Ariel Beesley was a musician before she was a model — and she’s rather savvy about how she balances the two. The 21-year-old San Fernando Valley, Calif., native grew up in a big family that has always fostered her creativity: She dyed her hair neon blue when she was 10, her hobbies included musical theater and poetry, and she started playing guitar at 14. But her modeling career didn’t take off in that storybook, discovered-while-out-shopping sort of way.
After booking a job for a local hair salon, Beesley decided to attend some open calls and was met with rejection — and lots of it — for almost two years. But her upbeat attitude and resilience paid off and eventually, she was signed to Wilhemina at age 19. Since then, Beesley has appeared in shoots for indie mags like Nylon, Oyster, Cake and more, all while promoting her musical career. Case in point: She never shows up at a modeling job without her ukulele. And it appears to be working — she was recently signed to a production deal and has already started the studio sessions for her next album.
“It’s been a long time coming, and very validating, finally,” Beesley said of her career. “More than anything, I feel extremely grateful. Now that things are actually starting to pick up for me, it feels very special. It’s a whirlwind, for sure.”
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Ariel Beesley: It’s kind of a funny story. When I was 17, I was sitting in a hair salon and the owner of the salon came up to me and asked if I would come to a casting for their next campaign. I had superdark red hair, really long — I’ve dyed my hair every color of the rainbow. I had never even heard of a casting. I was so naïve. There were tons of girls there with their portfolios — I didn’t even know what a portfolio was — and I somehow ended up booking the job. It was for Icon hair salon in L.A. After that, when I got paid, I was like, “Oh, wait. Why don’t I try this?” I’m a musician and the idea of being able to pursue the things I care about was really awesome to me.
WWD: So growing up, modeling had never occurred to you as a viable career option?
A.B.: I was a superfunky kid. I was the kid that wore tutus and fairy wings to class; I was quirky. I grew up in a very artistic environment, and all of my friends and I would dress up and do little photo shoots. I never thought of it as modeling — it was just something to do with friends — so it’s funny that it’s come full circle. But I’ve always loved being in front of and behind the camera. I did musical theater for 10 years. For me, modeling is kind of like acting. When I get to a shoot and I put on the clothes, I think, “What kind of girl would wear this outfit?” Sometimes it’s something I’d wear and I can just be myself. But other times it’s fun to play different characters.
WWD: Did your career take off after booking that first gig?
A.B.: I went to open calls and I probably got rejected by 16 or 17 agencies. I would go and have multiple meetings. They would say to me, “Some of the board likes you, and some of them don’t.” I would get close each time, but then would ultimately get a ‘no.’ It’s not that I ever even thought I wanted to be a model, but the more they rejected me, the more I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I was like, “I know I can do this.”
WWD: That’s perseverence.
A.B.: This continued until I was 18. I got rejected by New York agencies, too. I kept trying and kept getting rejected. Then one day, I was like, I’m just gonna go into a major agency. I got rejected from so many boutique agencies, so it was a long shot. On one hand, if I got rejected by the small ones, why would a big agency want me? But over summer break, I went to Wilhemina [in Los Angeles] and I walked out with a contract that same day. That was a year-and-a-half ago.
WWD: Did you ever attend college?
A.B.: I went to the New School and was studying poetry there for a year; as a songwriter, I write all my own music. I love learning, but being in the classroom, I didn’t feel like a person. My parents were supporting me. I was so stressed all the time. I was a poetry major, yet I didn’t understand how people could be graded down on poetry. There aren’t really grammatical rules you can grade on. It’s just pure expression. I just didn’t understand the whole structure of it all. Now that I’m outside, working full-time, I can fully support myself. I have my own house. I live across from the Grove in West Hollywood. I feel like a person now. It’s way more validating to feel like I can support myself and do what I absolutely love. I’m still learning, but I’m doing it my own way.
WWD: Let’s talk about your music.
A.B.: I started playing guitar when I was 14. I’ve always been a writer; I was always obsessed with writing little poems as a kid. When I was 14, my dad taught me a few chords on the guitar. I started learning guitar and I would write songs on it, but it never really felt like my instrument. When I was 17, my dad came back from Hawaii with a ukulele, so I picked it up and started fiddling around. I took the guitar chords that I knew and tried to convert them on the ukulele, and I wrote my first song that night. I absolutely fell in love with the instrument. What I love about the ukulele is that it’s such a delicate sound. My music is kinda folksy and whimsical, but it’s definitely a little moody and dark also. I love the contrast between a delicate sound and harsher lyrics.
WWD: Have you had to put music on the back burner since you’ve started modeling?
A.B.: I bring my ukulele to all of my [modeling] jobs. You never know if the photographer is going to use it on set. And if they do, then I can get promoted as both a model and a musician. Recently, I’ve been working a lot with Nylon magazine, which has been really awesome. I did a fashion film for Nylon and they used my original song as the music. That’s how I got my record production deal. From modeling, I have a little fan base for my music, but in terms of the music industry, I’m relatively unknown. I’ve gotten to meet with some really cool people.
WWD: Is it hard to balance the two?
A.B.: I’ve just used modeling to really help get my music out there. It’s opened up so many doors. I’ve gotten so many music jobs from modeling jobs. I did a campaign for Genetic Denim where they featured me as a musician. I played music for a behind-the-scenes fashion film they did. The art director at the time asked me to play her wedding a few months later. So you never know what’s gonna happen. I’ve also worked for Nasty Gal, and they were the first company to premiere my music video. They found me on Instagram.
WWD: Are you an active ’grammer? Do you find that it’s increasingly important to your career?
A.B.: Instagram is like walking around with a mini portfolio. At so many castings I go to, they’ll ask me what my Instagram [handle] is so that they can stalk me and see what I’m posting. It’s kind of nerve-racking.
For me, my Instagram is mostly just about myself; I post pictures of my friends. I’ve definitely started posting more of my [modeling] work, because I’ve gotten jobs from it, so why not. I use it as a tool for music. I’ll post little videos of me playing.
WWD: How would you describe your style?
A.B.: When I started modeling, I was told, “You need to wear this outfit and these heels.” I tried it for two weeks and I wasn’t booking anything because it wasn’t me. I’m not your girl that’s gonna wear jeans, a T-shirt and 6-inch heels. I’ve always loved fashion as a form of expression. I dress how I’m feeling. Some days I wanna dress like a guy. I love suits, I love thrifting. My boyfriend found me this pair of Saint Laurent suit pants at Goodwill for 10 bucks. But then sometimes I’m supergirly and all I’ll wanna wear is a floral dress. I like to be creative.
WWD: What are some things you’ve learned from all of your experiences?
A.B.: Learning how to walk into a room with 20 other people that you’ve never met — and having to show them that you’re the one who should get the job — that’s a skill you can apply to all aspects of your life. That’s really helped me in terms of music, too. For example: I just had my first studio session last week. I was a bit nervous [to be working with] this big producer. But when I went in, I was like, you know what? I’ve done this a million times. I had to just go and show him that I was the person he should be working with. When I had that mentality, I went in super confidently, and I was like, “Let’s do this.”
WWD: What are some of your goals?
A.B.: The companies that value artistry in their models — that’s something I really value. I would love to work with Saint Laurent. Hedi Slimane will often shoot bands for the campaign. I think that’s pretty cool. I’d love to be able to incorporate modeling and music [into jobs] — I feel they go very much hand-in-hand.