Landing the job as the face of a top kids' clothing line is a dream for most child models. But it's even more amazing for little Nikolai Piskulic, the cute star of the Jack & Abby clothing catalogues.
The gorgeous 17-month-old is proof that having Down Syndrome is no obstacle to success even for a toddler.
Nikolai's modelling career began when his parents, Brett and Jacqui, answered an ad in the Auckland Down Syndrome newsletter looking for a child to be the face of Jack & Abby clothing. Jack & Abby founder Kara Subritzky says she placed the ad because she felt that children with a disability were only seen in advertisements for related charities.
When Jacqui (38) saw the ad her first reaction was that it had to be a mistake. "To us, Nikolai is very beautiful, but I couldn't quite believe that they'd want him to be a model," she says. "We knew that Nikolai had Down Syndrome before he was born, and our friends and family adore him for who he is.
"But it was hard for me to know how other people would perceive my child, and I was a bit worried about that."
It took some convincing from Brett (42) that the ad was aimed at parents of kids with Down Syndrome. "I thought it was fairly obvious that's what they were looking for!" laughs Brett.
The couple sent in a photo of Nikolai, who was then just three months old, but didn't expect to hear back. They were thrilled when Kara contacted them and said she'd love to have Nikolai model her range.
"I was so excited," remembers Jacqui. "But on the day of the photo shoot I felt really nervous. I said to Kara, 'If it doesn't work out, you don't have to use the photos.'"
But Nikolai did such a fantastic job that he became the star of the Jack & Abby catalogue and when Kara decided to increase the age range of the line, she asked the Piskulics if he would model again.
"I didn't hesitate at all the second time," says Jacqui. "I guess we were more certain about how he would be perceived. Nikolai is who he is and modelling is an opportunity to show that he's a normal, cute little kid.
"The Down Syndrome isn't who he is. A lot of it comes down to people's attitudes. It's just great to show people that regardless of Nikolai having Down Syndrome, he can still be a model."
The response to the modelling has been overwhelmingly positive, says Jacqui. "A lot of people's reaction was, 'Why don't more companies do things like this?'"
As to what the future holds for Nikolai, Brett and Jacqui aren't sure if he'll do any more modelling, but they're definitely open to the idea. "We don't want to limit what he can do," says Brett. "It's about not putting a ceiling on him," adds Jacqui. "Not saying, 'You can't do this because you have a syndrome.'
"I always want Nikolai to be proud of who he is."
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