It’s delightful to see Elle highlighting a model on the cover — and one who is, in fact, modeling, and not simply promoting a switch into acting. Unfortunately, she had to share this cover with Kendall Jenner (we’ll post that one later), and the story with the photos is … it feels like the editorial mandate was, “Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it sunny.” There is so much that isn’t said, made obvious by bits like the last sentences of this paragraph, which try to condense and cheer up something really big:

Akech was born on Christmas Day in 1999, somewhere along the route between her mother’s native South Sudan, where a civil war raged, and the Kenyan refugee camp they called home for nearly eight years: “I was a very switched-on kid,” she says over Zoom, draped in a vibrant orange scarf. “When you grow up in an environment like that, you don’t really have a choice but to be switched on.” But memories of having to pack quickly due to fears of kidnapping marauders are tempered by more innocent recollections of playing with a ball she and her cousins made out of rubber bands. “We were still kids at the end of the day,” Akech says.

She’s a fascinating person, but the profile has very little depth. Vogue got a quote about the frustrations of working in the modeling industry when the backstage personnel don’t understand how to work with Black hair and Black skin tones. Harper’s got deeper stuff about representation in the beauty industry. Yes, both were PR pieces and opportunities for her to name-check Estee Lauder products, but even in that context they still had better framing bites than this dedicated cover profile does. This is also noteworthy in the part where it notes the symmetry of how she’s now an ambassador for the very organization that ran the refugee camp where she grew up, but with zero feeling or emotion or even a remark from her about that. In sum, the Elle piece feel very… “in sum.” It rushes past and rings weirdly hollow, which is a pity because the subject clearly is not. I have a theory, based on that and the photos, that this was initially a fashion spread that got bumped into the cover slot at the last second. Let’s discuss.

[Photographed by Chris Colls; the August 2021 issue of Elle is on newsstands July 27]
Tags: Elle, Adut Akech