Slowly, the fashion industry has been breaking with its singular idea of beauty by including more models of diverse cultures, ages and genders on the runway. But one model, in particular, is working to break down perhaps the greatest barrier in beauty standards.
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Madeline Stuart, a 22-year-old Australian native, has Down syndrome and has catapulted to superstardom since first appearing on the runway in 2015. So far this month, she has walked in five fashion shows during New York Fashion Week (she was also the first model with Down syndrome to participate in NYFW) and will walk in four more during London Fashion Week, which starts on Sept. 14.
“She doesn’t need to prepare. She is just ready,” Madeline’s mother, Rosanne Stuart, said to WWD. “She is just in the zone at all times. She just gets in there, gets into hair and makeup and is excited.”
Since her debut at NYFW in 2015, she has booked jobs all over the world, including China, Russia, Paris, London and Dubai. And her mother attributes much of Madeline’s success to her ability to interpret what the designers want and carry it through to the runway.
“If they want her to be serious, she’s serious. They usually want her to get the crowd going.”
Madeline’s rise is something of a common story by today’s standards, even if her success is undeniably extraordinary. In 2015, she lost almost 50 pounds for health reasons and Rosanne posted before and after photos of her to help encourage others to get healthy. That’s when Madeline’s story went viral.
Overnight, she amassed more than 100,000 social media followers and within days, her photo received almost seven million views. She made global headlines.
Although she’s living her dream as a model, her mother makes sure that Madeline’s message isn’t somehow muddled — which she accomplishes by making sure her daughter is treated just like any other model, including getting paid like one.
“I won’t let her walk unless she gets treated like every other model out there. Madeline doesn’t do it for free,” she said. “It’s not creating diversity and helping to change the world if we don’t do it like everybody else does.”
In 2017, Madeline, who has limited verbal capabilities, launched her own fashion label, 21 Reasons Why by Madeline Stuart. The name has dual meaning: it launched the year she turned 21 and the extra chromosome 21 is what identifies a person as having Down syndrome. She has also inked a sponsorship deal with Worldhotels.
“She is the queen of disability in America, because she’s helped change it for everyone,” Rosanne said to Vogue Australia. “Any organization you talk to, they’ll tell you Madeline is the one who opened the door.”
After walking in London, Madeline will head to fashion week in Paris and Istanbul — in the latter event, she’ll walk in a show for a designer who created a collection specifically centred around her.
In addition to redefining what it means to live with a disability, Rosanne says that her daughter acts as an inspiration for people with all kinds of personal struggles.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I’m 30 days drug-free; if Madeline can do it I can.’ Just the other day there was a message from a woman who had given birth to a boy with Down syndrome and says she looks at Madeline’s Facebook page every day, because it gives her hope,” she said.
“That’s why we do it… People like Madeline put the colour into the world.”
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