Carrie Hammer at her runway show at NYFW on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images
Something unprecedented happened at New York Fashion Week — there was a show where every model smiled. It could have been the music (Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott, and other bring you to your feet songs played); but it was probably the women themselves. Each of the individuals who walked on the runway in designer Carrie Hammer’s show were role models, not runway models. Alex Amouyel from the Clinton Global Initiative; Maria C. Correia from World Bank; Shiza Shahid, the co-founder of the Malala Fund; and Wendy Norman from Microsoft to name a few. But the collection’s biggest draw was Jamie Brewer, an actress on American Horror Story. Oh, and she has Down Syndrome. But this isn’t a gimmick for attention and accolades — this is a movement.
When Hammer put on her first fashion show during the Spring 2014 season, she didn’t have any models, so she called some of her friends to show off her clothes. One of those women happened to be Danielle Sheypuk, a clinical psychologist who is also a shoe lover and has a disability. “I didn’t mean to make a statement,” Hammer tells Yahoo Style. “She’s just one of my clients that’s super fashionable and happens to be in a wheelchair.” Following Sheypuk’s debut on the runway, word got out about Hammer’s decision. The story went viral and appeared on the front pages of Yahoo, Huffington Post, and nearly every other major publication.
Following this unexpected and extensive attention, women around the world began reaching out and praising Hammer for her admirable actions. “I get an email every day saying, ‘Wow, what you’re doing is really cool,’ ‘What you’ve done has changed my life,” she says. Karen Crespo, a quadruple amputee who recently had her very expensive prosthetics stolen, says communicating with Hammer is what really rocked her world. After seeing Sheypuk make a splash in Hammer’s show, Crespo wrote an email to Hammer: “I have a passion for fashion. I hope one day I will get to show the world ‘Why can’t people with disabilities, people like me, be beautiful and model?’ Maybe one day if I ever get to go to New York I will be able to meet you.” Not only did Hammer invite Crespo to Manhattan to appear in her Fall runway show—she received a standing ovation—Hammer also got Crespo new prosthetics. “Her whole life changed and I realized this is the real deal and that was when I was like this isn’t just for fun, this a real world shifting, paradigm shifting platform.”
And Hammer is following through. Her Spring 2015 show took place on Thursday morning and the room was electric. The crowd was tapping their feet to “Bang Bang” and “Shake It Off”; husbands, friends, coworkers, and even standing room only onlookers squeezed into a small space to watch as these people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds tried modeling for the first time. While each entertained the audience — there were twirls, air kisses, and Zoolander-inspired stares — Brewer brought the house down.
Jamie Brewer on the runway.
Brewer, who has been acting since 2011, got the gig at NYFW not unlike her fellow role models. Hammer cold called and emailed women who served as her personal inspirations, pulling strings with all of her contacts to get professionals from companies and charities like Microsoft, Coca Cola, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Katie Driscoll, a mother with a young daughter with Down Syndrome, has been fighting to have people with disabilities more prominently featured in the media. When she learned of Hammer’s efforts, Driscoll asked if she would consider including a role model for her child in her next show. And Brewer, fitting the bill, was contacted by Hammer and immediately joined on. “It’s phenomenal. Carrie Hammer is a true inspiration to women,” Brewer tells Yahoo Style. “She’s another one of these women in a way, it’s amazing.”
The 30-year-old actress wore a black dress that Hammer designed with the actress’s AHS character, a witch in mind, with a dash of Michelle Obama’s elegance. The dress, named “The Jamie” (each of Hammer’s designs are named after the inspiring women who wore them) fit Brewer’s figure perfectly. While the clothes looked great, those will be forgotten and Brewer’s impact on the disabled community — and beyond —will live on. “It’s incredible for any young girl, or any young boy as well because there are men that are passionate about fashion as well,” she says. “It tells them to listen to your heart, listen to the advice of those around you, put your heart and soul into what you do, you yourself will change as well as the rest of the world.”