Paris .– In the year As 2021 draws to a close, and the traditional year-end rounds and Top 10s begin to appear online, Aaron Rose Phillips had a question for the Twitterverse: “How does a wheelchair-bound #1 disabled model for a major luxury brand qualify as Best Newcomer, Rising Star or ‘Social Activist’?” it is?
The 21-year-old model has hinted that she feels under-recognized, appearing on the Moschino runway at the Spring 2022 New York Fashion Week show. It was her latest call out to an industry that often pays lip service to diversity, but doesn’t open its doors to people with disabilities.
Since then, Philip has produced difficult editorials for Interview and Show Studio and appeared in Collina Strada’s Fall 2022 collection video. She is an ambassador for Amazon’s luxury stores, and has a partnership with Mugler Perfumes.
Signed to Society New York, she is now represented in the UK by Dairy Management. And Philip recently worked as a broadcaster, co-hosting the web series “The Truth is” on the Yahoo! In the Now video platform, interviewing guests such as actor Tomi Dorfman and drag artist Junior Mint.
In the year In 1998, when Alexander McQueen presented Paralympic athlete Amy Mullins on the runway, it was unheard of for luxury brands to work with models with disabilities. This has gradually improved in recent years.
For example, Gucci featured Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down syndrome, as the face of its 2020 beauty campaign, while Rihanna used disabled models in her Savage x Fenty fashion shows. Jillian Mercado makes her wheelchair debut for New York-based brand The Blonds.
Last year, Philippe became the first model in a wheelchair to walk the runway for a major luxury brand, a career break she credits to Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott and her own perseverance.
“It’s something I’ve been doing for five years,” she says. “And it finally happened, and I’m totally honored by that. But I don’t just want to stop there. I didn’t do that as a one-off. My job is hard. I want to have a career that my peers can have as talented people.
The Antiguan-born model, who immigrated to America as a child, is campaigning for mainstream recognition and visibility not only as a person with disabilities, but also as a black transgender woman. Fashion.
“Disability has to be one of the most important conversations in fashion, but I want to say something else,” she said during a press conference from New York City.
“I’m concerned about the way fashion treats trans people who model, because I feel like a lot of casting directors themselves, they’re very aggressive about supporting trans talent online and in print, but when it comes time they put us on campaigns and runways for New York Fashion Week, you know, London, “Milan, Paris and all the other things don’t give us any chance, no job, especially black transgender women,” she said.
Phillippe herself has been fortunate to win the support of industry heavy hitters, including Scott, Naomi Campbell, Marc Jacobs, Donatella Versace and Riccardo Tisci. Miley Cyrus featured in the video for her 2019 song “Mother’s Daughter,” which has over 128 million views on YouTube.
And Campbell interviewed Philip for Paper magazine in 2019, posting a headshot of her on Twitter less than a year after she was signed by Elite Model Management.
I remember when they told me that you were going to interview me about this, I was crying because I was so surprised that one of the biggest motivations was that he knew who I was and wanted to know about me and me. Life. That was huge for me and that was a great day,” she recalls.
Philip is consistently gracious in thanking those who help her achieve her goals, but it’s clear that she’s also her own biggest advocate. Her fierceness and determination were evident at an early age. At just 14 years old, she wrote a memoir about growing up with cerebral palsy, titled “This Boy Can Fly: It’s About Ability (Not Disability).”
Since then, she has forged her own path through lies. “There’s nothing too orthodox about my career,” she admits.
“I feel like I’ve lived a lot of different lives in 21 years. Here’s how I’d like to describe it: I’ve basically put out a lot of different skins. And I was not fashionable when I was young, but I always told stories and I always tried to emphasize what life is for disabled people, what kind of experience it is for a disabled person, because I understood that I was a young disabled person, it was my experience. It was very isolating,” she recalls.
“I used to go to the playground at school and people would give me weird looks and not want to play with me,” she said. After her transition, she began to struggle to see herself reflected in fashion magazines. “It made me think that because I don’t see disabled people represented in fashion, they don’t think about us and, well, why not? This was the reason I started my modeling career at the age of 16.
According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of people have some form of disability, making it the world’s largest minority community. Of these, 2 to 4 percent experience significant difficulty at work.
The global disability and medical apparel market is valued at $334.5 billion and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.9% between 2022 and 2030.
As mass-market retailers such as Target and Asos began offering adaptable clothing lines, a few designers entered the segment. In 2016, Tommy Hilfiger launched a makeover collection and Derek Lam partnered with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation for the Design for Disability fashion show, raising the profile of all things fashion.
More recently, Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand Skims released a line of underwear for the disabled, featuring easy-to-reach closures.
Faced with so many options, Phillipe says she wants to contribute to designing a clothing collection, but she doesn’t want to stop there.
“I’ve really been thinking a lot about getting into the casting director world. How can I work with brands to implement and encourage representation of not just disabled bodies, but black trans bodies, black trans women?” she says.
The fact that so many people with disabilities work on the shoot helps raise awareness of the special needs of models who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, she said.
“A lot of clients come in and choose me, and they’ve confirmed for a lot of things, and at the last minute, they’re like, ‘Oh wait, this isn’t wheelchair accessible, we really can’t accommodate you.’ It was more heartbreaking before, but now I know that’s the way things are. But I like to see change and I know change is possible, she says.
“Honestly, in my heart, I want brands to recognize that people with disabilities can wear clothes too. “For that, it’s like any group of people represented in fashion: in fashion, on and off, as models, as casting directors, as talent, as photo producers, as production crews,” she added.
She cited Scott as an example of someone willing to go the extra mile.
“More brands need to take these steps that Jeremy has taken, such as access to ramps and being able to talk to the venue, to ensure that disabled models are encouraged and accepted and comfortable doing their jobs,” she argues. “That action changed my life. It helped me to go and execute my work and do it the way I knew was possible.
Air travel is another challenging area, and last year disability advocate Ingracia Figueroa suffered pressure ulcers after damaging her airline custom wheelchair, which eventually led to a fatal infection. Philip has had some bad experiences herself.
“One time I took a flight to LA and this plane lost my lap tray in my wheelchair, and I couldn’t eat properly, I couldn’t use my device to talk to people properly anymore, I couldn’t use my phone. Right hands. It was so crazy. And these things happen a lot, and it’s okay,” she said.
While she often uses her social media platforms to draw attention to such injustices or to help trans women in times of crisis, she resists being called an activist.
“I’m really a model,” she says. “I don’t think helping people makes you an activist by default. I worked as an activist for many years when I was young, and what I am doing now is very different from what I was doing before. Activism is a very sacred career path.
Instead, she used her platform to promote equal opportunities for disabled models.
“I want other models with disabilities, other models who use mobility aids and maybe hearing aids, different types of models with disabilities on the runway and on the covers of campaigns and magazines,” she says.
“My goal is definitely to walk and do campaigns for all the brands: Burberry, Moschino, Versace,” Philippe continues. “I want to have full covers in a wheelchair. I want the world to understand that disabled people can be seen for who we are and be recognized and recognized as fashionable, trendy, beautiful people.”