Diversifying the Cultural Norm: A New York Fashion Week Story


Culture Writer | Rachel Sinistro | rs651613@ohio.edu | @rachyrachy__

Down Syndrome model, Madeline Stuart wearing Hendrik Vermeulen. Source: Getty Images via Cosmopolitan.com

New York Fashion Week kicked off on Thursday, September 10th and it has already made a huge statement this year; just not the kind you might be thinking of. Designers are being anything but discrete in highlighting the beauty of diversity in their Spring/Summer 2016 collections. Slowly but surely, designers are focusing less on casting the stereotypical size two, Caucasian female for their fashion shows, and more so on inclusiveness of all shapes, sizes and genders.

One of the leading runway revelations this week was the FTL Moda show. The show partnered with Global Disability Inclusion and featured the collections of five different designers. Madeline Stuart, an 18-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, took a bold step onto the catwalk in designs by Hendrik Vermeulen. Stuart is the first teen model with Down Syndrome to have ever walked in New York Fashion Week. Also featured in the FLT Moda show were the “bionic model” Rebekah Marine and Shaholly Ayers, who both have lost their right forearm due to different circumstances. Ayers shamelessly removed her prosthetic arm at the end of the runway while striking a pose in Alexandra Frida. Leslie Irby, a paralytic model in the show, stunningly wheeled down the runway wearing Archana Kochhar. These women are not only extremely talented models, but their courage to overcome their special abilities also makes them extremely influential beings.

Denise Bidot, plus-sized model wearing Chromat. Source: Fernando Leon via Getty Images

Plus sized models were also more prevalent than usual on the runway this Fashion Week. Models Sabina Karlsson and Denise Bidot, both deemed plus sized in the industry, modeled for Chromat, a collection designed by Becca McCharen. McCharen explained her decision in casting plus sized models with Huffington Post. “I’m so against all white, straight, skinny girl runways,” she said. “That just doesn’t reflect my reality and who I am and who the Chromat woman is.” McCharen’s show was a success, and the curvaceous physiques of Karlsson and Bidot worked well with the collection’s bold and edgy designs.

Carrie Hammer was another designer that really left a lasting statement on the runway through her collection this week. Hammer calls her show “Role Models not Runway Models.” Some of the models Hammer had were her clients, while other models were simply powerful females that are influential to her. Her brand of professional clothing is aimed towards powerful women, and she wants the women wearing her clothes to emulate that mindset. Prior to her first time presenting in NYFW in February of 2014, Hammer told PowerToFly, “I literally said to my stylist, ‘It doesn’t make sense to cast runway models when all of our clients are such role models.’” Hammer’s positive message on the runway has brought her brand admiration from women everywhere.

Androgynous model, Rain Dove wearing Melan Breton. Source: Leona Liang via LGBT Weekly

Transgender and androgynous models were also seen on the runways of New York Fashion Week more than they ever have before. Androgynous models wear men and women’s attire and prefer to be gender neutral. Rain Dove is a significant advocate of the LGBTQ community and was just one of the mainstream androgynous models that walked the runway this week. Dove modeled an elegant evening gown by Melan Breton.

These so-called “different” models are just a few amongst the many who have recently been incorporated into the high fashion world. It seems that the world of fashion is finally starting to open up to the idea of diversifying runway models and empowering all types of people. Next season, we can hope and expect to see three times the amount of plus sized, specially abled, transgendered and other uncommon faces making it into fashion week.