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Prada AW18
Anok Yai at Prada AW18Courtesy of Prada

Thanks to IG, Anok Yai was the first black model to open Prada since 1997

She tells us what it means for her

Last Thursday, Miuccia Prada closed day two of Milan Fashion Week with a show held in a new building on the outskirts of the city. Featuring neon-bright nylon, archival motifs and more than a few pairs of the tiny sunglasses we’ve seen over the course of the last few seasons, the presentation was also attended by a computer-generated influencer, @lilmiquela.

Miquela wasn’t the only one present who caused conversation, though. The first model to hit the runway was relative-unknown Anok Yai – making her the first black woman to open at Prada since Naomi Campbell, way back in 1997.

Student Yai was signed to Next Management last year, after photographer Steve Hall posted an image of her at Howard University’s homecoming festival ‘Yardfest’ to his IG account. It quickly went viral on both Instagram and Twitter, with the agency contacting Yai soon after. “When I spotted Anok, I was enamoured,” said the photographer. “There was something simple but piercing about her look.”

The model, who was born in Egypt to Sudanese parents and moved to the USA when she was two, recently recalled being insecure about her skin as a young girl, stating she’d never seen women as dark as she was represented in the media. Talking to Dazed after landing back in the US, she also spoke about changing that for future generations of girls like her. “I hope to change the perception of beauty in the fashion industry by representing the people that don’t fit the European standards of beauty,” the model told us. “Not everyone has light skin, straight hair and blue eyes, and there is beauty in that: beauty that should be accepted, appreciated, and explored.”

“Not everyone has light skin, straight hair and blue eyes, and there is beauty in that: beauty that should be accepted, appreciated, and explored” – Anok Yai

Prada is undoubtedly progressive in many ways – this season’s collection was designed with a ‘female utopia’ in mind, in which women could walk the streets at night without fear, and Miuccia has long been a staunch advocate of feminism and women’s rights. However, after Naomi Campbell’s appearance on the runway in 1997, it wasn’t until 2008 that another black model, Jourdan Dunn, walked for Miuccia. In 2013, Malaika Firth was the first black model booked to star in a Prada campaign since 1994.

The AW18 show marks Yai’s second appearance as part of a Prada show, after her debut at the menswear show of the same season in January. The model also stars in the Italian label’s SS18 ad campaign. Speaking to British Vogue after Thursday’s presentation, Yai described opening for Prada as “an honour,” before going on to say that the decision was bigger than her. “Me opening for one of the top fashion houses is a statement to the world – especially for black women – that their beauty is something that deserves to be celebrated,” she explained.

With two Prada shows now under her belt, we think it’s safe to say that Yai’s phone will be ringing off the hook when it comes to bookings from now on. But we also hope that the excitement with which this moment has been met means that we’ll be seeing a lot more diversity on her catwalk in future seasons. Never mind Miquela and her computer-generated counterparts. Let’s celebrate IRL girls of all races and ethnicities too.