What Fashion Week is Like For Model Anok Yai

"I save up a bunch of money and I just go ham shopping for streetwear looks."
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Anok Yai walks the Versace spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

Anok Yai walks the Versace spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

Fashion Week, or Month, rather, features a series of non-stop moving parts integral to the roaring machine — but at the center of it all reign the models. After all, the much-anticipated designer collections can't be presented to the editors, buyers, influencers and celebrities without them (or for now, anyway). 

Like the set designers, nightlife impresarios, photographers, influencer wranglers and even florists involved, model Anok Yai's Fashion Month begins well in advance of the first official day of New York Fashion Week — and considering her career took off only two years ago, she's a quick study.

The Egyptian-born Sudanese-American model's rapid rise to fame almost reads like a fairy tale. In 2017, she caught the the eye — and shutter finger — of street style photographer Steve Hill at a Howard University homecoming event. After he posted a shot of Yai on Instagram, his DMs — and hers — blew up and a very different career path appeared for the then-Plymouth State University biochemistry major.

Yai quickly signed with Next Model Management and made history as the second black model to open Prada's fall 2018 runway show, following Naomi Campbell in 1997. Since then, she's been focused on championing inclusion and diversity in the industry, while booking high-profile and prestigious gigs along the way. 

Yai has appeared in seasonal campaigns for Prada, Fendi and the Riccardo Tisci-styled shoot for Nike Spring 2018, and became a face of Estée Lauder. Her fashion editorial portfolio includes in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, V Magazine and, recently, Elle alongside Grace Elizabeth in the January 2019 issue. Unsurprisingly, Yai's runway resumé is just as stacked: Prada, of course, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Chloé, Versace. She also just walked Givenchy and Chanel Haute Couture in January.

In advance of NYFW, Yai managed to squeeze a chat with Fashionista into her packed schedule to explain why fittings may last up to 10 hours, how to "race" from show to show and what constitutes her worst Fashion Month crisis.

Yai outside the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week spring 2019 in October 2018. Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

Yai outside the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week spring 2019 in October 2018. Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

When do you start prepping for Fashion Month and what does that entail?

I'm always working out, but a month before the first show starts, I start working out a lot and I try to clean up my diet. I try to perfect my walk a little bit more, so I'll walk in front of a mirror for a few hours and see what I do and what I want to change. I also prepare my hair for damage [with] cornrows. I do a bunch of hair masks and I have someone actually braid my hair the night before Fashion Week starts. So when I go to most shows, my hair for the most part is already done. Then I save up a bunch of money and I just go ham shopping for streetwear looks. 

Why is the shopping part so important for a model's career?

So my first Fashion Week, I didn't think that the way I dressed was going to have that much of an effect on my image. But I quickly realized that the second you walk out of a show, there are hundreds and hundreds of photographers out there taking photos of all the models and that the photos they take of the models — depending on the street style looks — can set a trend. And it's a way for people to see how you express yourself. So before Fashion Week, I try to buy as many clothes as possible, and enough to have a different outfit for each show.

I also have to keep track of what outfits have already been shot and put together outfits for the next Fashion Week in a different country. So I take photos of myself before I leave and then I just go from there.

When do you start the castings and fittings and what are they like?

Castings are different for each model. Some models they go to 15 castings a day. I am fortunate enough that I don't have to go to too many castings. I mainly go to fittings.

For fittings, you can be there for five minutes or I've been at a fitting for 10 hours before because they have to prepare my look or my look wasn't ready or they couldn't decide which looks the designer wanted to give me. It's crazy. So you could go to a fitting and then maybe there will be five models or there could be 20 and then you just wait at the headquarters of the designer. They call your name, you go to the dressing area, they put the look on you, you walk into another room and then the designer, stylist, casting director and a few tailors are usually there. They tell you to walk for them and then depending on how well it goes, you could get that look for the show or they could keep changing the outfits because the designer may not like that look on you. 

Obviously before Fashion Week starts, there are a bunch of fittings. But during, when you leave a show, you're not done for the day. You'll go to a fitting and then you'll go to the next show and maybe you'll have a photo shoot in between those two and maybe go to another fitting at like midnight or something and then your day could be over at one in the morning.

Yai walks the Stella McCartney spring 2019 runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Yai walks the Stella McCartney spring 2019 runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Run me through one of your busier days during Fashion Month — what is it like?

So my busiest day was in Paris Fashion Week. I started my day, I had to get up at 5 a.m. because I had a call time of 6 a.m. So I got dressed, I got to my show at 6 a.m. Started the show around 9 a.m. When the show finished, I went outside and took my streetwear photos, went back to my hotel, changed my outfit for the next show. Finished that show, went to a fitting. Then after that fitting went to the hotel again, changed into my next outfit, went to the next show. By this time, it was probably 8 p.m. and I had two more fittings and then once I was done with my fittings for that day, I think I got back to my hotel around 12:30 a.m. and then I woke up the next day at 6 a.m. to do it again.

What happens if you're running late in between shows? How do you get to shows on time?

I usually have a chauffeur for an entire day when I have shows back-to-back. At the show spaces, there's always so much traffic. If you were to call a Lyft or an Uber, it would take you even longer than just having your own driver. So you have your driver waiting for you to quickly take street style photos and then rush to the next show. But if you're really under a time constraint, sometimes they’ll actually have motorcyclists waiting outside the venue. All the models will just get on the cycles and literally race to the next show. This happens more in Europe though.

It also sounds like there's a lot of waiting time. What do you do during those moments?
I'll read or I'm usually very, very tired, so I'm able to get a quick nap there. I actually do interviews while I'm at fittings sometimes.

What constitutes a Fashion Week crisis for you and how was it solved?

All the crisis moments are on the runway or when the models are about to hit the runway. One time, I had a top that was buckled and the buckle broke and my whole breast was out and the show had already started. So they had two or three minutes to sew the dress up so my breasts weren't exposed. 

For some shows, we have two looks and there was one time when the models had dressed up for their second look, but the whole lineup was mixed up. So as the models were going, we actually had to figure out which way to go and who was going where, as we were getting pushed out for the show. That was pretty hectic. Usually it always somehow ends up working out. 

Yai walks the Saint Laurent spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

Yai walks the Saint Laurent spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Imaxtree

How do you find time to manage your own social media during Fashion Month?

It's so hard. So I try to take as many photos during Fashion Month as possible. But there's just so much chaos going on 24/7 that you actually forget to take the photos. So I depend on the street style photographers to take the photos of me and then they DM or email me the photos and I'm able to post it from there.

What does this fashion month look like for you?

I'm going to be doing a couple shows in New York and a few in London. The majority of my shows are going to be in Milan and Paris.

While you're abroad, if you have free time, what do you like to do?

Usually if I'm able to find a model who's not working at the same time as me — which is almost always never — I'll try to go to a new place in that city that's famous. Like at one Paris Fashion Week, I went to Crazy Horse [cabaret] with one of the models. My memory is so bad. I can't remember anything. There have been times I couldn't remember what country I was in. I had to stop and think about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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