The sun shone down on the Eternal City Thursday where editors and influencers had descended for an enchanting treasure hunt in Rome. The heroes of the new maison Valentino perfume, Born in Roma, are Australian-South Sudanese model Adut Akech and Palestinian-Dutch model and Vogue Man Arabia’s first cover star, Anwar Hadid.
“I have a special relationship with Valentino,” Akech says. “They were one of the first maisons to have me on a catwalk. I remember the first time I met Pierpaolo, it was my first fashion week. When I arrived at the headquarters, I saw this gentle guy smoking a cigarette in front of the building. We had a nice chat and he told me which floor to go to. Ten minutes later I realized that he was Pierpaolo Piccioli himself! This is what I like about Valentino, even if the dresses and the shows are spectacular, they are all sweet people I always enjoy working with.”
The new perfume Born in Rome signifies a mood, and those who adopt it have one foot seeped in tradition and culture, and the other firmly in the now. Creative director of the Born in Roma campaign and bottle designs, Pierpaolo Piccioli, explains that creation starts with “the dream he wants to deliver.” Of his new perfumes, he shares that they are fragrances for “a community where values are shared, not surfaces. Being inclusive maintaining a reverie of the past while bringing it to present times. Inclusivity is one of my primary values and to collaborate means to practice a language that includes all.”
Guests embarked on an olfactory treasure hunt through Rome to discover the fragrance’s notes. The experience began a stone’s throw away from the mythical Roman Spanish steps, where the maison Valentino flagship boutique is located at the Piazza di Spagna. From there, guests embarked in vans to different destinations throughout the city. One stop was an ancient Dominican Monk library, where centuries-old tomes were opened to reveal the first writings of the guaiac wood, used as against syphilis. Its earthy aroma is found in the new Born in Roma perfume. Next, guests ambled up a winding path to private apartments–that once belonged to a Pope. He would take this same route on the back of a white donkey from Sicily. Here, Akech and Hadid mingled with guests as they delighted in a high tea peppered with jasmine notes.
A last stop saw another private residence opened for guests to meander among walls laden with porcelain and silk-covered seats to learn about the vanilla and vetiver notes. Afterward, guests including influencers Jessica Kahawaty, Leena Al Ghouti, and Caroline Daur gathered at the Locarno Hotel for tarot card reading and dancing. Inside the leafy courtyard of the Roman boutique hotel, the fashion and beauty influencers are posing by a crackling fireplace, taking turns vying for the flashes from equally eager photographers. In one corner, Hadid, casual in a relaxed gray suit, is being entertained by a magician. For a cool night in January, the scene inside the Roman boutique hotel is as close to a modern-day dolce vita tableau as any. Taking it all in, couch-side, is 20-year-old model Akech Bior, with life-changing issues on her mind.
“My country is on fire,” she starts when asked how 2020 is looking, so far. “My home, Australia, is witnessing the worst bushfires in history. It has been terrible. We human beings can be really selfish, and now we are suffering the consequences.” Akech is from Adelaide, South Australia and was ordered to evacuate her house over the December holidays, along with her six siblings. “My mom was in Africa and I was looking after the younger ones. There was fire everywhere. In that moment, I definitely prayed. That’s the only thing you can do. You don’t have control over anything other than to maintain faith.”
The story behind the new Valentino perfume collection for men and women of which Akech and Hadid are the faces is celebratory and youthful. The women’s perfume is a spicy floriental with notes of jasmine, vanilla, and pink pepper. The campaign encompasses Piccioli’s “Aristopunk” concept that values inclusivity, individuality, and collaboration. In one image, a couture-clad Akech gently tilts her head as Hadid, in leather, rests his on her shoulder. The scene makes one think of a black and white swan interlacing and feels serene and comforting. Ideas that can be adopted by any one at any time. “I do have hope for rebirth,” comments Akech. “My life motto is having hope in everything.”
The South Sudanese-Australian model was born en route to her new home – Kenya’s largest refugee camp, Kakuma. At age seven, she left the camp with her family to settle in Australia. A voracious learner, she loved school, and finished her studies early. “Education is so important to me,” she nods. “In fact, I wanted to be a journalist.” However, she had already started modeling at 16 and upon graduation, went to Paris and ultimately moved to New York. “I’ve learned to make every place home,” she comments. “Home is a feeling.”
The first fashion show she walked was in Australia for Toni Maticevski while her international career took off when she stepped onto the runway for Saint Laurent SS17 in Paris. “Modeling is my passion – fashion altogether – it’s what I love to do. I’m growing and finding ways that I can use my modeling to create new opportunities for myself. Things that I have been thinking of doing lately include acting and writing a book about my journey. I used to have this mindset, like – modeling is my only passion. As I get older, I realize I can try different things and see if I can be good at those things, too.”
After her runway debut, Akech went straight to the top, landing Model of the Year on Models.com for two consecutive years. With Akech, however, there is more than meets the eye. Behind her doll-like features and delicate physique is a character rooted in unwavering values. She credits the bushfires for opening her eyes to the climate emergency. “I’ve always known that we are messing up, slowly killing our world. In that moment I knew that we needed to do better. Climate change is something I want to be a part of and make any change that I can in my life.”
Refreshingly, the supermodel doesn’t claim to have everything figured out. “I’m just starting to find my voice,” she nods. “I’m ready to take on the world. Stand my ground, speak my truth, and just be fearless, bold, and unapologetic.” As she says this, she shrugs off her black leather jacket, revealing her delicate bone structure and sleek as satin skin. Is it thick skin? “I’ve learned to not care what people say about me,” she affirms. “If what makes me happy doesn’t make others happy, that’s not my responsibility. You’re going to like me for me and if you don’t, I can’t force that. It’s not my job to sit there and care about an opinion. Whose time would I be wasting? My time.” Akuch credits her mother for instilling her strength, referring to her as the inspiration behind “everything she is today.” Among the qualities she has inculcated in her, she offers, “I’m a good listener. I know what’s wrong and what’s right. What’s true and what’s not. And I always follow my heart. I go through stages where I am reborn again. My life is really just beginning.”
Born in Roma by Valentino is available to shop at Ounass.ae