Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | November 20th, 2020

The Graduates

Lina Zhang

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.

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Lina Zhang is the ultimate testament to perseverance. The Chinese muse one day walked into a runway training program, deciding on the fly to be a model after a brief career as a gymnast. “There was a time when I didn’t know what I should do in the future,” she asserts. “It took me a long time to figure out that I should start a career as a model but I really enjoy performing and the stage – it brings me value in life.” Not long after, Zhang was sent overseas where she straight away completed the Big Four of fashion weeks in 2012 for the first time (that’s New York, London, Milan, and Paris for the uninitiated). She got the international exposure and tear sheets that she coveted but yearning to start a family, Zhang returned to her local Shanghai market, got married, and had children. “My family is my first priority,” she explains. “Except for my job, I always try to spend more time with my family.”

Her second act is where things got interesting. In 2018, she reappeared on the international circuit in Paris walking for Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga Spring 2019 show, who would later prove to be a supporting client of hers. The next season she again walked for Balenciaga, locking in an opening slot for the Parisian brand while picking up steam and adding Margiela, Hermes, Haider Ackermann, and Givenchy to the list. The fruits of her runway labor came in the shape of lookbooks and advertisements plenty, securing campaigns with Proenza Schouler, Bottega Veneta, Boss and finally working with Steven Meisel for the first time for Zara. This past March before COVID hit Europe, Zhang even returned to Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen runway after an 8-year hiatus. “I was still very nervous but also very excited,” Zhang admits. “It was very busy and everyone looked energetic. My look was incredible! It made me feel powerful and toughness of females.”

At first glance, Zhang appears stoically regal, but on set the Chinese model transforms, lithely performing as if in a trance. “It was my second time taking part in a shoot virtually,” Zhang explains. “Even though I knew it wouldn’t be too hard, I still wanted it to be as professional as possible. I asked my agent in China and my stylists to help me with it. We woke up at 4:00 AM local time to prep. It takes the different efforts of the full team to complete a successful shoot.” That competitive, performative spirit still shines through and is an element of her almost decade long career. Her advice to anyone struggling to make it? “To enjoy and be passionate about your career. Only the passion will make you enjoy it.”