Beauty Marked, Aaron Philip
Photography by Sophie Hur
Photography: Sophie Hur
Interview: Isaac Kariuki
Makeup: Chloe Grae
Styling: Willie Norris
Aaron Philip has a lot of famous fans. They come as Internet personalities, designers and especially the modelling world, where the 17-year-old just broke into with a mighty wind. "(I) want to see you on billboards," tweeted Victoria’s Secret Angel, Duckie Thot in November of 2017, “hope you get signed soon boo." It took less than a year after that tweet for Philip to get signed to Elite Model Management. The tweet was in response to a backyard photoshoot of Philip where she alerted the world that once she gets signed, “it’s OVER” for y’all!!” Now, in 2018 Philip told me over emails she is, “beyond honored and thrilled to be with Elite NYC!” Her giddiness and bouncy text-speak flowed throughout our conversation, as any excited teenager entering senior year would. Though Philip’s teenagehood diverges as it’s amplified by the likes of Tyra Banks, in sharp pronouncements tweeting, “She is black. She is trans. She is disabled. She is #AronPhilip.”
Philip’s visage can’t be missed when it appears on your explore page, as it frequently does in mine. Her coral blonde hair and glittery filtered selfies have stood out enough to get the attention of H&M and ASOS. In trying to get a sense of her interior life, it becomes clear that the Internet is a comforting solace for her — and a logical medium for her growing fandom. Philip knows the language of going viral. Her popular Tumblr page, which she started at 11-years-old, glides between poetry, life updates, selfies and anime gifs. She would often give followers advice and comforting messages on overcoming pain. Her last post in 2016 was an apology to her followers for her infrequent posting. It was due to her hospital visits and trouble with hand movement. Philip’s cerebral palsy emerged when she was a toddler. Her family moved from Antigua to the United States when she was 3-years-old to find better medical options for her. The medical costs left Philip and her father living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan for a while before finding an apartment in the Bronx. Through this journey, she speaks frequently on the issues affected queer people of colour with disabilities.
Philip knows that her recent signing is bigger than her, often checking tweets and Instagram comments on her iPad – usually placed on a tray attached to her motorized wheelchair – to be acknowledged by followers commending her affirming attitude and bravery. A frequent IG comment would usually contain a range of disparate emojis and the text caption “she did that.”
Isaac Kariuki: While doing my research I came across headlines that use a lot of descriptors for you. Could you describe yourself in your own words?
Aaron Philip: I’m just a teenage girl from the Bronx/Caribbean who cares deeply about art, fashion, community, morals and representation.
IK: You must be thrilled about signing to Elite! How does it feel accomplishing such a major dream?
AP: It feels really nice having people by your side who understand your goals and want to take you to the next level. I’m so grateful to have such an amazing team and to be with such talented girls.
IK: You’ve mentioned how influential Kylie Jenner’s Interview Magazine cover was (photographed by Steven Klein, where Jenner poses in a wheelchair) but overtime you recognized harmful elements in it. What is your relationship to fashion at the moment?
AP: I adore fashion. I live, breathe and eat fashion. It’s genuinely one of the closest things to my heart and I just think that the artistry, technique and craft that goes into this business and art form is astounding. It just never added up for me as to why fashion is limited to being expressed and flaunted by an exclusive type of body or person. A shift in that dynamic is needed and necessary. It’s very much happening through the work of my fellow friends and change makers, myself included!
IK: I’ve been to a lot of shoots and I’ve seen the ways fashion studios and sets can be accessible and also completely lacking in access. Can you tell me about your experiences and what can be changed or maintained?
AP: I’ve been very fortunate to have an experience in which a number of past clients [and] jobs always made sure to communicate with me about accessibility [in terms of] what my comfort level is, what my needs are as a disabled woman on set, and getting to set. There have also been tricky experiences with inaccessibility such as struggling with venues that for example, don’t have elevators or ramps. We’ve always been able to work around it though once everyone around me in this type of situation is involved and aware.
IK: Historically, we’ve had accounts of muses in fashion recounting their exploitation and abuse in the fashion industry. Is this something on your mind as you pursue your career?
AP: It truly is. I’ve heard horror stories of the way models have been treated and what they’ve faced behind the scenes on set and on the runway. I know that I’m more at risk of having these things possibly happen to me as a disabled, trans, black woman. More than anything I want there to be a day where all the girls of the fashion industry no longer have to worry about instances like this happening to us. And God forbid it does, there will be resources and outlets and appropriate measures [that] can be taken.
IK: What has it been like having models like Duckie Thot show support for you?
AP: I’m so grateful knowing that Duckie Thot. People like her and all my supporters have been here to see my career blossom and flourish, and support me in this process! They see me for who I am and what I seek to achieve. I treasure that deeply.
IK: We know you’re very focused and capable of achieving your dreams. As a signed model, what are the ideal campaigns you’d love to star in? What are your goals for 2019?
AP: It would be such a personal honor to be able to work with photographers such as Harley Weir, Tyler Mitchell, Collier Schorr, Petra Collins and Steven Meisel. I’d be honored to work with and walk for brands such as Miu Miu, Prada, Rodarte, Gucci, YSL, Coach, Dior, Marc Jacobs, Sies Marjan, Chanel, and Tom Ford.
IK: Staying on the fashion, just perusing your IG, I get a 90s vibe from your closet but how would you describe your style?
AP: My style depends on how I feel and what I want to convey. In the fall [and] winter I go for a darker, jagged sexier silhouette and color scheme. In the spring [and] summer I find myself wanting to be light and feminine with an edge. It really depends. I love layering when it’s cold especially with different colors and textures but I also love to show a little skin and glitz, as well.
IK: You’ve turned the gaze quite a bit by also being a photographer. What’s the experience been like and has it informed your modeling?
AP: It’s interesting having been behind the camera for so long versus being in front of it because I feel like I know what positions and faces look best for me when I’m shooting.
IK: Is it safe to say a lot in your life has changed since that tweet in November 2017? What’s something you’d tell yourself before everything happened?
AP: I wish I had been kinder to myself in the process of my career being that it became my whole life and I spent the majority of my energy between that and school. It was exhausting but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I just wish I loved and appreciated my own efforts and strides more.
Originally published in IN #7, Fall 2018