Meet Jillian Mercado, The Diesel Model Who Breaks The Mold

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jillian-mercadoPhoto: Courtesy of Diesel.
You may notice that the images for the Diesel spring '14 campaign are not the kind of pictures you might typically find in the pages of a glossy. That's because there are no models in these shots. No professional posers. But, there is a breakout star, nonetheless: Jillian Mercado, a 26-year-old who was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy as a child, which left her wheelchair bound ever since. While Mercado is really no stranger to the industry — she's currently the executive editorial director of WeTheUrban magazine — this is a major first for the insider and Diesel, alike.

Though we've seen mold-breaking fashion campaigns before, this latest feels extra special. But, frankly, we can't quite put it into words as well as Mercado can. So, we went right to the debut Diesel star and asked her all about what it's like being a woman with a physical disability working in the fashion industry and how she's making a huge statement. Ask Google if you don't believe us — she did.

So, start from the top. You applied for an open casting call, right? How did you find out you were selected?
"Nicola Formichetti gives people chances. He made the casting pretty much worldwide, and he said that 'no matter where you come from, we want to hear from you.' I saw the call on his Facebook page, and if he's doing a casting call, I need to know what it is. I put myself in the lottery, and then a few weeks later, I got an email from their offices saying that they were really interested in me, and they wanted to see more pictures. Then, they said that I was in the next level of this casting, and then I got it! I got an email saying, 'I would love to have you if you are on board with it.'

The day of the shoot, I spent the whole day with Inez [Van Lamsweerde] and Vinoodh [Matadin], and it was magical. I was nervous. I think a lot of people were nervous, but they were so welcoming and extremely sweet. They made everything super easy."

Was there ever a discussion about why they chose you? And, their choice to cast people who may not fit the "typical" model mold?
"Before coming in, we knew there wasn't going to be a bunch of models there. There were people from all sorts of places, which was very comforting, I guess, because nobody is judging anybody. Nobody is higher than anybody else. Which is kinda nice, you know? That doesn't happen in the modeling world, where models look at each other and compare themselves. Here, everyone was extremely different and diverse, and [this was] just to let people know that these looks can be worn by anybody. You don't have to look like a model to wear Diesel."

You've been working in fashion for years now, so what kind of change have you seen in the industry as far as welcoming and celebrating people who have disabilities?
"Before coming into the industry, I prepared myself, I studied a lot. Not only did I study fashion history, but on my own, I studied how people perceive you in the industry and how people judge you before even knowing who you are. I knew that before coming into the industry and was preparing myself for the worst.

Before my first day [I ever] volunteered for Fashion Week, I was preparing myself for something horrible to happen. Even today, I still have it in the back of my mind, 'Jillian, there are just going to be people who just don't get it. You can't convince the world. If you can convince a few people, it's perfect.' But, overall, I feel that people have been very welcoming and supportive of my work. I'm not in the industry to say, 'Here I am in a wheelchair.' I'm in the industry because I love it, and I work in the industry as a career. And, I think people respect that."

Click to page two for more of Jillian Mercado's story.
jillian-mercado-2Photo: Via @Jilly_Peppa.
Do you find anything particularly challenging about being in a wheelchair and loving fashion? Does it have any effect on your personal style?
"I just wear, honestly, what I want. I don't follow trends. For me, it depends where I'm going or how I feel. There's not anything, really, I have to say [no to]. Except maybe with coats. Some winter coats, if I wear it, I look like a marshmallow because it's too puffy, and I'm sitting down. And, maybe heels. Personally, I don't like wearing heels. Amen to whoever does wear heels in a wheelchair, but I just kinda think it's silly since heels are to make you taller. I rock my creepers just fine."

Would you consider modeling in the future? Or, was this a onetime deal?
"If the opportunity shows up again, I would hesitate..."

Really? Why's that?
"I've never really thought myself to be a model. It's something that never really crossed my mind. This was just a 'Hey, why not?' kind of a thing. But, my mom just brought it up to me, 'You know what, Jill? You should probably actually go into modeling. You turned out amazing.' So, maybe…"

Are there any other people with disabilities who work in fashion that you admire? Or, people who are pushing for more diversity and representing people with disabilities?
"During college, I literally searched 'wheelchair' and 'fashion' on Google. And, nothing came up. Which scared me and confused me. I don't want to say for sure, but I guess I'm the first one? [At least] who has a disability that is visible."

So, have you Googled "wheelchair" and "fashion" recently? Does anything come up?
"Um, myself? [Laughs.] I come up! It's kind of beautiful that I'm starting something. If there isn't someone else, I would be honored to get this going."