Groundbreaking models, including a model with Down’s Syndrome, shine at New York Fashion Week

At New York Fashion Week, models break new ground challenging the narrow standard of beauty of the fashion industry. Among them is Madeline Stuart, a model with Down Syndrome, and Shaholly Ayers, who is born with just one arm.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – A new crop of young women are determined to increase visibility of disabled models challenging the narrow standards of beauty of the fashion industry.

Among them is pioneering Australian model Madeline Stuart who has Down syndrome.

On Saturday (September 12) Stuart was in New York for her fitting with the designers of Hendrik Vermeulen, who showed their latest collection as part of FTL Moda’s Spring 2016 runway show on Sunday (September 14).

Stuart, who mostly communicated through short answers, told Reuters that it has been her dream to be a model.

The 18-year-old redhead wore two designs during her runway debut, one of which was a purple halter top with the pattern of a deep sea fish.

“The more I looked at it, the more I loved it,” said designer Jean-Daniel Meyer-Vermeulen.

“And when it came into print we found out actually that when it was moving, it was giving a smile. And Maddy is always smiling, she is such a spirit, so we thought well, this is perfect for her,” he added. Stuart’s second look was a futuristic wedding gown.

Stuart started modeling about a year ago after her mother Roseanne started posting pictures on Facebook. As the images went viral she became the new buzz in town catapulting her into stardom.

“When Madeline said she wanted to do modeling, I thought ‘okay, we’ll give it a go,'” Roseanne Stuart told Reuters.

“I am not one of these people that ever says no to anything unless it’s dangerous or illegal. So if she wanted to be a model then I thought well let’s get some photos done and even if she can’t be a model she’ll have the same experiences and she will enjoy herself and that’s what’s important.”

While Stuart has landed big gigs in a relative short amount of time — she has modeled for fitness brand Manifesta and was named the face of a new signature handbag line from lifestyle label everMaya – her mother says that she still faces challenges.

“I did find it very difficult trying to get her a model agency. She couldn’t get one. Even when she had all the supporters, I would send her photos and contact them, no model agency would take her. They still won’t. Even though she’s got a huge following.”

Another model walking for the FTL Moda show is Mikaya Dionne, who is suffering from Alopecia since the age of 11. While the disease made her lose all her hair she did not give up on her dream of becoming a professional model.

“I have the height for it. I have the shape for it but just never had the opportunity because of my bald head. And I wanted to continue to pursue that to kind of show that there are models but we are all, we can show some diversity,” she said.

While she first tried to conform to the industry by wearing wigs, Dionne said the moment she decided not to was her most liberating one.

“This is who I am. Take it or leave it. And if you are the designer and you are the stylist and you want to add a wig here and there I am fine with that. But I am Mikaya Dionne, and I don’t have hair. And I never will.”

Indian couture designer Archana Kochhar, whose elaborate silk gown Dionne showed during the FTL Moda show, said she only had one reason for booking Dionne.

“I think that she is very beautiful. And I love the way she is carrying it,” the designer said.

Shaholly Ayers, a model born with one arm also said she had her share of rejections.

“I was turned down actually by an agency that said that there is no way you are ever going to model, no one is going to take your pictures so I just progressed and started working on doing it myself. I created my own photo shoots, worked with photographers, and start just building my portfolio,” the Hawaii-native explained.

Ayers, who said that she was the world’s first model to wear any form of prosthetics on the runway said that she felt that change is slowly, but surely coming.

“I have been to New York, this is the second time, I modeled for Nordstrom twice. Things are finally building and I think it’s amazing.”

FTL Moda is part of “New York Fashion Week: the Shows” and aims to showcase new talents in fashion and modeling fields.

New York Fashion Week wraps up on Thursday (September 17).