|Birth country: Sudan
"I look like any other Dinka girl from the Sudan," says Alek Wek. "I never imagined that somebody would ever look at me and recognise me and think I'm beautiful." And Alek's cherubic face – her trademarks are short hair, dark, perfect skin and expressive eyes – revolutionised fashion, creating a stir when she first emerged on the scene in 1995, aged 18.
When she landed on the cover of US Elle two years later, her career was in overdrive, and a flood of appreciative letters poured in. "One woman said, 'I never expected to see someone who looked like me on the cover of the magazine,'" she recalls. That year alone, Alek garnered the title of MTV model of the year, best new model at the Venus de la Mode Fashion awards and model of the decade from I-d.
Since conquering the catwalks, the former refugee – a number of her family were eventually granted asylum in Britain – and London Institute art student has further developed her creative side. In addition to painting, she has designed her own line of bags, called Wek1933 after the year her late father was born.