During New York Fashion Week this season, a handful of designers tackled everything from the Women's March to Trump's immigration ban to #NoDAPL. Yes, there could always be more done to address the political uncertainty that we're currently facing, but it's great (and necessary) to see the fashion show format used as a platform for addressing timely, hard-to-ignore — and sometimes hard-to-discuss — topics, like breast cancer.
Set at the Angel Orensanz Center, the inaugural "Exposed: AnaOno x #Cancerland" show, part of Art Hearts Fashion New York Fashion Week, was populated entirely with individuals affected by breast cancer, modeling clothes devoted expressly to outfitting those that are grappling with or have already beat the disease. Even in a season filled with more substance than usual, that's a particularly poignant sight.
Organized by Dana Donofree, the founder of AnaOno, a breast cancer survivor-focused lingerie and loungewear line, and Champagne Joy, creator of #Cancerland, a Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer patient, and a MBC (Metastatic Breast Cancer) activist, the runway featured 16 models spanning a wide range of ages, races, and gender identities, who've battled various types of breast cancer and subsequent surgeries; as Donofree put it, they're all "residents" of #Cancerland.
"We wanted women with breast cancer who are both beautiful and fascinating; that would force people to reimagine the illness because these women aren’t what you may have expected," Joy told Refinery29 of the casting process. She also underscored the importance of showing at NYFW: "Where better to change the idea of what breast cancer looks like than the place where the world goes to find out how to look?" And, in a departure from the typical exclusive and politicized seating charts that traditionally define the fashion week experience, the event was open to the public, with 100% of proceeds from ticket sales going to #Cancerland.
Donofree sees a lot of room for improvement in terms of how the fashion industry addresses breast cancer, noting that Victoria's Secret turned down a petition for mastectomy bras back in 2013, and that, beyond her own AnaOno line, the limited options currently on the market "are still matronly and look like medical devices." Being able to find post-op-friendly lingerie truly can make a major difference, Donofree explained. "We are still women, with or without breasts," she said, "and if wearing beautiful intimate apparel helps you feel sexy, you should have the same right to it that you did before cancer, whether you are 18 or 80."
Similarly, Joy underscored how challenging it can be to navigating one's closet while battling breast cancer: "The great struggle is to seem 'normal and to feel feminine and whole, like you did before diagnosis," she said. "AnaOno is on the front lines of giving that back to women, and I applaud them for being such a huge gift to this populace."
But, it's not just the fashion industry that could be doing more to broach the subject. "As long as breast cancer remains incurable, underfunded, misrepresented, and under-researched, no industry addresses it enough," Joy said. "I am committed to change, to seeing research go into high gear, to getting honest information out to patients, to being part of Stage V — a cure — and to getting proper help for people going through treatment."
Photographer Carey Kirkella was on-hand to shoot the show: Since August 2016, Kirkella has been photographing portraits of breast cancer survivors and fighters with their sisters, in honor of her own sister, who passed away suddenly at age 40 three years ago after her battle with breast cancer. (The goal is to eventually compile the portraits into a book, Sisters & Survivors, with proceeds going to metastatic breast cancer research). Kirkella met, and later photographed, Donofree via the first woman she photographed for the series, Chiara D'Agostino, who also participated in the incredibly poignant NYFW show. "The concept for the show really inspired me, and I wanted to be a part of it and contribute to it as a photographer," Kirkella told Refinery29.
Ahead, see six of the courageous, resilient women who hit the catwalk, photographed backstage by Kirkella at the first-ever AnaOno x #Cancerland Exposed show. (To note, some images are NSFW.)