Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | November 23rd, 2020

The Graduates

Ariel Nicholson

Photos by Adrienne Raquel for

Editor Irene Ojo-Felix

Since 2013,’s The Graduates series has been a visual check-in of the model hustlers who’ve cemented themselves as faces of noteworthy praise in editorial, advertisements, lookbooks, and runways. Through insurmountable rejection and just as many wins, these muses have locked down luxury clients while rising through the ranks from the Hot List to the Top 50 working models in the World. While this year was in no way normal, thanks to the global shutdown and an ongoing pandemic, an unstoppable industry has dialed up the creativity while models have rolled with the professional punches. Photographer Adrienne Raquel takes on this spirit of resilience, shooting this year’s iteration in its entirety via Zoom.

Visit Ariel’s page and click the Lists button to favorite Ariel and keep track of her work.

For Ariel Nicholson, a career-defining shoot and back-to-back runway appearances at Calvin Klein was a surefire way to carve her place in the modeling community. Nicholson began with her debut in Vogue shot by photography legends Inez & Vinoodh, was quickly signed to DNA Models, and was catapulted a week later backstage at Raf Simons’ Calvin Klein sophomore showing. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous in my life,” Nicholson describes. “it was very terrifying but after I walked, I was on cloud nine. The collection was incredible, and it was so inspiring to meet Raf and his team.” The All-American brand’s support, on and off the runway, became crystal clear as she racked up billboards for them along with Miu Miu, Prada, and editorial milestones covering LOVE, Dazed, and recently Vogue Italia’s mega September issue. However, balancing all the successes of an in-demand, new model can be an immeasurable toll on anyone, let alone a high schooler just trying to finish up their coursework. “I took six months off from modeling in high school, because it was really weighing on my mental health and I needed to focus on my classes,” she admits

Through her own experiences, Nicholson has broken barriers and now wants to lend a hand to the countless others waiting for their chance as well. Using her modeling platform for advocacy, Nicholson’s ultimate desire is for all trans and gender non-conforming people to have access to these coveted, once-secluded fashion spaces. “Growing up as a trans person, I was so lucky and privileged to have so much support, both from my family and support groups,” she explains. “I’ve been in therapy since I was eight years old, and I attended groups all throughout my childhood and teen years. It was so affirming to be able to vocalize my inner feelings, and have the freedom to explore my gender without judgment.”

As she matures within the spotlight, Nicholson’s queerness and a supportive fashion community have helped her relate and find her own voice on social media. “That search for fame, validation, and recognition has a lot to do with my own internalized transphobia,” she explains. “The world constantly tells you that there isn’t space for you and that you aren’t enough.” Understanding that Nicholson has looked towards model pioneers like Andreja Pejic, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Lea T, and Naomi Campbell as inspiration on how to take up space without permission. “I love models. We look out for each other. I think that it’s a huge misconception that models are super competitive and cutthroat. We are all going through similar experiences, and because of that, there is always a feeling of solidarity and love, even sisterhood.”