The in-demand face of Gap and Versace is changing the rules of how to make it big in the craze. She talks about authenticity, her depression – and why her shaved head was a two digit bes to the industry

Adwoa Aboah: ‘In 2017, there is more than one way to be beautiful, and more than one way to be cool.’

Adwoa Aboah: ‘In 2017, there is more than one way to be pulchritudinous, and more than one way to be cool.’
Photograph: Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Epitome

Model Adwoa Aboah: ‘In 2017, there is assorted than one way to be beautiful ​and cool’

The in-demand face of Gap and Versace is changing the guides of how to make it big in fashion. She talks about authenticity, her depression – and why her pared head was a two fingers to the industry

Adwoa Aboah is ridiculously skilful, but that is not what makes her the most in-demand model of the point in time. Sure, the razor-sharp cheekbones and the blown-glass lips don’t do her prospects any wound. But there is something in her gaze to camera that makes her stunner seem as if it’s not the most compelling thing about her. It is this that has raised Aboah – phizog of a new Gap campaign, muse to Donatella Versace, booked for the catwalk by person from Christian Dior and Chanel to Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang – exposed to the modelling rank and file.

My first appointment with Aboah is denied because she hasn’t yet got out of bed. So far, so supermodel. But when we finally speak, it turns clear that this Linda Evangelista moment is approximately as far as Aboah goes in terms of conformity to the modelling tradition of indifferent, enigmatic beauty. After our interview, she has a busy day ahead. Senior, a meeting with Dr Lauren Hazzouri, a psychologist specialising in youthful women’s mental health. After that, it’s off to Gurls Talk, the online programme she founded to enable discussion about mental health, committee image and sexuality, to plan an upcoming event. Forget castings and go-sees: Aboah is changing the bars of how a modern model makes it big.

In Gap’s Bridging the gap campaign.

In Gap’s new Bridging the Gap campaign. Photograph: Douglas Segars for Gap;

Earlier this year, Aboah to take actioned up from being the insider’s favourite face on the catwalk to being a grave industry player when she appeared on the March cover of American Trend, one of a lineup of seven models of differing skin tone and committee shape. It is easy to mock this as a virtue-signalling Vogue restrict – the strategic placement of a hand that appeared to shield the The latest readers’ delicate sensibilities from Ashley Graham’s size-14 thigh was a bit of an eye-roller – but the heaviness of glossy magazine history stands as proof that Preference’s group model covers are markers for cultural shifts in the toil. Peter Lindbergh’s portrait of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington for the January 1990 number of British Vogue was the image that consecrated the supermodels’ station as the goddesses of their age. The 2009 American Vogue gatefold sheathe of nine young models, with a coverline that skim “the Real Lives of Models: Boyfriends, Babies, Closets, Catwalks, Regimes, Dramas” made official the modern obsession with off-duty originals. And this year’s cover, which placed Aboah and Graham alongside Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner – “The Handsomeness Revolution – No Norm is the New Norm”, read the text – signalled the tick the mainstream aesthetic finally embraced diversity.

The American Dernier cri cover matters because, until recently, fashion labour voices speaking up for diversity tended to be filed under “variant”, and therefore sidelined. Things are changing. Today, Adwoa is on the genealogy to talk about an advertising campaign for Gap in celebration of the white T-shirt, in which she shooting stars in a video directed by Edward Enninful, the superstylist who will receive the helm of British Vogue in two months’ time. The film is out of the ordinary for the fact that, in an industry where diversity can often refer to one token black model, non-white faces outnumber chaste in a studio full of models, actors and singers, including Yara Shahidi, Alek Wek and Wiz Khalifa. The dispatch is serious but the mood is light, verging on silly, as the cast rat along to Sunny by Boney M. Diversity, says Adwoa, was explicitly the train a designate. “There was something powerful in having a group of people on set with such several backgrounds,” Aboah says. “On set it was an incredible energy, a camaraderie that came from the conception that we are all fighting for the same cause.”

With best friend Cara Delevingne.

With best compatriot Cara Delevingne. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Ideas

Aboah has known Enninful for years. As the daughter of uber-agent Camilla Lowther, she is the fad aristocracy – Cara Delevingne is her best friend – but the campaign was the earliest time she had collaborated professionally with the stylist. “It was an amazing face. He’s just lovely to be on set with, because he’s still got that perturbation about what he’s creating.” Aboah is excited to see what variations Enninful will bring to Vogue. “I love Vogue, and I be subjected to huge respect for the team there. But, as a magazine, it doesn’t illustrate what the country is now, or only a very small part of it. And I look forward to that Edward is going to make it something that embodies all the amazing things about Britain. Vogue should be adjacent to giving a voice to all different cultures. In 2017, there is varied than one way to be beautiful, and more than one way to be cool. And when you put an ikon on the cover of Vogue, that means something that fades beyond fashion.”

Aboah has a deep, gravelly voice and talks slowly with a self-assured seriousness. No end-of-sentence upswing, nil of the girlish faux-intimacy endemic among young female celebrities. I consciousness this, and then I check myself for noticing it, because it set rights me realise how unusual it is to engage with a 25-year-old woman who does not intuit the need to temper having a strong opinion with being beloved, whose instinct on facing a camera is to tilt her chin upwards and promulgation an indomitable glare rather than a winning smile. Aboah, long-headed beyond her years, is passionate about the very real heterogeneity problem still highly visible in the fashion industry (surrounded by the seven models who booked the most advertising campaigns this flavour, only one, Mica Argañaraz, was non-white). “People can get so easy with their casting,” she sighs. Is it just laziness, I be curious, or something more pernicious? “Sometimes it is worse than laziness. Every once in a while I think people just don’t care.”

In 2015, the year she appeared on her head Vogue cover, shot by Tim Walker for Vogue Italia, Aboah built Gurls Talk. The following year, during which she was identifiable on billboards in adverts for Calvin Klein underwear, she spoke outright about overcoming addiction, and about a history of depression that began in her antique teens and reached its nadir with a suicide attempt in her betimes 20s. With her disarming frankness, she is the poster girl for a generation all too in the know that life isn’t always pretty.

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At the age of 13, Aboah started boarding grammar. Lonely and isolated, she began a teenage experimentation with medicines that escalated into addiction to ketamine. At university, pit led to what she has described as “self-medicating” with drugs, and her deeply perturbed parents sent her to rehab in Arizona when she was 21. But, on her arrival to London, the intensity of her rising profile as a model, combined with pick up struggles with depression, fuelled the addictions and led to another qualification in rehab, during which, in October 2015, she attempted suicide. She eject four days in a coma. Since then, treatment for recession, bipolar disorder and addiction have helped her find equilibrium. Recently, as area of the therapeutic process, she and her mother made a powerful film hither the experience, and about the challenges of communication about mental healthiness even within a loving family.

Because Gurls Talk is established on the principle of open communication, Aboah felt that rectitude about her own problems was essential. “I didn’t have loads of supporters when I started Gurls Talk. I had no idea I would perpetually be doing as much modelling as I am now. Would I still have been so unreserved if I’d known that I would be in this position? I hope so. I about that honesty is why Gurls Talk works. I see on the site how one frail being really brave and honest leads to someone else cranny up. Girls need that connection and it has to be authentic.” It is impossible to keep away from the A-word in conversation with any woke millennial. Authenticity is a enormous deal to Aboah’s generation, yin to the yang of Instagram, “this phony life that we try and project into the universe”.

Among diverse models for Gap’s Bridging the Gap campaign.

Among dissimilar models for Gap’s Bridging the Gap campaign. Photograph: Douglas Segars for Gap;

Instagram is a significant issue for Aboah. Gurls Talk is striking for being an go to use social media to project positive, affirming, accepting letters about female identity, in the context of an environment where much of the visual good breeding of social media promotes a narrow and unrealistic ideal. Aboah has grace a spokesmodel for racial diversity, but her rise in the industry is not simply concerning skin colour. She also represents a broader shift – to the mainstreaming of choice aesthetics, of a burgeoning sense that young women are starving of representational variety in fashion media.

It was when Aboah narrowed her head, several years into her modelling life, that her bolt really took off. “It was a kind of a fuck-you to the industry, even if I wasn’t purposive of that at the time. I didn’t warn anyone, I just stalked into my agency one day with all my hair shaved off. But they dote oned it. I love it, too – I’m definitely in no rush to grow it back.” She talked here the haircut experience in Teen Vogue: “I’ve learned to appreciate looking one and only, and not having long, blond locks … at last. That in itself is the scad important achievement,” she wrote. At 1.72m (5ft 8in) she stands out as several inches shorter than displays with whom she shares a catwalk. With her red-tinted buzzcut and freckles, vintage-Portobello-mixed-with-Adidas collection, Aboah’s look is in direct opposition to the lash-fluttering date-night sex please of model tradition. She can do the chameleon-model thing when required – see her April take over of Vogue Mexico, all sultry poise and Sade eyebrows – but it is impressive how often her personal off-duty style, with its streetwear inclines, makes it into her editorial photos. Even in American Fad, Aboah appears in a Rodarte mesh T-shirt whose casual vibe is close to her own off-duty look, accessorised with the unvaried piles of brassy gold curb chains she often exhibits in her Instagram shots. She embodies the way designers Alessandro Michele of Gucci and Demna Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga demand used their catwalks to broaden definitions of beauty and premeditated to include a new celebration of outsider chic. The geek, the goth, the nerd and the eccentric are fashion’s new muses.

Even with the power that get with being as in-demand as Aboah is, modelling can be tough in that “it is a passion where you are always on standby. You have no control over your calendar, which makes it really hard to have balance in zing, to see your friends or have a boyfriend.” But it gives her a platform, “and there’s no way I could not use that. It’s not about play a joke on an opinion on every single thing just for the sake of it. I identify what my causes are. And I care about them, so I’d rather get out there and talk with regard to them than just play it safe.”