What Happens When Fashion Shows Use Role Models, Not Runway Models

Real women on the runway: always an awesome concept, not really a common sighting at New York Fashion Week, or any fashion week, for that matter. On Wednesday night, Rachel Comey’s spring 2016 collection was shown mostly (83 percent, to be exact) on non-models — dancers, yoga teachers, a drummer. Yesterday, designer Carrie Hammer went completely model-free for her “Role Models Not Runway Models” show in conjunction with Dove. The show featured 27 real women from a wide array of fields, including CEOs, bankers, and an Olympian. We've never seen such enthusiastic cheering (and singing along to the thumping soundtrack) at a fashion show, where jadedness and tepid applause are the norm.

They’re very different designers: Comey has a cult following of fashion editors and various stylish women who want to look like hip art teachers, and Hammer sticks to cubicle-friendly frocks and blazers (business-casual sort of stuff) and the occasional lacy going-out number. But non-model castings are still quite the exception at best, and a novelty at worst. The more shows featuring women with different body types — and impressive accomplishments that have nothing to do with fashion — who could actually wear the clothes they’re modeling, the better.

“I would love to see us really expand the definition of beauty. Right now, it's extremely narrow and one-dimensional,” Hammer told Refinery29. “It’s time to expand the definition of beauty beyond skin-deep to include our passion, our purpose, and our accomplishments so that it encompasses all of our dynamism.”
Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Hammer.
Maysoon Zayid, a comedian and disabilities advocate, walked in Hammer’s show for a couple of compelling reasons. “No matter how old you get or who you are, the dream of walking down a runway is a pretty common dream for anyone. But I also wanted to do this show because I have cerebral palsy. When you see the images in media of people with disabilities, we’re never treated as adults,” Zayid told Refinery29. “Being a part of ‘Role Models’ is a really great way to bring sexy back to disability; that’s not something people think of when they think of a disabled woman. They don’t think of us as romantic leads, or sexy, or fashionable, or shoppers, or any of those things. We are a market that should be targeted — that is constantly ignored.”

Professional skater Meryl Davis, who won the Olympic gold medal for partner ice dancing in 2014, hit the catwalk for the first time at yesterday’s show. “I watched Carrie give a speech at a conference about ‘Role Models’ and I just fell in love with the idea," Davis told Refinery29. “It’s not just about their professional accolades; you can tell these women are just really driven to be role models, which I think is why they’ve been selected by Carrie.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Hammer.
On the political front, Penny Abeywardena, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for international Affairs, was among Hammer’s “Role Models,” and she stressed the women-are-multidimensional message behind the concept. “It reinforces to young people that fashion and success in whatever career you pursue go hand in hand. As the old saying goes, ‘you can walk and chew gum at the same time,’” Abeywardena told Refinery29.
For her future “Role Models” shows, Hammer would love to get Michelle Obama on the runway, as well as Ellen DeGeneres — “I was her intern on Season Two of The Ellen DeGeneres Show! It would be very full circle,” Hammer says. Besides getting her funny former boss or the first lady on board, Hammer has ambitious plans for growth of “Role Models,” which began two years ago. She will expand globally next month with a show at Shanghai Fashion Week, and eventually, Hammer wants to really take the inclusive concept on the road, with “Role Models” shows at every major fashion week globally.