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Ariel Nicholson – spring 2019
Ariel wears all clothes Rick Owens Babel SS19Photography Mario Sorrenti, Styling Robbie Spencer

Ariel Nicholson: shooting star

After a star-studded season walking for Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu, 17-year-old Ariel Nicholson talks romance and social media detoxing

At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.

Ariel Nicholson means business. She’s perched in an empty conference room in Mahwah, New Jersey, the town she grew up in, at a table with a whiteboard and presentation screen behind her. In this setting, she looks more like a college professor’s assistant or the youthful founder of a new startup than a 17-year-old model in the midst of her second year in the industry.

In reality, Nicholson still attends high school, and her professional environments are full of more colleagues and adrenaline than this sleepy, sterile space: think Calvin Klein, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs runways. It’s only the second day of 2019 today, and Nicholson is luxuriating in rest after a busy, transformative year. But she’s diligent about how she does things, even when the task at hand is doing absolutely nothing.

The office that Nicholson is in belongs to her mother’s employer. (The wifi connection is stronger here than at home, allowing us to FaceTime more gracefully.) She spent New Year’s Eve with her mum, skipping the party she planned to attend with friends for a quiet night at home with her biggest idol and advocate. The model hasn’t used Instagram for two weeks now, and she’s also disabled her phone’s internet access. She’s on a break from school, reading photographer Sally Mann’s memoir and listening to transcendent music by Anohni and Joni Mitchell. She’s been existential lately, explaining that she sometimes feels like “this floating blob of consciousness that is very separate from everything else”. Björk’s Homogenic LP makes her feel like a swan.

Nicholson covets Marc Jacobs’ recent Grunge reissue collection (after the controversial grunge-themed show that got him fired from Perry Ellis in 1993), but also “weirdly” finds herself emulating the preppy style of her male teachers, with their blazers, corduroy and ties. She says that she has recently discovered Toyen, a Czech surrealist she has posted about on Instagram, where she’s developed a following sharing art by the likes of Cindy Sherman and Keizō Kitajima. Social media has also nurtured her friendships, including her bond with fellow cover star Hunter Schafer.

Ariel Nicholson is thoughtful, gorgeous and funny. She’s six feet tall but sprite-like, with a romantic face and curious spirit that ensures we’ll see plenty more of her, most likely in the middle of a hurricane of creative pursuits.

How did you start out in modelling?

Ariel Nicholson: I had a giant growth spurt in eighth grade and everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, you should model.’ I was already kind of accustomed to walking, because I was obsessed with America’s Next Top Model and watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials about how to walk. I’ve been walking in heels since I was two years old. I would steal my mum’s heels and walk around. The biggest development has been my face as I walk; it’s really hard to keep a straight face. You’ve got to keep your lips closed. That’s one of the rules I sometimes forget. In my second show for Calvin, my mouth was wide-open in all of the pictures. 

Your Instagram is full of archival images. Is there any particular model, designer or collection you like best?

Ariel Nicholson: When you’re a teenager growing up, your world is expanding. You’re slowly sculpting your identity. You need to find things in the world that you connect to, because sometimes the world can be tough for women. It’s nice to know there are things that resonate with you and your experience. I feel that a lot with fashion. I look at old collections that resonate with me. I would love to have walked in an old Dior show. One of my favourite accounts is @diorinthe2000s – it’s, like, these old Dior archives. It’s just so incredible and ridiculous. One of my favourite designers of all time would have to be Alexander McQueen. His old shows were absolutely breathtaking. My introduction to fashion was when I was nine or ten years old and went to see Savage Beauty, a retrospective exhibition of his at the Met. I remember being completely blown away by how he used the ugly parts of the world and existence and made them into something that is so beautiful.

How much of your astrological chart do you know?

Ariel Nicholson: I’m so into astrology. I’ve been getting into a lot of witchy stuff, burning palo santo wood and sage in my room. My mum gets mad at me because she doesn’t like the smell. I’ve also been getting really into crystal healing. I bring a sack of crystals with me everywhere. With astrology, it’s cool how some things can be so accurate and written in the stars. I just got this app called Co–Star which tells you everything about your chart. I’m an Aquarius, a Cancer rising and a Capricorn moon.

“You need to find things in the world that you connect to, because sometimes the world can be tough for women. It’s nice to know there are things that resonate with you and your experience”

Do you believe in manifestation?

Ariel Nicholson: Definitely. That is literally what life is. It’s just bringing things out of your head and wanting to see it manifested in reality. As a creative, manifesting stuff inside of you then blurting it out on the page is so impactful. Creativity and art, in a way, is a form of manifestation. I’m not very public with my art and I don’t post a lot about it, but I’ve been creating a lot of art of my own. Writing, drawing, painting and all of that. I feel like the only way you can exist is by creating stuff for yourself. This is how I’ve been able to get through hard times.

What would your ideal Valentine’s Day date be like?

Ariel Nicholson: I’d want to look hot and handsome. That’s my vibe right now. I’ve been dressing very feminine lately, but I might want to play with that and wear a nice Gucci suit or something very dapper. I’m single and I’ll probably be single for a long time, so probably I’d be spending time with friends. I’m still underage, but I would probably have champagne or prosecco. Maybe sparkling cider. Something classy. Nice chocolates.

Do you consider yourself to be a pretty mellow person?

Ariel Nicholson: I’m not mellow at all. I am the most anxious person ever! I’m anxious about school. I’m anxious about modelling and work. I’ve been off social media for around two weeks now, and I’ve also deleted the internet off of my phone. I’ll obviously go back for a second to post something for work, but I’m tired of obsessing over likes and followers and just worrying about little things.

In the past, you’ve supported or encouraged trans folks by saying that the world will transition with them. Now that you no longer feel comfortable identifying with the ‘activist’ label, how do you feel about still being sought out to give trans and gender-nonconforming youth advice or guidance?

Ariel Nicholson: I don’t feel that I’m in the place to say what’s right for people in their lives. That comes from trans people now being the faces of a movement, being these trailblazer activists. It’s a huge burden. I would say to gender-nonconforming people to create your own world, because sometimes this world is not good for us. It’s hard to live in, and finding a creative field or a passion – something that makes you feel ignited or alive – is the most important thing. The only way I’ve found I can survive in this world is to create my own worlds for myself. 

Hair Akki at Art Partner, make-up Frank B at The Wall Group using Clé de Peau, nails Honey at Exposure NY using Zoya, model Ariel Nicholson at DNA, lighting technician Lars Beaulieu, photography assistant Kotaro Kawashima, styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Aryeh Lappin, hair assistant Rei Kawauchi, make-up assistant Mariko Arai, digital operator Chad Meyer, production Katie Fash, Alana Goldmann at Hest Inc, on-site production Steve Sutton, casting Noah Shelley at Streeters, printing Arc Lab Ltd