The line stretched and curved around the gleaming Mercedes-Benz showroom. Upstairs, dozens of assistants prepped the runway while behind the scenes, models had the finishing touches made to their looks.
But while that is all pretty par for the course before a show, once the music started and the first model took to the runway, it was clear that this was anything but your typical fashion show.
That’s because designer Carrie Hammer didn’t book 27 flawless runway models to wear her clothes. She chose 27 badass women who are the best at what they do, who inspire on a daily basis. She handpicked them and gave them a platform to celebrate what makes them (and all women) great: ambition, strength of character, and beauty — both inside and out.
From Olympic figure skater Meryl Davis to comedian and disability advocate Maysoon Zayid, one by one each woman came out to a roaring crowd. Flipping their hair, winking, and striking fierce pose after fierce pose — it was truly the most empowering and inspiring sight to witness.
This was my first fashion show. And if we’re being honest here, I went into it expecting to feel frumpy, underdressed, and let’s face it, poor. I didn’t expect to feel inspired. While I knew the concept for the show going in (it is called “Role Models Not Runway Models,” after all) I didn’t in a million years think I would leave in awe — motivated more than ever to do better and be better.
While the concept is relatively new to the fashion industry, it’s not new to Hammer. The designer has been making headlines since her first New York Fashion Week show in February 2014. Since then, she has featured the first woman in a wheelchair on the runway, the first person with Down syndrome, and the first woman with prosthetic legs. By combining social change with fashion, she is sparking a conversation and changing the game in a way that was so unexpected, but so needed.
Role model Jess Weiner talked to Babble about the experience and what it meant to her. Weiner is the CEO of Talk to Jess, a consulting and strategy firm that advises global brands on the issues facing today’s women and girls. She’s also a Dove Global Self-Esteem Ambassador and a “confidence expert.” Describing the energy backstage as “electric,” she said it was also a unique experience she won’t soon forget:
“This experience was transformative for me. Walking a runway was never on my bucket list but when presented with this opportunity, I realized how symbolic it was. That together we all were somehow democratizing the fashion space and allowing everyone from all shapes, sizes, ages, careers to fit. To be recognized for being who you are and not having to fit into the mold or image of someone else is empowering.
As a confidence expert it was also fascinating to see self-esteem in motion. We always tell the girls I work with to ‘walk with confidence, head held high’ — but when you have a long runway and are in front of 400 people you REALLY have to walk that talk and own it. I loved it.”
In the day since, the show has garnered rave reviews for its powerful message (and not to mention fabulous clothes). Weiner hopes that other brands and designers will follow Hammer’s lead and start thinking outside the box when it comes to finding models for their shows:
“I hope this show encourages more designers, brands, and businesses to embrace the eclectic and diverse nature of people. To stop thinking of this as featuring ‘real women’ and realize that women with different abilities, body shapes, birthdays, and aspirations in life are ALL real. And they deserve to have their images represented more in our culture.”
Time will tell if the fashion industry will buy what she’s selling. But for now, we’ll be grateful that there’s a woman on the “other side” looking out for us — and all women.