She's got the look: How a Calgary teen became one of the hottest models on world runways

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There are plenty of Cinderella-like stories about future fashion models rocketing to fame after being discovered in obscure places while minding their own business.

That scenario certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for Calgary’s Agel Akol, 20, whose unique look and 5’10 height would stand out anywhere. But Akol had no intention of waiting around to be discovered. She wanted to be a model since she was 11. So four years ago, she just started sending out feelers to agencies in her hometown.

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“When I was 16, I was like ‘I have to get signed,’” says Akol, in an interview with Postmedia. “I went to find my mother agency because it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t get scouted.”

It certainly shows that the Father Lacombe High School graduate was determined. She signed with Calgary’s The Nobles Management in 2020 while still in high school and began working on a development program to prep her for international runways. She first went to Paris in 2021 during Fashion Week but didn’t book any shows. True to form, she didn’t let it get her down.

“I didn’t see it as, ‘Oh, I went there and nothing happened and I’m going to be sad about it,’” she says. “I showed up, they now see me and I trust and believe that everything happened the way it was supposed to because that wasn’t my time for those doors to open. I wasn’t supposed to have my big break then. Everything that I’ve gone through, every experience I’ve had has led me to where I am now.”

Calgary model Agel Akol is making waves on fashion runways. Courtesy, Matteo Colson, THEFACE# cal

And where is Agel Akol now? In early March, both the American and French versions of Vogue wrote a piece on the model following a very busy few weeks during Fashion Week in Paris. American Vogue pointed out the “jaw-dropping 36 shows” she walked this season. In New York, London, Paris and Milan, she walked runways for some of the world’s biggest fashion names and houses, including Simone Rocha, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Fendi, Ferragamo and Loewe. “With a Prada and Miu Miu campaign under her belt, she’s well on her way to becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the game,” Vogue wrote in a piece called Meet the 12 Breakout Models of Fall 2024.

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French Vogue went further with a profile and Q&A, declaring Akol “the model who has walked the most runways at Fall/Winter 2024-2025 Fashion Week.” Most recently, Akol was part of a campaign for American designer Tom Ford in New York.

The everything-happens-for-a-reason vibe is a common sentiment in a conversation with Akol, who is of Sundanese descent but was born in the U.S. and raised mostly in Calgary. Whether or not her ascendency in the competitive world of international runway modelling was pre-determined or not, it’s certainly uncommon, says Antonija Klotz, founder and director of The Nobles Management.

Agel Akol at the Tom Ford show during Milan Fashion Week in September 2023. Courtesy SIPA USA/Alamy Live News cal

“It definitely is rare but she prepared for it,” she says. “She went out the first time, it didn’t work so she came back and worked a little bit more on development and went out again and it stuck.”

Klotz worked on developing Akol’s look and walk for a few years before the model booked her first show, which was last year in Milan for Prada. But even before she set foot on a runway,  Akol stood out.

“She was very ambitious,” Klotz says. “She was optimistic. She was like, ‘I need this to happen.’ It was something I believe she had been dreaming of doing since she was 12. There was focus, dedication. We spent many years together working on her development.”

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Akol says her experiences in the past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind but, again, she was confident that this was her time. That confidence went back to booking that first show in Milan for Prada.

“From the casting to the fitting and up until the show date and rehearsals, there was a nervousness but also an excitement: I’m here, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she says. “There was this trust, but also excitement. OK, I’m here. It’s all good, it’s always been good. So there was no need to worry or be stressed out. Yeah, it can be nerve-racking sometimes and you have that adrenaline rush going out on the runway. But there was trust in myself and the space that I hold around me. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

This season, with nearly 40 shows, she has only become more at ease.

Calgary model Agel Akol on the runway for the Tory Burch show at New York Fashion Week in September 2023. Courtesy, SIPA USA/Alamy Live News cal

“I think I came more into myself at each runway,” she says. “Each runway, I’ve become more sure of my step.  It’s complex and now to be able to (accomplish) different types of looks and characters I’m embodying depending on what the vibe is and what the designer wants from us and what the setting is like, I am able to be more out of my comfort zone.”

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Born in Kansas City, Akol came to Canada at only a few months old. She lived in different cities, including Kitchener, Ont., and Brooks, Alta., before coming to Calgary in Grade 4.

Growing up, Akol was always interested in fashion but became particularly inspired by the success of South Sudanese model and designer Alek Wek, who began modelling in the 1990s, not long after feeling her home country to escape the civil war.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do that one day,’” Akol says. “‘I want to be able to take up those spaces. I want to wear that, look like that.’ It was very inspiring to see her, to see someone that looks like me be in those spaces and have those opportunities.”

At the time of this interview, Akol was back in Calgary for a rare break but was planning to head back to Paris within a week. For now, Akol says she is focused on the near future and not thinking about a post-modelling career.

“Right now, I’m just focused on where I am in the present moment, what is here right now,” she says. “I don’t like to think too far out. I’m really just grasping the present and going with the flow.”

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