"Granthot," Adesuwa Aighewi says, presumably combining the zeitgeisty descriptors "thot" with "grandma." "I'm not giving you a lot, but I could still take your mans." Laughing, she explains how one of her best friends coined the term to describe her personal, model-off-duty style. When I met Aighewi, it was after hours at our mutual friend's Thai restaurant; even in grey sweats, a knee-length fur and casual boots, she looked stunning.
"Why am I the most interviewed model who hasn't done shit? Well, I've done shit, but to me, it's nothing shit. I want to think I am just hilarious," she jokes. But she has "done shit": She's been on the covers of MFF and L'Officiel Paris, walked for the likes of Mara Hoffman, Kenzo, DKNY, Vivienne Westwood, Sophie Theallet and Yeezy (Seasons 2, 3, and 4), as well as appeared in editorials for Vogue, i-D, NYLON, Office and Pop. She even played Donald Glover's love interest in his 2011 music video for song "Heartbeat," and had a role in Diana Gordon's (formerly known as Wynter Gordon) music video "Woman" last year.
Aighewi is a one-of-a-kind beauty of Nigerian, Chinese and Thai descent. "I'm the second of four. Two girls and two boys. We all look identical but with different hair types," she says. They grew up in Africa but moved a lot. "I've stopped paying attention to the timeline and travel. I have an app called 'Places I've Pooped' where you 'drop a pin' wherever you go. Soon my map will be solid, no pun intended."
She was discovered on her college campus in Maryland, though modeling was something she did not take seriously at all — and neither did her parents. Growing up in a traditional household, she went to school to study chemistry. "Before modeling I thought I was going to be a doctor, eventually graduate and be diplomat and work for the UN," she says. After attempting to model and get her degree at the same time, she ended up leaving school to pursue the former full-time; she's now living between New York and Los Angeles, working with agencies in every major city.
Though she boasts an impressive 18.3k followers on Instagram, Aighewi once told me she initially joined Twitter because she felt like she would lose gigs to models or influencers with larger social media followings across multiple platforms. "That shit gives me anxiety," she says. "I use it as a giant text message to talk to friends and it just happens to be public. So it's chill. I do it for the homies, and I guess my agents and clients check stuff out." As someone that likes to speak her mind, Twitter can be daunting, but she regularly uses Instagram to document and share her day-to-day activities — though you're more likely to catch her on random adventures than sharing her beauty routine.
Social media may not be her favorite part of her job, but her outlook on it is interesting. "I [have] to detach myself from my job... see myself as a product in order to not succumb to the darkness of self-loathing, body dysmorphia and other lovely traits that hide within many," she says. "When working I say to myself, 'I am a product. It's not about you. It's about the vision these people have for their product and you just either happen to fit or not into their idea.'" She credits her family for keeping her very grounded in an industry that can easily alter priorities, models' views of themselves or lead people astray. "I thank my stars I was raised with some pretty radical parents or I wouldn't have found my way back. A good foundation is necessary — even if you leave home early like I did, you can always find your way back."
Surprisingly, her career in fashion hasn't really changed her view of beauty, but just clarified it. "People don't tell me I'm beautiful anymore. They say I have a nice look. I forget what I look like and quite frankly get tired of seeing my face all in the same breath," she explains. Having pointed out she's worn enough makeup for 10 lifetimes, she says, "My idea of beauty is still the same: Your inner light will do just fine. It's what my parents taught me."
When asked what her favorite thing about modeling is, she offers two words: "The glory." But immediately after, she points to the politics being her least favorite thing. She goes on to tell me about her friend, designer Sophie Theallet, who openly said she refused to dress new First Lady Melania Trump. "[Sophie] has been dressing Michelle [Obama] for literally the last eight years. She said, 'I'm not gonna style Trump's wife.' There's mad hate." She explains Theallet hasn't released her most recent lookbook (which features Aighewi) because of all of the controversy.
"[Asking if] I want to be a model forever is like asking if I want to have cancer," Aighewi snaps, but she does realize the privileged position it's put her in. "It's fortunate to be deemed interesting to look at. I recognize it is lucky, because it does open up a lot opportunities," she explained. Aighewi traveled to D.C. for the Women's March, and as for what's coming next, she does hint to one thing — a topic near and dear to her heart. "I want to do documentaries that change the way people view Africa," she said. Hopefully her visibility, dedicated industry following and willingness to speak her mind will help her accomplish just that.