(L-R) Kaia Gerber, Anok Yai, Precious Lee, Bella Hadid, Sherry Shi, Ariel Nicholson, Yumi Nu and Lola Leo. (Ethan James Green/Vogue)
Model Ariel Nicholson has made history as the first openly trans model on the cover of American Vogue.
Walking in the footsteps of actor Laverne Cox and model Valentina Sampaio, who were the first trans people to grace the covers of British Vogue and Vogue Paris respectively, Nicholson has fronted the magazine’s iconic September issue.
Nicholson, a rising writer and actor, is named by the Condé Nast publication as one of the “models who make the moment” alongside Bella Hadid, Lola Leon, Sherry Shi, Yumi Nu, Kaia Gerber, Precious Lee and Anok Yai.
The group are lensed by Ethan James Green posing across the Vogue offices in the One World Trade Center as staffers casually walk-by or are having Zoom video calls with Anna Wintour, the publishing house’s chief content officer.
As she makes Vogue history, Ariel Nicholson stresses the ‘limits of trans representation’
For an issue that celebrates “new beginnings”, the models spoke bluntly about how visibility is not a fabled silver bullet when it comes to racism, homophobia or transphobia.
“There are limits to what ‘representation’ can do,” Nicholson, who first entered the public eye aged just 13 in the PBS documentary Growing Up Trans, said.
“Obviously it’s a big deal being the first trans woman on the cover of Vogue, but it’s also hard to say exactly what kind of big deal it is when the effects are so intangible.”
Gerber, who is friends with Nicholson, chimed in: “People attach a lot of importance to symbols.”
“I’ve been put in this box – oh trans model,” Nicholson continued, “which is what I am, but that’s not all I am.”
First hand-picked by designer Raf Simons to walk Calvin Klein’s Spring/Summer 2018 show, the New Jersey model also volunteers with the Gender & Family Project, a trans youth advocacy group, according to her profile on the Business of Fashion.
The magazine spread also featured Leon, daughter of Madonna and a modern standard-bearer for LGBT+ allyship. “People think I’m this talentless rich kid who’s had everything given to her, but I’m not,” the 24-year-old said.
Based in Bushwick, a sprawling neighbourhood in northern Brooklyn, Leon is a dancer and explained how the art form is a “very naked form of expression” for her.
“A teacher of mine made me understand movement in a whole new way,” she said, adding: “You’re using your body to define the space around you – to change it.”
Change has long been on the mind of Nicolson, who previously told V Magazine that she has sought to use her social media to uplift the trans and non-binary community.
“It’s my goal to create space for the trans and queer community by existing and advocating, and also making space for more marginalised people than myself or people who have different intersections of their identity that make their lives more difficult,” she said.
“I am constantly just checking my privilege, and saying: ‘Yes, I am trans, but I‘m also white; I’m also able-bodied.’
“I believe all of those things play a factor in my success and ultimately play a factor in who I am.”