When Prada presented its fall 2018 show in Milan, it was a historic moment, and not because the Italian label declared that neon was officially back. Miuccia Prada casted Anok Yai to open her show, the first Black woman to do so since Naomi Campbell in 1997. Yai knows what a big deal it is, in fact the 19-year-old confirmed to Refinery29 she’s exclusively working with the Italian fashion house, meaning we won’t see her on any Paris Fashion Week runways.
“I've always wanted to model since I was young, but I didn't know how to get into the industry,” Yai tells Refinery29. “I remember growing up watching America’s Next Top Model and staying up late at night searching for videos of Naomi Campbell (whom she looks up to along with Grace Jones) on YouTube.”
Prada was the first brand to reach out to the Egyptian-born, Sudanese model after Twitter boosted a photo of her at Howard University’s homecoming in D.C. At the time, Yai attended Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, majoring in biochemistry. Now, in addition to the major projects she has in the works, she’s transferring to a school in New York that will allow her to to study online so she can keep up on classes when she’s traveling.
Opening Prada was the one of the most “exciting and nerve-wracking” experiences of Yai’s life. It was only the second show she walked in, so she say she “was somewhat relaxed until I found out I was opening.” Previously, she's appeared on one other Prada runway and in a campaign for the brand, shot by Willy Vanderperre. “It was an honor and I'm proud that I was the one chosen to open, but this is bigger than me. Me opening for one of the top fashion houses is a statement to the world — especially for Black women — that their beauty is something that deserves to be celebrated,” she told Vogue of the moment.
“To the people that see themselves in me I say regardless of any doubts or barriers, always fight for your dreams,” Yai tells Refinery29. “You never know when you will have your breakthrough.”