This Fashion Week show is revolutionizing how we view models
Recently, the fashion industry has undergone big steps to make sure that models are more representative of the people that are watching them. And one Fashion Show in particular is hoping to take a big leap towards complete inclusion. FTL Moda has teamed up with the Global Disability Inclusion to present #IAMNYFW, a fashion show whose main aim is to set higher industry standards in terms of acceptance and appreciation of diversity.
Models range from all walks of life, including Madeline Stuart who was the first model with Down Syndrome to walk in NYFW, Shaholly Ayers who was the first amputee model to walk without a prosthesis, and Fausto Di Pino, who has come back into the modeling industry after a grueling battle with cancer. But no matter what their background, all models have one incredible thing in common: a story that has touched everyone who has heard it.
As producer Ilaria Niccolini claims, "We love that the connection with all our models, marvelous testimonials of talent, strength, and outstanding beauty, allows us to witness the crumbling of longstanding prejudices."
We had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Madeline's mother, Rosanne Stuart, along with Ayers, and Di Pino themselves, to ask them about their respective modeling experience, how they view diversity in the industry, and their favorite Fashion Week moments.
And if you want to see the designs from the show up close and personal, check back for more #IAMNYFW coverage!
Could you start off by telling me how Madeline's career started?
Certainly! Back in March 2014, Madeline saw her first fashion program and she loved it straight away. And she told me that she wanted to get up on the stage. So in April of 2015 I ended up taking her to get some professional photographs done and in May we put them up on the internet and they just went viral. Then we just started getting offers for people to send her products, or phone calls for Fashion Week, or to travel all over the world to do shows there. So this year we're now in New York, and we were just in L.A. a few weeks ago since we did Buzzfeed. And this year we're going to Uganda, South Africa, London, Alaska, Rio; she gets so many calls for Fashion Week so we're hoping to do Tokyo this year and Milan. But the commercial side of it is really to get a following -- most of what we do is charity work.
Did you find that the fashion industry was very receptive to Madeline when she first started?
Well, we never have approached anyone. I have sent out two press releases in the last year, but apart from that, every day I have somebody reaching out from some sort of media outlet, whether its a magazine or television or a newspaper and we do an interview with them.
How has fan reaction been for her? I'm sure so many people have reach out to share their stories.
Oh my god -- we get about 100 a day. We have had so many come through. Every time I open up her Facebook, there's just more and more people saying, "You're just such an inspiration, thank you for being strong." You only have to look at her Facebook page and look at her comments from even today. There's just so many people who write beautiful things to her. The thing is, people say that you only go viral once. But Madeline's gone viral a few times now and she was just trending on Facebook yesterday -- she seems to trend all the time. And I think it's because she does represent the underdog or the minority who does not usually get this opportunity, which is fantastic! Because it gives her the chance to help other people.
That's so true! A common thread from this evening has been that everyone really does want to see themselves in magazines or walking down the runway -- no matter what they look like.
That's exactly right. We just get so many messages, and it's not just people who have others in their lives with disabilities. It's people who have been bullied or who are trying to give up drugs; people who feel isolated or feel alone and are really touched by Madeline's story. I think that if she can helps just one person, it's enough. It's not about the modeling, you know? I never think it is about it. It's really just an outlet to help people; this is all about inclusion.
Is this something that Madeline wants to do in the long term?
I really have no idea. My daughter had open heart surgery when she was two months old and it made me realize you don't live in the future, you live in today. I never thought she would even have a job, let alone be an international model. And at the moment, she loves it and loves being on a catwalk. While I don't foresee this changing, I never saw this happening. And she will do it as long as it makes her happy and as soon as she has a bad experience, she will turn her back on it. So I do my best to keep things positive, like if there is a negative aspect to a photoshoot, we just leave. And first and foremost she has to be happy and the moment she wants to be done, we will shut her Facebook and her Instagram down and walk away.
What's her favorite part about Fashion Week?
The catwalk and everyone cheering her on. She feels like its a party and she loves parties. It's such a positive feeling. So when she walks out into a room and feels that energy, that's what she loves.
How did you start your career as a model?
So there's a long story with this. Years ago, I went to an agency and they told me I'd never model. So after that I decided I was going to build my portfolio, and meet with photographers, makeup artists, and basically produce my own photoshoots. It wasn't until way later when I met Global Disability Inclusion -- which is my agency and I'm a brand ambassador for the agency as well -- that I was able to walk at New York Fashion Week.
What was that moment like when you first walked?
It was crazy! The first time I don't think I really felt it because I was wearing these face masks so I felt like Darth Vader -- which kind of help ease my nerves I think. And then the second time, I was wearing a dress, so that was really nice.
How do you view the fashion industry in terms of diversity and where do you see it evolving?
I definitely believe that it has been evolving since I started. It has been a slow progression but I think people are starting to move forward and be more accepting -- and this really needs to happen. 1 in 5 people have disabilities and everyone wants to see themselves in clothing and to be able to see themselves in magazines. When I was growing up, there was nobody to look up to. Now we have so many people for children to look up to and it's important to have that.
Are there any inspiring story that has stuck with you since you've gained more and more media attention?
Just recently I had a little girl, who is an amputee like myself, whose mom did a video of her for me and she was like "Shaholly I'm really, really excited for you!" And that was really sweet. And then I had another girl who had Spina Bifida and she's completely confined to a wheelchair and she always wanted to become a model and so she asked me to help. And that was pretty inspiring.
How do you view fashion as a form of empowerment?
Just like we said before, everybody wants to see themselves out there. And nobody is perfect, but we have this idealized version of what beauty is. But when you get down to the root of things, we're all different and that's what makes us beautiful. So I think its wonderful that the fashion industry is now embracing that.
Do you have a dream designer that you would want to work with?
I love Vivienne Westwood -- I really just love crazy, fun stuff. So she would be amazing to work with!
Fausto Di Pino
So how did you end up becoming a model in the first place?
I started my career around 4 years ago and I was scouted on the street. But since then, and especially this year, I've travelled all over the world. And the most important fashion show this year was John Richmond's show since that was after I became sick. They ended up calling me the "Bravest Model" because I put myself back in the game again after I battled cancer, especially with this look which is now normal, but before it wasn't as accepting. Even my ex-agency tried to remove me. So I switched to Elite Models in Milan and they really have made me feel like family and have helped me to start my career all over again. And then right after all of this was John Richmond's show, so it was very important.
How has your career been after your battle with cancer?
It's really starting a new life and a new look. It has been going really well for me though; I came to New York -- which was one of the biggest dreams in my life -- and after realizing that I can still be part of fashion shows is a really good thing. I'm so proud to now walk in this show and be with people who really represent the power of life.
If there was any designer you could work with, who would it be?
I would love to work with many designers, but my number one would have to be Armani because its the most elegant and prestigious in Italy -- and also in the world.
And what's your favorite part about Fashion Week in general?
I love walking at castings because now I realize that I'm different and special, and even though I have less of a chance of booking jobs, the chances I do get always push me to be my best.
More Fashion Week:
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Banana Republic's bold move just changed Fashion Week forever
Alexander Wang makes hard edges beautiful