Dior’s New Girl Is a Cell Biologist Turned Model

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With collections themed around feminist texts and student activism, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s vision of the modern Dior muse is a woman who combines beauty with brains. No model on the designer’s runway exemplifies this better than Ninouk Akkerman, a 23-year-old stunner from Boekelo, Netherlands with a degree in neuroscience and cell biology from the prestigious Utrecht University. First landing on the runway last season with a Prada exclusive, Akkerman has steadily risen through the ranks with work for labels like Givenchy, Valentino, and Gucci. Though she eventually plans to go back to college and pursue her master’s in neuroscience, her attentions are focused for the moment on Paris Fashion Week and its array of shows and castings. Here, the rising star talks science, staying grounded, and why Dutch talent is everywhere.

On why you’ll never see her on reality TV.

“I met Kiko [Arai] again at a casting, after I had met her for the first time last season, and she had someone from a Japanese fashion TV following her around all day for a week, for a story on her daily life during NYFW. She was literally filming her every move as we were walking from one casting to the next, and at some point she started to interview me too, with Kiko translating for us. It was fun and kind of funny, but I can’t imagine being filmed continuously, especially during such a hectic time as Fashion Week. I think I would go crazy. Props to Kiko!”

On why she started modeling after 20.

“My parents are academics and no one in my family or circle of high school and university friends is in fashion. So a career in fashion had never really crossed my mind. I was scouted a few times when I was younger, but as I was really focused on going to university, I didn’t give it much thought. Only when I was 20, my friends convinced me to contact an agency in Amsterdam, and before I knew it, I was on the set for my first shoot—something I’d never expected would happen!”

On fashion’s Dutch wave.

“[I’m surprised that] that there are so many Dutch models. So many. Which is fun though; it’s nice being able to speak with people in your own language every now and then. I’d been running into someone at castings for a while, and we just chatted away, but it was only during third time we met that we found out we were from the same country. We’d been speaking in English with each other all the time! We both couldn’t believe the other person was Dutch until we actually switched to Dutch and even then we were confused for a while.”

On her passion for science.

“I am very interested in science, so I like to catch up on the latest developments. My main interest is in cell biology, which I studied in university. It’s just fascinating to me how cells function, communicate, and form complex creatures like you and me. It really annoys me when people misrepresent scientific findings or spread plain bullshit, especially concerning medicine or alternative treatments. Some of it may be harmless, but this is definitely not always the case.”

On staying grounded the Dutch way.

“There’s a saying in Frisian that my grandmother always tells me of when I’m stressing out about things that are not in my control: ‘As it net kin sa’t it moat, dan moat it mar sa’t it kin.’ In English that would be something along the lines of: ‘If things don’t work out the way they should, then they’ll have to work out the way they can.’ The uncertainty of it all is the most challenging part of modeling; you never really know if you get the job until you’re literally on the runway. So you have to be able to deal with rejections and adapt quite suddenly and quickly.”