It's fantastic to see disabled models are smashing the fashion industry right now. Here in the UK MOD stars Kelly Knox and Jack Eyers are just two of a new generation of disabled modelling talent, and in the USA Danielle Sheypuk, Madeline Stuart and Jillian Mercado are hitting the headlines as they take the fashion industry by storm. Maybe this could be the start of a real change in how fashion sees disability? I say maybe as I have seen all this once before. Not only did I see it, I was part of it.
Back in 1996, I was part of a catwalk show at London Fashion Week for a Dane, a designer who is probably best known for dressing the Spice Girls. I walked alongside models of all races, genders and sexualities as well as with my wife, who has a burn scar all down the right side of her body. Dane wanted to fill his stage with models who challenged what it means to be perfect or beautiful. It was a storming show, and so many boundaries were pushed that we all felt a change was coming.
Next, both myself and my wife Diane found ourselves in demand in the modelling world. We both did more catwalk, and were soon shooting for some big names. I did a shoot for The Times style section, and Diane was featured in ID magazine. She was even offered the chance to do the Pirelli calender, but turned it down. You see, however much we were in demand neither of us saw modelling as a career. I was a TV presenter and musician and Diane was lead singer in the band I produced. Modelling was a bit of fun.
Shortly after we had our day in the sun, Alexander McQueen took amputee Aimee Mullins as his muse, and she featured in his catwalk shows and photographic work. He also edited an edition of Dazed and Confused, using all disabled people to show his clothes. But yet again, none of these people saw modelling as a career. Each of us enjoyed the experience and got on with our lives. Mostly because we all knew this was a blip, a trend that would soon be gone. Like flares or metallics, all the thing but soon confined to be “so last season”.
I had a great time being one of the first disabled models, but I hope that this time we are seeing a real change in the industry which will see disabled models become common place. We must not let disabled models become a trend, but demand that this time they become a fashion staple that comes out every season.