By
with contributions from Sindhu Sundar
 on January 24, 2020
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NEW YORK Pink and purple flowers, mini Polaroid cameras, a makeshift step-and-repeat made from rainbow-colored envelopes and lots of positive affirmations filled The Blond, an upscale eatery in Manhattan’s Little Italy Thursday night. 

Aerie’s “Changing the Course” dinner, a sit-down party for about 100 people, was celebrating the spring 2020 AerieReal role models. The campaign may focus on so-called “real women” modeling the intimates brand sans airbrushing. But the talk of the night was on things like positivity, gratitude and vision boards. 

“This is like the most positive environment that you could ever be in,” Manuela Barón, one of the new role models, a visual artist who makes sustainable fashion from things like discarded magazines, told WWD. “Everyone is so nice and so uplifting.”

All 13 role models — actress Lana Condor, Broadway performer Ali Stroker, scientist Keiana Cavé, model and actress Hari Nef, DJ Tiff McFierce, actress Beanie Feldstein, entrepreneur Dre Thomas and Barón, in addition to returning role models, British model Iskra Lawrence, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, YouTube star Molly Burke and business coach Jenna Kutcher — were there, wearing some form of Aerie or American Eagle and matching gold-plated necklaces that read “role model.” 

So was Jennifer Foyle, global brand president of Aerie; Stacey McCormick, senior vice president of Aerie marketing; and Andrea Jagaric, senior vice president of design at Aerie; along with friends like models Nina Agdal and Ubah Hassan, DJ Chelsea Leyland, TheCurvyCon cofounder CeCe Olisa and pastry chef Stephanie Nass, who supplied the rainbow-colored desserts. 

The guest list — mostly women — sipped on specialty cocktails with names like “The Trailblazer,” “The Game-Changer” and “The Ground-Breaking” while sharing tips on how they stay positive, before sitting down for the three-course meal. 

One mother said she puts Post-its with positive thoughts in her daughter’s lunch box every day. Condor said her father helps her stay strong. 

“My dad, since as long as I can remember, has this quote,” Condor explained. “He used to say it to me when I lived with him. And now I’m on my own, so he texts it to me every day. He says, ‘Greatness is coming.’ And I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, it is.’ I believe in the power of optimism and positivity for sure.” 

The “Role Models” exemplified a certain Instagram-friendly vision of diversity that lingerie brands have rushed to embrace as of late. The roster — a disability rights activist, trans model and women in STEM, for instance — marks another example of a women-focused brand rejecting the rigid aesthetic norms of the Nineties and Aughts. Each element of last night’s sparkling scene seemed curated to that effect: from the bubblegum backdrops, flashy Aerie photo set, immaculate crystal place settings, to even this new batch of beaming celebrity spokespeople. 

Cheery testimonials about overcoming adversity through the sheer force of positivity struck a festive tone, prescribing feel-good remedies to structural hurdles of class, race and ableism. 

In fact, many women expressed gratitude for simply being included in the campaign, such as Feldstein. 

“I’ve really been enjoying getting to know everyone more personally, in addition to admiring them from afar, like Aly Raisman, who I just love,” said Feldstein, who was donning Aerie overalls. “And I love seeing stretch marks and cellulite and scars, and all these things that make you feel human in the world. 

“When I’m acting, I’m always trying to portray authenticity and reality,” Feldstein continued. “And to kind of be as real to human behavior as you possibly can. It’s really nice to have — in this type of setting — to have all that real human beauty on display.”

Cavé, a scientist who is currently in the process of developing a non-hormonal birth control pill, said she was excited to see “a total nerd” like herself represented in the fashion industry. 

“I am so excited that I am no longer being put into a box,” Cavé said. “As a scientist, people sort of stereotype me, that I can’t be into fashion, that I can’t really care about the way I look. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m really amazed with what Aerie does. They’re changing the game.” 

Foyle kicked off the formal dinner, expressing her gratitude for the role models and growth of Aerie — (The brand, owned by parent company American Eagle Outfitters, is now the second largest e-commerce intimates apparel brand in the U.S.) — as well as her appreciation for Lawrence, the original AerieReal role model. 

“We’ve been at this for a long time,” Foyle said. “I think about how Iskra has evolved. She was just so grateful for that relationship. I think that’s really an important thing.”

Holding back tears, Lawrence asked party-goers to write a future note to themselves that would be mailed back to them later in the year. “There’s a reason why you’re here tonight,” the model told the crowd. “We’re all grateful for you.” 

Nearly six months pregnant, Lawrence was out on the dance floor after dinner, as McFierce DJ’d. “This is a room full of unstoppable, badass women,” she said. 

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