Back in 2014, Brisbane born teen Madeline Stuart who has Down’s Syndrome, watched a fashion parade with her Mum Rosanne that inspired her to take a stand for diversity. This moment of inspiration unwittingly wound up completely changing her life. And empowering many others.
Nine months after the initial epiphanic moment, Rosanne accompanied her daughter to her first professional photo shoot. Shortly after, she set up a Facebook page on her behalf and shared the fruits of Madeline’s effortlessly gorgeous labour. One week later, she was a viral sensation.
Since then, fearless Madeline who, when I interviewed her told me that she’s never had any issues with low self-esteem despite the lack of diversity in the media, has racked up an impressive amount of achievements. Ok, here we go. *takes a deep breath* Over the last few months, she’s owned the catwalk in support of auto-immune awareness in New York, became the first model ever with a disability to become the face of a cosmetic’s company, has a bag named after her courtesy of EverMaya, traveled to the USA, Sweden and Russia, was nominated for Pride of Australia and the young Australian of the Year Award, walked for FTL Moda’s September 2015 New York Fashion Week show (which she told me was one of the most amazing and exciting experiences she’s had), received the 2015 Model of the Year Award at Melange in San Francisco and has been dubbed the world’s first professional adult model with Down’s syndrome. Phew!
But she’s not stopping yet. Ohhhhh, no. Madeline wants to prove that her success is not just a passing phase and that diversity is here to stay. As her mother – who Madeline told me is her role model – said,
“Anyone that knows us knows that this is not just about modeling, this is about changing the world, this is about creating inclusion, stopping discrimination and breaking down those walls of confinement. Modelling is just the vehicle that is letting us do it. We want everyone to love and be loved, after all that is all that truly matters.”
So, she’s returning to New York Fashion Week for a second time this year, making her the first model with Down’s Syndrome ever to rock the runway twice, which is a pretty huge deal. Madeline wanted to prove that her first appearance wasn’t just ‘mere tokenism’.
From 11 – 20 February 2016, Madeline is owning the NYFW catwalk for FTL Moda at the Angel Orsensaz Foundation in Manhattan. This pairing is what dreams are made of. FTL Moda have become pretty renowned for promoting real life diversity of late. Madeline is joined by the likes of amputee model Rebekah Marine on the catwalk. These shows really are a beautiful portrayal of real life, diverse beauty. Proving that fashion – like gorgeousness – knows no limits.
When I asked Madeline what her advice to anyone with a disability would be, she said ‘believe in yourself and never give up’. Amen to that. Long may her reign continue!