In the world of modeling, Madeline Stuart isn’t pretending to be anything other than herself. By doing so, she hopes to enlighten others to the possibilities of all mankind.
Three years into her career, Stuart has walked 60-plus runway shows and is the first model with Down’s Syndrome to have participated in New York Fashion Week. After modeling in Nonie, House of Byfield, Lulu et Gigi and five other shows in New York, Madeline Stuart will be off to London Thursday with her mother Rosanne for four more fashion week shows. This latest run marked her sixth season in NYFW for the 21-year-old.
After losing 50 pounds due to medical reasons, Stuart posted a photo of her slimmer self and encouraged others to be fit and healthy. The image went viral, was seen by 7.2 million people overnight and that led to runway show invitations, Rosanne Stuart said. With that, the-then teenager’s modeling days were off and running. “She doesn’t need to prepare. She is just ready. It’s her whole thing. She just loves the catwalk. She is just in the zone at all times. She just gets in there, gets into hair and makeup and is excited,” her mother said, and follows designers’ requests with ease. “If they want her to be serious, she’s serious. They usually want her to get the crowd going,” her mother said.
As a building surveyor and carpenter by trade, the elder Stuart said the fashion world provided “a very big learning curve for both of us. We continue to do it because she loves it so much. And it’s so good for the world to see that diversity could happen and it should happen.”
Aside from the chance to meet the people she’s met, the Brisbane-based model has come into her own. “She’s always been a positive young woman, but now she’s just come alive,” her mother said, adding that jobs have led to China, Russia, Paris, London, all over the U.S. and Dubai. “Meeting all these people and learning all these new cultures just made her grow as a person. She’s become such a secure young person.”
Having walked in 60 shows, Stuart is often given the clothes she walks in, but fair wages are more important. “I won’t let her walk unless she gets treated like every other model out there. Madeline doesn’t do it for free. It’s not creating diversity and helping to change the world if we don’t do it like everybody else does,” her mother said.
With one million social media followers, Stuart doesn’t get as much money as models such as Karlie Kloss, but she does very well. Once the run-throughs and preshow advice are doled out, Stuart can often be found helping the advance teams put show notes on attendees’ seats. “Madeline does two or three shows a night, so it’s just go, go, go. If she’s not walking in a show, she will go watch a show,” her mother said.
“Of course there’s bullying on the Internet. That has happened a lot, but we don’t take notice of that. That is a reflection of the person who is doing the bullying — it’s not a reflection of what we’re doing,” she added. “Some people can be unkind without even realizing it. They say things that they don’t realize are offensive. It’s just a matter of educating people. But I have never had anyone come and be rude to us because Madeline has had so much support in this industry.”
Of course there are some designers who haven’t been receptive to the prospect of having Stuart in a show, because they can’t envision that yet, she said. “All of a sudden, they have to wrap their brains around something different. We have people in wheelchairs,” her mother said. “Five, 10 years ago you didn’t see a lot of African-American models on the catwalk. Now you see them everywhere. That’s amazing. That’s just us growing as humans. Each different thing happened and people get used to it. Once upon a time people wouldn’t have expected people who are transgender or homosexuals. There are so many things that our world is slowly warming to. That’s an amazing thing and that’s how it should be.
“Social media has been an enormous catalyst toward that, because it’s made the little people have a voice. Our next generation is a lot warmer and more accepting. I have a lot of faith in the next generation that it’s going to be a much more beautiful world to live in,” Stuart’s mother said.
Although Stuart has limited speech and can have trouble articulating her words, she fully understands what other people are saying. “She’ll tell you what she does and doesn’t want really quickly,” her mother said. “She runs rings around me, that’s for sure. I’m just here to make sure that she doesn’t get taken advantage of and that her message to the world is told in the correct way.”