The glamour of magazine covers and the excitement of the runway are bait for millions of girls who aspire to become models. The industry is tough and competitive, and it is easy for a beginner to feel lost in the crowd. There are cases, however, when unique looks and an engaging personality create an irresistible mix. Some call it star power; others, the X factor. The fashion world calls it “Adwoa Aboah.”
Hailing from an influential industry family (her mother is Camilla Lowther, founder of photography agency CLM), Aboah rose rapidly to fame, accumulating covers for US, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, British, and now Arabian Vogue along the way. She was also named Model of the Year at the 2017 British Fashion Awards. For Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of Dior, Aboah is much more than a pretty, yet unconventional, face. Her heart-shaped visage is a glowing honey color speckled with freckles, while her wide-set, hazel eyes seem to convey wisdom beyond her 25 years. “I first noticed Adwoa on the catwalks,” says Chiuri. “What struck me was how she understood modeling as a profession that comes with heightened visibility and, therefore, great responsibility.”
The first time the designer and model worked together was for Chiuri’s debut pre-collection at Dior, which was followed by a shoot for Dior Mag. But what started as a working relationship soon escalated to something more meaningful. “When I finally met her in person and I was able to speak with her about her projects and her ‘militant’ activism, I knew she was the perfect person to interpret the spirit of ‘my’ Dior,” Chiuri says. “There is a new generation of models who work in the industry but pursue their own projects as well. Adwoa is one of them. It is powerful and encouraging to see a young girl like her use her time to help other women.”
Chiuri is referring to Aboah’s Gurls Talk platform, with its 165 000 Instagram followers, website, and events that celebrate women and give them a safe space to share their stories. Instead of the classic bikini images many top models choose to post to increase their social media reach, Aboah prefers to share messages of inclusion, love, and empowerment. Gurlstalk.com features articles discussing topics girls might feel embarrassed to ask about. “What I admire is the strength and passion with which she has created Gurls Talk. She has a unique sense of responsibility,” Chiuri continues. “Adwoa may be young, but she has made clear choices, and her engagement is genuine and incredibly powerful. I have learned a lot from young women like her, who decided to feel good about themselves and claimed the right to be themselves, using their own experiences to denounce certain situations.”
Chiuri and Aboah sit down to discuss strong role models, reaching out to girls, and what’s important for women today.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI: How were you discovered?
ADWOA ABOAH: I was discovered at a school fashion show and then scouted outside Topshop on Oxford Street a few times. I didn’t have any interest in modeling, so I waited before meeting with Sarah Doukas from Storm Models, who was a family friend. Modeling was certainly something that seemed exciting and I loved the idea of getting dressed up. But I didn’t have the confidence or any thought that I would actually become a model. It seemed completely out of reach.
MGC: Did confidence come with age?
AA: Confidence grows with age and the more I work, the more I understand the relationship between the model and the photographer, and the model, the crew, and the publication; what it is they want and how we can create something together. I now understand what is needed. It is not just about coming on set and being a model, it is about trusting my intuition and creating a character.
MGC: How did you come up with the idea for Gurls Talk?
AA: For me, Gurls Talk is a safe place and community – a tribe that I spent so much of my younger years trying to find to feel less alone. It is a platform with no stigma and nothing is taboo. We base ourselves on the simple idea that if we talk about issues, we break boundaries and create a space where everything is out in the open.
MGC: When you founded it, who did you want to help?
AA: There wasn’t a particular girl I felt I wanted to help. I think this is the beauty of Gurls Talk. It is aimed at every girl. It’s not dependent on demographic or what you have necessarily been through.
MGC: Were you motivated by your own personal issues?
AA: My story was somewhat traumatic. It is exhausting to look back on something that was a difficult time for myself and my family. [Aboah has struggled with addiction.] But I’ve become used to it and it is not scary anymore. Instead of focusing on myself, I prefer helping others and giving them a platform. I’m proud of where I am now and of my ability to push through difficult situations.
MGC: What is the most beautiful aspect of creating a community of women supporting each other?
AA: Perhaps in a selfish way, I have created something I feel very much a part of: a tribe of women who are like-minded and who make me feel safe and comfortable and loved. Being able to create a safe place for them is magical and something I am truly thankful for.
MGC: What is the most important thing for women today?
AA: Camaraderie, sticking together, and respecting one another, whatever your opinion may be. The more we stick together, the better chance we have of making changes. I’m so proud to be a woman now.
MGC: Where do you get your strength and your inspiration from?
AA: From the Gurls Talk team and community, and every single girl who comes up to me to talk. I’m also inspired by my sister, my family, and the wonderful women I get to meet every day.
MGC: Do you ever feel the need to have some time for yourself?
AA: I always need time for myself. For me, it is not just about coming on set and being on my phone and not talking to anyone. It is about creating relationships and working with these people again – if we get along, that is. When I am exhausted and have had enough of everything, it’s tough to do that. I work hard to get a good photo, and by giving away part of myself, I also give away a lot of energy. When you are in a bad place, having your own space is important. During fashion week, I surround myself with friends; that keeps me grounded. I am also lucky to be at an age and place in my career where I have a supportive team around me.
MGC: I am fascinated by your tattoos, in particular the one on your hand which reads “power.” Can you tell us what pushed you to get it?
AA: I wish it had more thought behind it than it does! I was participating in a documentary series for Vice and ID and I thought I would look cool on camera if I had a tattoo [laughs].
MGC: Would you like to leave a message for the Arab women reading this?
AA: I very much respect their courage to make changes. I find it empowering to have watched from afar what they have all achieved and I would like to learn more from them. I think other parts of the world would love to hear more of their story.
Makeup: Hannah Murray
Makeup Assistant: Katie Robinson
Nails: Lolly Koon
Lighting Director: Jon Heller
Camera Assistant: Clay Howard Smith
Lighting Assistants: Zane Shaffer and Tyler Roste
Digital Tech: Anthony Miller
Fashion Assistants: Mohammad Hazem Rezq, Aleksandra Markovic, Nick Browne
Set Design: Jack Flanagan
Production: Tyler Strawhecker