Photography Lukasz Pukowiec
Styling Bojana Kozarevic
Interview by Mackenzie Thomas
How Polo can you go? Adwoa Aboah schools us in high/low, luxe/leisure and timelessness with a twist. All fashion, shoes and accessories from POLO RALPH LAUREN unless otherwise stated.
Striking, wise, disarmingly thoughtful, honest. There are many words you could use to describe Adwoa Aboah’s charm. When I spoke to Adwoa she was in the midst of fashion month, hot off the heels of starring in Netflix’s Top Boy, and sitting at the helm of the thriving Gurls Talk community — her community-led, non-profit organization where she works with young women to help destigmatize conversations around mental health. Mental health is tricky, when I play through my own struggles they’re oddly similar to that clip from Possession (1981) that goes viral on Twitter every six months, but after my chat with Adwoa I saw things a little differently — anything worth building takes struggle. With enough accomplishments to line a wall and even more in front of her, Adwoa is nothing short of a modern wonder woman, but somehow still remains to be the realest of the real.
Mackenzie Thomas: Adwoa hi! How was your morning?
Adwoa Aboah: I woke up early because I thought I had to go to the gym, but I messed up the time, so I worked out by myself, and later I had a bikini wax. I have a podcast today so I was doing prep for that, I was also running a few errands because I’m leaving for Paris tomorrow. Today is sort of my catch-up day before the rest of Fashion Month.
MT: You seem so busy, especially right now, it can be hard to find a balance between projects. Do you find a routine to be important?
AA: Usually, I have a pretty good routine that I’m particularly strict about. Usually, it consists of gym, personal time, not having calls past a certain hour, or having half of my Monday free to get more personal stuff done. My routine isn’t spontaneous, without structure it would never happen. Without it, I think I would lose my mind. It’s very important to me, but truthfully I don’t think I had a real routine until after COVID.
MT: I don’t think I know anyone whose lives weren’t altered, do you think the habits you formed during COVID are still present in your routine today?
POLO RALPH LAUREN: vintage rugby shirt courtesy of twos.
AA: 100%. My identity was completely attached to being busy, and being at work, being on a plane, being unavailable, missing birthdays and family events. Survival for me was about getting on and persevering, and achieving things beyond my wildest dreams —and then suddenly COVID happened. I think that silence was quite uncomfortable, but in a way, it gave me great insight as to how I wanted to live my life after. I think during that time I was able to reframe what joy meant to me and what I wanted to put my time into. I’m a worker, I wasn’t suddenly going to leave lockdown and be lax. When we came out of COVID, I went bounding back into my work and burnt out quite quickly and thought, “I’ve gotta do things differently now,” so that’s what I try to do.
MT: What would you say to people who lose themselves in their work identity and struggle with work/life balance — I know things get kinda fuzzy for me, sometimes I feel like separating my personal life from my work life feels like I’m looking at one of those online tests for color blindness.
AA: I was talking to a friend the other day who works very hard and she spoke to me about not glamorizing work and being busy all the time. I didn’t fully understand what she meant but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need too much time on my hands, my brain is already mental enough. I think being idle is not a healthy space for me to be in, but there is also no reason for me to run myself into the ground and burn myself out. I can’t speak for all career paths, but I can speak to mine: When you model, we’re told from the get-go that we have a short lifespan. We’re conditioned to jump and make the most of a finite amount of time. I think that breeds an unhealthy attitude towards work. I think a lot of us feel like that because it’s quick. The industry is quick. What I’ve done is the self-work. Building my confidence away from my work. Finding a way to build validation and purpose from something that isn’t monetary. It was a big lesson for me.
MT: Would you describe yourself as an open book?
AA: Yeah, yeah. I think I am (she laughs). I’m not a word vomiter, I think if the situation feels right, I can speak about things that others would find uncomfortable, but I’m a very very private person on a day-to-day basis. I have a few individuals in my life who know me from top to bottom, like my family. I’m very open with them — but in terms of my work and advocacy, it comes quite naturally for me to speak quite openly.
MT: Do you think that being a public figure makes you feel more inclined to share things about yourself?
AA: People like to have an insight into people’s lives, whether that be where they are on holiday or what party they’re at, and I find that a bit tedious. I’m not very good at that, but if you want me to talk amongst my community about pivotal moments in my life that bring me quite a lot of shame, I’ll go for it. For instance, I did Architectural Digest. I went back and forth on it. When I said yes to doing it I totally forgot that people were going to see inside my house! Nobody’s seen inside my house! Nobody even knows I have a boyfriend! But, get me in a room of like-minded people, who I feel comfortable with and you can have everything.
MT: What made you want to start Gurls Talk?
AA: It comes down to a few things... The care that I’d been given during that rough period in my life, not only privately but through the national health system. The care from my peers, and the community that surrounded me, pushed me to meet them halfway and taught me to celebrate vulnerability. I think it is half that and half a sense of giving back. “What can I do?”, “How can I be of help?” to the people who are already talking about mental health and doing the work. It’s crazy to me that I went to a private school, came from a privileged background, and was educated on a multitude of things, but I was never educated on mental health or given a space to share.
MT: How does it feel to create a community that might have benefited a younger version of yourself?
AA: I think it benefits me now. I usually speak to ages sixteen and up, sometimes eighteen and up, but the other day I did a talk and they were thirteen/fourteen and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so intimidating.” I wondered how I could speak to them without it sounding patronizing or without me seeming like some old fogey, but I managed to do it and we had the most amazing conversations! They were so cool, so articulate, and wise. Around the time I decided to start Gurls Talk, I went to this dinner, one of the first dinners I went to after I got sober. I was seated next to this girl I didn’t know and decided I was going to tell her about my plans for Gurls Talk. She told me, “You’re posh! What are you gonna know what these girls need?” I thought, that’s half of the issue! That’s why no work gets done. I’ve been in instances along the way with Gurls Talk, where I’m faced with circumstances that I can’t speak from, but I choose to enter those situations with an open mind. The age gap, the time away from school — whatever it may be that feels different, there is always something I can find that helps me bond with the girls I get to speak to and communicate with. I don’t feel like the leader of the community, I really feel like a part of it.
MT: Anyone who’s struggled with mental health knows that the journey is not linear, what’s your relationship with your mind like now?
AA: I have to work on it constantly. I recently went back into therapy and I’m dealing with a whole new mountain of stuff, it feels a lot different from when I first sought out therapy. I’m very self-aware of my mood, I have to be strict about it. My moods can change ten million times over the course of the day. It’s exhausting checking in with yourself, but I have to listen to my body and mind constantly. I have to be wary of certain situations, certain people, and things that might make me feel a certain way. I just have to be very aware of my body and mind.
MT: What surrounds you when you’re at your happiest?
AA: I think I feel the happiest with my family. When I’m around them I feel like I don’t have to be any sort of way. I don’t have to be mysterious or secretive. I don’t need to feel untrusting which is something I grapple with. When I’m with them that’s when I feel like an open book. They know me. I also love dancing. I also feel happiest when I’m in a state of curiosity after learning something new. I get invigorated by meeting someone new or learning about a new topic. I think I’m quite prone to being bored, I like to be challenged. So... I think a challenge, curiosity, my family, dancing and maybe being on the sofa or in my bed.
MT: Do you believe in karma?
AA: I don’t necessarily believe in karma. I believe in energy and manifestation. I believe you get what you receive. The good energy you put out into the universe I truly believe in a roundabout way it comes back and rewards you.
MT: I watched your Architectural Digest video, it’s gorgeous. I immediately noticed you had so many gorgeous trinkets on display that seemed to mean a lot to you. What’s your favorite thing you have in your home?
AA: Above the fireplace. I have photos and letters that remind me of people in my life. That’s my favorite area in my house. My shrine. And right now, I’m also obsessed with my penis lamp so... (she laughs again)
MT: What’s the thing you look forward to after a busy day?
AA: After a long day sometimes, I can’t wait to go over to my mom and dad’s for a home-cooked meal, not be asked any questions, sit in silence, and coexist with these people I really love. Other times I look forward to going home, sitting, decompressing, and showering. A certain part of my job is being touched by quite a few people so sometimes I’m just looking forward to showering off today’s grit.
MT: Do you think about your legacy?
AA: I don’t, but I think I’m gonna probably start to think about it more. I just finished Supermodels, and they were talking about their legacy and I was getting so emotional. I think as far as I’ve gone in terms of my legacy is just like, the person that my parents get to see is the person I hope to be in all situations. I hope I leave this planet and people know me as a kind person. I hope people see me as a part of change, not the leader of change, just a part of something bigger than myself
Set Design Suzanne Beirne
Casting Greg Krelenstein
Production CEBE Studio