In a fashion industry that has held on gracefully to a tradition which traces back to Coco Chanel’s stellar beginnings, America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco “screams” a sense of adventure and renaissance for any brand brave enough to recognize it. DiMarco like any model is an artist – his reminiscent in looks and heart of Roman figures and today’s epitome of true Italian beauty. And just like a picture speaks a thousand words, so do Nyle’s blue gemstone eyes.
The fascination with Nyle isn’t much his deafness but how seamlessly he meets both worlds in the middle. When asked what inspires him artistically, it’s that very idea – to unite and change people’s lives. A few years ago he had just started modeling and has since experienced success unlike any model in the industry. The 26-year-old model recognizes the responsibility which by chance and talent have given him a sense of legacy early in his career. “There is nothing more inspiring than seeing people learning and becoming more educated about Deaf culture, and ultimately becoming our allies. This gives me the courage to move forward and grow in this industry because it means I will be changing people’s lives,” says Nyle.
Although Nyle echoes a special message in our society, his modeling seems to erase any barriers which exist between “our worlds.” In fashion he is an image hybrid between Versace royalty and All-American Tommy Hilfiger. Consider that if Versace and Hilfiger decided to collaborate on a brand, Nyle would be it.
The America’s Next Top Model winner isn’t singly defined either. He first found national success as an actor in Switched at Birth, the first television show to feature scenes entirely in the American Sign Language. It seems that from the very beginning Nyle was part of building a bridge towards social innovation – one he is so passionate about. In the style of the multi-faceted model Karlie Kloss, he is also a mathematician and educator at heart, having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the Gallaudet University. “I have a passion to teach and inspire Deaf kids, as well as the hearing community,” says Nyle.
During the competition Tyra Banks told him fiercely, “Don’t let anyone ever get in the way of your dreams.” So how did Nyle find the confidence and resilience to become America’s Next Top Model? “As goosebumps crawled, I thought to myself; I am Deaf. And there are systematic barriers that shouldn’t exist, at all,” he recalls. Not to forget his greatest advantage, a deep understanding of self-expression, cultured from years of speaking and learning through his eyes. “Our eyes are very alert. We see everything in our peripheral vision and have motion-detection abilities. It is almost like having an increased sense in our vision since we ‘lost’ our hearing sense. I like to say that we have a superhuman vision.”
When most of the ANTM classmates didn’t have the patience to reach out in conversation, Nyle recharged his focus, sometimes through reading. “Coincidentally, in the beginning of the competition I started reading Unbroken. I quickly connected to [Italian American war hero] Louis Zamperini. It almost felt like he spoke to me and was my true friend during the entire competition. I was imagining his terrible months of being adrift in the ocean and taken away to POW camps. He was alone, deprived and ready to give up, but didn’t because of his resilience. Zamperini had far more severe consequences on his journey but his experience spoke to me. I survived, and I won,” says Nyle.
Born into a fourth generation extensive Italian American “deaf” family, it’s only natural for Nyle to have inherited a love of expression. He works hard, embraces people in conversation with a big smile and air of gratitude. His mother Donna DiMarco, his biggest supporter and inspiration, is just as affectionate. “As soon as she meets a stranger, she’s able to connect with them easily. She has a warm and a big heart for people and the community. A lot of people know her. She inspires and amazes me. The best advice my mom has given me: just be yourself. By being myself, I have been on this incredible adventure and will keep moving forward,” says Nyle.
Nyle, which in English carries the meaning of Champion, has awakened a new perspective. His modeling is the spirit that is inspiring fashion and its fans. We are also learning, perhaps for the first time, that there are 70 million people who use 200 sign languages worldwide as their mother tongue – you can learn a few of those signs on the American Sign Language Application. Speaking to the deaf community can be easy as many read lips and the visual civil rights movement through the American Sign Language 4 Deaf Kids – Lead-K (Kindergarten) campaign, reaches to have all deaf babies kindergarten ready by encouraging their learning of both ASL and English. It is equally fascinating to see how much influence one man, and face, has had in the past few months, to change everyone’s perspective of the deaf community.
If you could sign with any living legend who would it be?
“Stan Lee, president and chairman of Marvel comics.” What would you sign about? “Do you remember when I told you about Deaf people having superhuman vision? That’s exactly what I want to talk to him about,” says Nyle with a smile.
Photography Credits by Spirit and Flesh Magazine & Photographer Alexandra Arnold – Starring NYLE DiMARCO photographer’s assistant HADLEY HENRY styling by AARON TUCKER grooming by BRANDIE HOPSTEIN with OPUS BEAUTY using DAVINES and NARS retouching by PRATIK NAIK outfits by STEPHEN F jewelry by ELLAGEM NEW YORK
A special thank you to the inspiring Spirit & Flesh Magazine, Wilhelmina Agency’s Jessica Rosenberg and brilliant photographers Alexandra Arnold and Eric Pietrangolare.