One of the most memorable shows at Fashion Week Russia so far, was the joint project of the British Higher School of Design (Moscow) and Bezgraniz Couture (‘couture with no bounds’), who presented different lines of clothing especially designed for people with different kinds of disabilities, including models with muscle diseases, down syndrome and models in wheelchairs.
The collection was called wearABLE Future, to focus on what people CAN do, rather than what they can’t. What they actually CAN do is model clothing, and sell the garment that they’re wearing. One male-model with a prosthetic leg was continuously interacting with the audience as he self-confidently strut over the podium and a girl with a muscle disease turned her own uncontrolled movements into dancing. As you can see in the gallery below, the models of wearABLE future are nothing short of any other model: rocking the garment and being photogenic at that. The final piece of the collection was an “exoskeleton” by the Russian project Exoathlet, that allows people with locomotion disorders to walk again. The model demonstrating the attire got a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
Disability on the agenda of fashion
Fashion Week Russia should be applauded for putting this project on its agenda, showing that fashion is not as superficial as it might seem to some. Although most magazines covering this fashion week have failed to pick up the subject. The fact that events like these, which show people in a different light than we are used to, are highly necessary, is demonstrated by several recent controversies in Russia concerning people with special needs who had been treated with little or no understanding. In one case it concerned the sister of Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova, who suffers from autism. This particular case made headlines in the international press and caused general outrage, but one can only imagine how many of these cases go unnoticed when it doesn’t concern the sister of a famous supermodel. Not only in Russia, but everywhere. As in the case with Vodianova’s sister, a cafe owner chased the girl and her care-taker out of an almost empty cafe where they had sat down to rest for a minute, simply because they didn’t order anything. He was completely indifferent to the care-takers’ explanations that the girl just needed to rest for a bit because she was overwhelmed: one can easily imagine this happening in any other country.
It might seem contradictive that on the one hand, projects like wearABLE future stress the abilities of people we call “disabled” and on the other hand we frame them as people with “special needs” that should be approached with understanding. Should we treat people with special needs as normal people, or as special? Surely there is nothing inherently wrong with treating some people differently than others, perhaps being a little bit more patient when someone is overwhelmed in a situation that might not have that effect on you: as obviously people do not do this to spite you. At the same time the fact that some people might not function as well in some situations, does not mean they are not equal if not better in other respects, and therefore they should not be patronized like little children. This is excellently illustrated by the model in the pink pants featured in the header of this article: eventhough she has difficulties with motor control, she makes her way across the catwalk just fine, looking radiantly beautiful at that.