Last Night, Calvin Klein — This Morning, Algebra

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Last Night, Calvin Klein — This Morning, Algebra

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Ariel Nicholson Murtagh made her fashion week debut Thursday night walking in Raf Simons’s Calvin Klein show. She is 6-foot-1, weighs 125 pounds and has a kind of Pre-Raphaelite-by-way-of-Joni Mitchell hairdo.

So she looks every bit the part of a runway model, even if she’s a 16-year-old high school sophomore who also happens to be transgender.

Some may find this a little unseemly. High school sophomores, walking in runway shows, on a school night?

Ah, well. If the fashion industry continues to rely upon teenagers to do adult jobs, why not do it with an eye toward diversity?

Anyway, having been selected by Calvin Klein’s designer, Mr. Simons, two weeks after signing with DNA Model Management — the agency that represents Natalia Vodianova, Linda Evangelista and Doutzen Kroes — Ms. Murtagh was stoked to be getting recognized by the industry.

She watched guidance videos of how to walk on YouTtube, and could only laugh when members of Mr. Simons’s team provided suggestions on how to quickly improve.

“I did it very Victoria’s Secret runway,” she said, two hours before the Calvin Klein show. A walking, talking exclamation point who reads George Orwell novels in her spare time and also leans in on words such as “like” and “amazing,” she was in a bathrobe on the third floor of the company’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters.

Their message was clear and correct, she said: “Tone it down.”

In her hair were bobby pins, which would be removed at the time of the show.

To her right was her mother, Kerry Murtagh, who works in sales at Benjamin Moore, and would not be removed.

“I know how much school means to her,” Kerry Murtagh said. “I don’t want her to get crazy.”

Almost from the time the younger Ms. Murtagh could speak, she told Kerry and her father, Bob Murtagh, that a boy was not what she was. (The Murtaghs and are now divorced; Kerry lives in Park, Ridge, N.J., and Bob lives in Westchester, N.Y.)

She wanted to wear pink tutus and couldn’t stop watching “The Little Mermaid.” That is the story of an isolated, deep sea princess named Ariel whose body is out of sync with her desire to be fully human.

Kerry got the message quickly, while Bob took a little longer. “I would go by her bed and there were books on her nightstand,” Ms. Murtagh said. “Then I’d go to my father’s side and there was, like, a drink of water.”

In fifth grade, Ms. Murtagh switched pronouns and began taking Lupron, a drug that suppresses the effects of puberty.

The longer she spent living as a girl, the happier she became. Her grades were excellent, Kerry said. Kids at school also seemed to have an easier time accepting a transgender classmate than they did accepting a feminine boy.

“We live in a binary world,” Ms. Murtagh said.

In eighth grade, she appeared “Growing Up Trans,” a documentary that was broadcast on PBS stations, in which she talked with her therapist Jean Malpas of the Ackerman Institute about the decision to go on estrogen.

Having made the gender leap early, Ms. Murtagh acclimated quickly.

She no longer has much desire to wear ball gowns and sometimes gets embarrassed telling schoolmates how she selected her name. “So sometimes I say I chose it after Ariel in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’” Ms. Murtagh said.

The last movie she loved was “Baby Driver.” Her favorite pop star is Lorde, the music world’s torchbearer for gritty girl power.

In August, Ms. Murtagh appeared in a Vogue spread devoted to transgender children, wearing a black and white polka dot Giambattista Valli dress with floral detailing, photographed by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

Interactive Feature | The Open Thread Fashion Newsletter A look from across The New York Times at the forces that shape the dress codes we share, with Vanessa Friedman as your personal shopper. Sent weekly.

“They were so nice,” said Ms. Murtagh, who seemed slightly less impressed by the photographers’ status at the forefront of fashion photography than their history collaborating with Lady Gaga. “There was a picture of her just, like, on the wall. It was like crazy. I couldn’t believe they’d shot people like that!”

Ms. Van Lamsweerde and Mr. Matadin were in the crowd at Calvin Klein Thursday evening as the show began.

Homages to creepy movies prevailed, as battle axes hung from the ceiling and music from David Lynch films played.

Ms. Murtagh came early, and sauntered around the room in a denim and red leather cowboy outfit with a Warhol print emblazoned across the chest. “I actually did a report on Warhol last year for art history!” she said.

Backstage afterward, Ms. Van Lamsweerde proclaimed Ms. Murtagh to be “a natural,” and Mr. Simons said she had the right personality for the runway. Which, translated into plain-speak, means that she was every bit as icy and vacant as all the other models in today’s fashion-meets-”The Walking Dead” era.

But Ms. Murtagh didn’t even get to stay and catch up with any of her new fans, much less Mahershala Ali, the Academy Award winner, whom she spotted out front in the distance.

“Oh my god!” she said, now wearing a floral print Urban Outfitters jacket and American Eagle jeans. “Oh my god! From ‘Moonlight’! I’m freaking out!”

Her mother, though, was marveling about how short fashion shows actually are. “Two minutes and then it’s over,” she said, exaggerating only slightly.

If only they didn’t have to leave. If only there wasn’t another appearance the following morning to get up for.

“School!” Ms. Murtagh said, walking for the exits.

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