of Benetton.
One may have the impression that the only models that make it onto the world runways are Somalian or Sudanese, but that is not the case as evidenced by models like Millen Magese from Tanzania who is signed to Ford and is a favorite of not just International designers but African designers, as well as a staple at South African Fashion week.
With the numbers of African models being discovered in the United States rising, I would like to turn the attention to African models in Africa and the ways these models can have a "shot" on the world stage. With Tyra Banks making an effort to create supermodels with her show "America’s Next Top Model”, Africa has embarked on a similar concept through shows like "West Africa’s Next Top Model" which was hosted by Oluchi in 2009 though the show was never aired. "Nigeria’s Next Super Model" did make it onto the air and Claudia Adelu was crowned the winner, though I have yet to see her in any campaigns.
Successful long running model searches include competitions like Nokia Face of Africa which launched the career of the first ever African Victoria secret model Oluchi Onweagba who went on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated four times. The show has also produced Ghanaian Kate Menson and Zambian Lukando Nalungwe who walked for the Arise fashion collective in February 2010 and was featured in the magazine. With the exception of Oluchi, winners of the competition work mostly in South Africa. Therefore, does that mean that these shows do not really make "super models" out of these women? Fashion blogger and stylist Rosemary Kokuhilwa begs to differ. She states,
"In regards to model searches in Africa I think they tap the hidden talents and beauty of these African girls and expose them on to the international scene. Though it helps bring out the individual talents of these girls it also showcase the awareness of Africa’s beauty and potential in the global fashion industry. Undoubtedly, these shows have a great impact and are good starters for these girls who have dreams to make it big in this industry. The cautionary note is that the shows are not guaranteed success of these girls. Have we seen these girls made any stride into the industry internationally? I would say that is a working process. Time will tell."
Of course not every African model wins a competition as there are stories of models such as Aminata and Betty Adewole, who were just discovered on the street by chance .
Time will definitely tell which of these models will become the new "supermodels" of the next decade. Although it is tougher for black models to break into the industry, we can already see that more and more designers are booking African models. Even male African models are being spotlighted, the most notable ones being Guinean model Salieu Jalloh who was described by Vibe Magazine as "one to watch" and David Agboji who scored a Calvin Klein SS 2010 campaign. With agencies like Elite searching for talent in African countries and more countries hosting fashion weeks (Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola being the most recent), the number of African models on the fashion stage will increase.