Madeline Stuart, the first professional model with Down’s syndrome to make the cut for New York Fashion Week, continues her triumphant journey as a model as another 21-year-old, a Spanish model also with Down syndrome, fulfills her catwalk dream.
Madeline Stuart was 18 when she told her mother she wanted to become a model. Stuart, who has Down's syndrome and has limited speech, was at the annual fashion parade with her mother Rosanne in their hometown of Brisbane, Australia when she made this decision.
Rosanne, 46, who described her daughter as the kind of tomboy who would “throw a football with the guys,” said that it was not something she had expected from Stuart, but she immediately supported her.
More than four years later, Stuart, now 21, is the first person with Down’s syndrome to ever stride down a runway as a model during New York Fashion Week (NYFW). With more than 60 catwalks under her belt in cities including London, Paris and Dubai, Stuart’s disability has not appeared to be a hindrance.
Stuart’s drive has not let up this year. She just finished strutting down the runway for seven designers during the 2018 New York Fashion Week and is continuing the fashion circuit to walk for seven more designers during 2018 London Fashion Week.
Like most models, Stuart starts off her day with a healthy breakfast then proceeds to her outfit fittings, gets her strawberry blonde hair and make-up done and prepares for her next runway appearance.
When Stuart was born, her mother, then 26, said doctors told her that her daughter had Down’s and would not mature to the age of 7. Rosanne, who is a building surveyor and her daughter’s full-time manager, said she was determined to give her a chance at a normal life.
Before pursuing modelling, Stuart was struggling with being overweight, an experience that Rosanne says many people with Down’s syndrome face. Stuart expressed an interest in getting in shape because of a heart condition and her overall health.
“She lost weight before she started modelling, before she was even thinking about modelling because of the holes in her heart,” Rosanne said. “It just so happens that when she lost the weight and went to the fashion show, and then we got these photos done, it sort of just all happened.”
Rosanne in 2015 uploaded photos of Madeline’s weight loss on social media to encourage other people with disabilities.
The post quickly went viral, earning more than 7.2 million online views in a week and news coverage in about 150 countries. Within a month, South African fashion designer Hendrik Vermeulen asked Stuart to model in his New York Fashion Week show, marking the beginning of her modelling career.
Rosanne said that a few critics in the disability community have implied that she is pushing Stuart to pursue modelling, calling her a “dance mom.” But the mother says that those who think modelling is not Madeline’s choice do not know anything about Down’s syndrome.
“People with Down’s syndrome have a very, very strong will and can be super stubborn,” Stuart said. “If Madeline did not want to catwalk she would just sit on the end of the catwalk and wouldn’t walk.”
Marian Avila is a model, a 21-year-old with big dreams.
She also has Down's syndrome but that did not stop her from sashaying through Fashion Week this September, thanks to a 25-year-old Atlanta designer she met through the magic of social media.
"I felt really happy, and I really loved the runway," Avila said through a translator after the show in the ballroom of a Midtown hotel.
"I wanted to show the world that there are no barriers."
No barriers for women of all kinds is Talisha White's mission, as a designer focused on prom, pageant and special occasion outfits and as an active pageant contestant as well.
A model White knew had stumbled on a story about Avila's fashion week dream online. She told White of Avila's quest and they reached out to Avila on Facebook.
"She's been a busy supermodel, meeting with all types of people," White said of the attention Avila and her dream have received in the United States, her home country and across Europe. "I'm very glad for her. She's been meeting with Vogue. She's been meeting with Harper's Bazaar. She's been meeting in different showrooms, different modeling agencies."
Avila is from the Benidorm area, in the province of Alicante in eastern Spain on the Mediterranean coast. She was accompanied by her parents and siblings. At home, she said, "I practice every day," referring to her love of modelling.
"I'm studying modelling and to become an actress," Avila said.
She walked the runway with models young and old, including one in a wheelchair, Tae McKenzie of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a young girl who also has Down's syndrome.
"I wanted to show not just one type of girl is beautiful. I like to showcase all types of girls, from pageant girls to models in wheelchairs, models with Down syndrome, models who are four feet and told they can never be a model. They are my 'it' girl," designer Talisha White explained.