With a face that looks like a mix of Rachel Weisz and Kate Beckinsale, it’s no surprise that Alexandra Kutas is a professional model. But there is something about the 21-year-old Ukrainian beauty that sets her apart from other women in her line of work.
Kutas, who works as a physiologist during the day, is currently trying to make her city of Kiev more wheelchair accessible.
“Right now, [Kiev’s] pretty inaccessible, so it’s impossible for me to move around in the city by myself,” she said. “In my city, we don’t have any schools with an elevator or something which a kid in a wheelchair would be able to go every day.”
Kutas may have been the first handicapped model to make a debut on a Ukrainian runway, but Dr. Danielle Sheypuk became the first woman in a wheelchair to work the runway at New York Fashion Week, back in February 2014.
After seeing Sheypuk as the first and only wheelchair bound model at NYFW, a woman named Karen Crespo contacted Hammer about an opportunity. Crespo is a 31-year-old woman who lost all four of her limbs to bacterial meningitis back in 2011. Hammer put Crespo in her September 2014 show, along with other commendable women.
“I never thought in a million years I would be at New York Fashion Week, even as a spectator,” Crespo said. “And now I’m going to be a fashion role model. It’s such a big deal for me.”
“I would love to see us really expand the definition of beauty. Right now, it’s extremely narrow and one-dimensional,” Hammer said. “It’s time to expand the definition of beauty beyond skin-deep to include our passion, our purpose, and our accomplishments so that it encompasses all of our dynamism.”
In future shows, Hammer said that she hopes to get Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres to participate.
In February 2015, FTL Moda had an inspiring show which featured female and male models with disabilities alongside typical high-fashion runway models. The show was made in collaboration with Fondazione Vertical, an Italian organization which supports spinal cord injury research. The show,named "FTL Moda Loving You," featured British personal trainer and amputee Jack Eyers, alongside several female models in wheelchairs.
“I want people to see me, and to realize that there needs to be more disabled models walking the runway,” Eyers said.
In 2015, FTL Moda employed a model with another type of disability. Madeline Stuart, an 18-year-old model with Down syndrome, walked the catwalk at FTL Moda’s NYFW Spring show. The first model with Down syndrome to walk in NYFW was American Horror Story star, Jamie Brewer.
12. Using Wheelchairs In Fashion, But Not Using Models In Wheelchairs?
Back in 2015, an Interview magazine cover featuring 18-year-old Kylie Jenner caused some backlash because she was posed in a wheelchair. Several people who actually had a physical handicap responded with criticism for the issue, with some saying, “My chair is not haute couture.” If you are going to pose an able-bodied celebrity in a wheelchair, then why not use a model who is actually bound to a wheelchair, some could argue.
But using props like wheelchairs or crutches is nothing new to fashion photography. You just need to look at some of Helmut Newton’s work to get an idea.
In response to the poorly received Interview cover, model Lauren Wasser, who lost her leg to toxic shock syndrome, had her own response to the cover. Wasser was an established model before she lost her leg back in 2012. Now she tries to raise awareness for TSS and the inclusion of disabled models in the fashion industry.
Since the runway and fashion world began slowly opening up to models of all sizes, races and abilities, there has been a few modeling agencies that were started with the purpose of finding work for them. Models of Diversity is one such agency, and it partnered up with the FTL Moda show that featured Madeline Stuart. Another agency is VisABLE, which solely supports models with an intellectual or physical handicap.
Do you think it’s about time the fashion world opened up to different forms of beauty?