Twenty Minutes with Akiima

Photo Betty Sze for

When thinking of the next segment of Twenty Minutes, Akiima’s mononymous name made an impression but her smile coming into’s offices on a rainy day made her stand out from the many. The Australian model has cemented herself as an editorial veteran appearing on the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, and her own native Vogue Australia while maintaining an impressive show list, season after season. As she heads to Europe for another couture season since her fateful debut just two years ago, we spoke with the Aussie model about starting her career, staying strong in body and spirit during fashion week, and the things she’d change about the industry.

You just came back from Australia for Sydney Fashion Week. How was the fashion week experience? Was it a lot of fun?
Yeah, I’m back. I just took a long holiday of two months because I was here in New York since January and it just took a toll on me. Then after I was like, okay I’ve got to get back because I got tired of my family. [Fashion Week] was really fun, it was so good. They didn’t have a lot of shows this year because it’s their 10th anniversary next year, so everyone is saving their money so they can have a bigger and better show.

How did you get into fashion and how did you get discovered? But more specifically, where in Australia are you from?
Everybody knows Sydney and Melbourne, nobody knows what else is in Australia. I’m from Adelaide. That’s where it all started with a mother agency in Adelaide and then IMG in Sydney.

When did you first make the leap from the local market to getting signed by IMG and them taking you to New York or Europe? Do you remember how far back was it?
Yes, it was actually when they asked: “oh do you want to do modeling?” I was like “not really, I just want to stay around in Adelaide and do small stuff. They responded “oh you’re going to Paris and that’s it” and I was like, “Paris?! Why didn’t you say so?” I signed the papers and in three months I stayed in Sydney just working on my book and learning a little bit of modeling – what it was, how to take photos.

They put you through fashion boot camp? I love it.
Yes! Then I had my portfolio and after that, I went to Paris for the first time – it was couture season actually. It was actually summer so it was really amazing because I didn’t even think about the shows or why I was there. Paris is so beautiful and I ended up doing a couple of shows which was really nice.

Do you remember, what was that first show during couture?
I actually did Hermès when I first went there and then I did Azzedine Alaïa’s show. Naomi Campbell was there too!

Oh, I remember that show! That was the one where they had the headwraps wrapped in latex. Oh, Azzedine! RIP. Ah, I loved him.
It was an amazing show. I still then didn’t gather what’s really happening around me. I’m just moving around thinking this is amazing but not thinking about what’s really happening and what’s in front of me. So I just remember cruising and having that show.

I’m sure it’s so fast-paced. I always had that question of like is couture easier than ready-to-wear? I imagine ready-to-wear since the schedule is so packed, you guys are just running around on the back of mopeds.
Couture is so easy. That’s what I first did, and I thought “fashion week? Oh, this is nothing!” Then fashion week really came down and I was like oh this is really fashion week? It’s a whole month from New York to London to Milan and then Paris. Last season I took off New York and sometimes I take off Milan. I don’t think you can ever do the full circuit because being a new face, some markets are not my place. It’s good to take it off as well. I don’t really want to do a whole month.

There are a small fraction of models that somehow is able to do the full circuit. It’s bad enough having to deal with the jet lag.
Yeah, it gets easier though because you don’t do casting by the time you get to London or Milan or Paris. It’s the same casting directors and pretty much they know you want to do the show and they don’t waste my time having me come to another casting. You know you met me in New York. I haven’t come across any crazy timing or anything like that. I just always seem to go at the perfect timing and they’re like okay, come on in, let’s go. So hopefully I don’t jinx it.

So fashion shows have taken you all over the world, what’s your favorite place?
I’d have to say Italy. Every time I go to Milan I always take a day off and go to Lake Como. It has a lot of nice little places so that’s why I like it. For shows? Definitely Paris. It doesn’t get better than Paris. I haven’t spent a lot of time during shows in Milan yet, I always go just for an exclusive and that’s it. [Milan] would be my favorite when I start doing more shows there!

What do you think about when you walk on the runway? Do you have to have an out of body experience or are you super focused and in the zone?
Super focused and in the zone because I don’t want to miss my turn. Thank goodness it’s just a little simple turn nowadays. I’m singing a song in my head and trying to relax, trying to remember my facial expressions, it’s just a lot. As time goes by you ask yourself, can I get better at this? You start to work on bettering yourself and having fun with it as well. It’s just 30 seconds so you’ve got to make it worthwhile, have people remember you. Leave them with an impression.

Who do you look up to in the industry? Is there anyone’s career that you really appreciate or want to emulate?
I would have to say Alek Wek, definitely her. How she has stayed in this industry for so long; she’s such a kind person and she’s so positive. And I want to be happy like her as well because she’s always happy every time I see her.

What’s one thing that gives you confidence?
Knowing that, when it comes to photo shoot or working that I’m eating right, I’m healthy, I’m just ready for the camera and the photo is going to turn out well.

What’s one thing you would change about the industry?
Probably the changing room when everyone is getting ready for shows. I would make it more respectful – no photographers, nobody unnecessary in there, just a few dressers. Make the changing room different than where people are taking photos. Also having more black girls in the shows. More diversity on the runway, in general.

What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you officially became a model?
I wish I would have known more about modeling. I should have known more about the industry, like who is who and actually learn about it. Sitting down and having someone saying this person is important. I felt like I was thrown into the business as I was older when I started.

How old were you?
22. I guess people expected me to know some things and I’m like “no I had a completely normal lifestyle.” I don’t know what’s happening on around me. I’m more aware now and you get to learn on the job but it’s just important to know before you get in there.

How do you break the ice on set or backstage with your peers? What’s some advice you would give to new faces about to hit the scene this couture season?
If you happen to come across somebody that has been in the industry for long, just ask questions, learn, don’t be shy, because everyone is nice. We want you to be comfortable too; everyone is in the same boat and we’ve all been there. We’ve all been new faces; so, everyone is really nice during shoots. During the shows, everyone is getting their hair or makeup done, there are rehearsals, running back and forth between shows; so there’s really not a lot of time to get to know anyone or talk to anyone.

One of my favorite moments is seeing street style photographs and the friend groups that develop on the road. Do you have your model friend group that supports each other when you’re kind of bouncing around all these crazy destinations?
I mean I do have friends but I wouldn’t say a squad. It feels like we all started at the same time, so we all know each other and we all support each other but then when everyone gets busy outside of the show, we are all tired and I want to sleep. It’s good that by the time we get to Paris, then it’s time to relax. After shows, everyone goes out to eat something. It’s the last city and everyone is relaxed. Everyone sits and asks “how’s your fashion week been?” And it’s time to see everyone, check up on them and ask if they’re okay.

That’s great. In the past, there was this whole dark side of the business that turned to cattiness, especially amongst competitive black models as it was always presented there could only be one. Nowadays it’s much more civil – you can all coexist and should talk to each other so you can find out commonalities and how others run their business.
I think that’s important and I still feel like there is a little bit [cattiness], but it’s like come on! We’re in a different generation, so if you don’t focus and pay attention to that energy, then you should be okay. I’m that kind of person – I don’t pay attention to the negative and I just keep it moving because I’m not here for you. And congratulations, you’re here! This industry is so big and there’s so much to do in it. The only time models are going to see each other is during shows. Shows are good but it’s not your main focus.

What do you like to do when you’re not modeling? Or are you still super focused on your career, you don’t have much time for anything else?
This year actually I am super focused on working out. I just want to invest in my body; you know, work more on me. Just give it the best that I can, so at the moment it’s just making sure I’m eating right, working out, when I have free time I read a couple of books. Trying to be okay in this industry as well.

What’s a dream job for you?
I think a Hermès campaign, that’s something I want to do. They’re some really nice people and I love their clothes. I’d like to do a Louis Vuitton show and the campaign. I’d like to do more beauty.

Hermes supported you since day one, so that could be a full circle moment. Speaking about beauty, I just saw a shoot you just did for Harper’s Bazaar. It had all these feathers, I believe with makeup artist Tyron Machhausen. That was so beautiful.
Yeah, that was really nice, it was actually a really nice day and everyone was really creative and said: “we’re going to use all these feathers!” I fell asleep getting that look done and it wasn’t even painful to be that still at all. I get to do a lot of beauty stuff nowadays and it makes me feel good because it gives you confidence as well. High fashion? Yes, it would be nice and I still do shows and editorials. I get the best of both worlds.

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