She's Beautiful, She Has Down Syndrome, and She's Fashion Week's Freshest Face

Madeline Stuart is bringing her message of tolerance to high fashion.
(Photo: Madeline Stuart/Facebook)
Aug 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Much of high fashion’s elitist reputation is well deserved. Tall, white, skinny models have traditionally dominated catwalks to show off luxury collections for a celebrity audience. But some designers have realized that diversity is in.

Come fall, 18-year-old Madeline Stuart will become the second woman with Down syndrome to strut the catwalk at the biannual New York Fashion Week. Stuart follows in the footsteps of one of her biggest inspirations, actor Jamie Brewer of American Horror Story, who walked the runway in February.

Stuart will model clothes for FTL Moda, whose winter-spring show featured models in wheelchairs, with amputations, and with other physical disabilities. Now, the brand is teaming up with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to show that “fashion is free from confines.”

Although Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder—roughly one child is born with Down syndrome for every 1,000 births worldwide—recent studies have demonstrated that ignorance and intolerance toward people with intellectual disabilities remains rampant. More than 20 percent of Americans think people with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and 38 percent feel using the word “retarded” is acceptable in some circumstances.

Stuart hopes that her modeling career can change perceptions about people with disabilities. “Exposure is creating awareness, acceptance, and inclusion,” Stuart wrote on her Facebook page.

She appears to be doing just that. The past few months have been a whirlwind of success for the Australian native, who has posed for fitness brand Manifesta and was named the face of a new handbag line from EverMaya.

Stuart’s mom, Rosanne, isn’t surprised by her daughter’s success and acceptance in the fashion community. “The world wants to be inclusive, it just hasn't had anyone on such a platform that they were able to do it easily,” Rosanne told Cosmopolitan.

New York Fashion Week looks like the perfect platform for Stuart to continue to spread her message of acceptance. February’s event demonstrated that beauty comes in more than one form by featuring a more diverse array of models, including transgender actor Laverne Cox, models of varying sizes in Kanye West’s collection, and Winnie Harlow, a model with the skin disease vitiligo.