In February 2014, ad exec turned fashion designer Carrie Hammer made waves when she paraded Role Models Not Fashion Models down her runway at New York’s fashion week.
After graduating from UCLA, Carrie began working as an advertising sales executive. Carrie found herself surrounded by men, and well-dressed men at that. She learned that her male colleagues all had their suits custom made, and given the lack of well-fitting contemporary work wear available to her, she decided to give their tailor a visit and have some dresses made for herself. The tailor informed her that they did not do women’s clothes and in fact, no one did. So she sought out smaller, independent tailors and started designing her own pieces. After turning more than a few heads in her custom ensembles, she decided she could meet the need for custom contemporary work wear for all women. And Carrie Hammer (the label) was born.
When it came time to look for models for her debut show in February 2014, she was less than thrilled. She couldn’t stand the thought of hiring underage models to show off her designs. “Usually people watch fashion week and they’re reminded of how they need to go on a cleanse. It’s crazy,” she said. It just didn’t seem right. After all, the clients that she made clothes for were role models. And then it hit her– she would use role models, not runway models in her show. She reached out to friends and clients that she thought would be perfect. Model casting? Done.
Her debut show was groundbreaking. The designs were beautiful, but they were outshone by the breathtaking models. The most talked about model of that first show was Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a psychologist, activist, beauty queen, and first ever Fashion Week model who happens to be in a wheel chair.
Seeing Dr. Sheypuk on the runway inspired Karen Crespo to accept her own body in a new way. The 30 year old nurse had contracted bacterial meningitis a few years prior. She lived through two heart attacks, a 15 day coma, and the amputation of all of her limbs. After the surgery that saved her life but took her arms and legs, Crespo was in a dark place. She had unanswered questions and was having trouble accepting her new self as beautiful. But after seeing Dr. Sheypuk on the runway, she turned a corner. She reached out to Carrie Hammer, telling the designer her story and expressing her gratitude for Hammer’s inclusion of Sheypuk in her show. Hammer was impressed with Crespo and her story, the two bonded, and it wasn’t long before Crespo herself was working the runway at Hammer’s September show.
“I want people to know we can still be beautiful regardless of whether we’re an amputee or in a wheelchair,” Crespo said. “We can still rock the runway.”
On her website Hammer notes that,
“It is really important to me to showcase all these incredible women who are positive influencers in all of their industries. I want to show women that these are the types of people that they should be looking up to.”
“Beauty lies in our differences. There isn’t one slim ideal beauty, but that’s what fashion has become all about,” she said. “My line is all about highlighting the beauty in the differences, and making sure that the women feel confident and beautiful in their individualities.”
Going forward, Hammer has been intentional about representing all women on her runway. She wants to make sure every woman and girl can look at her models and see some reflection of themselves. Her mission is to make clothing for women to feel empowered in their lives. She believes that “when you feel comfortable about what you are wearing, and you don’t have to worry about it, that’s when you feel and look the most beautiful.”
In a statement posted on SlashedBeauty.com, Carrie says:
“It’s so important for me to showcase role models as I believe true beauty lies in our differences, not in trends, and lies in our accomplishments. We exude beauty when we are true to ourselves and are doing big things in the world. It is important for me to exemplify this to the rest of the world and the fashion community.”
When asked about what needs to change about today’s beauty norms, Carrie replies, “Beauty is completely trend driven and changes from region to region and we are all chasing unattainable goals. We need to shift our mindset and realize that what we need to be focusing on is building up our accomplishments and building ourselves and not trying to mold ourselves to a ‘standard of beauty’.”
In Februrary 2015, Hammer made history again when she hired actress Jamie Brewer for her show. Jamie was the first model with Down Syndrome to ever work the runway at Fashion Week.
Hammer continued her trend-setting ways as she invited an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Comedian and Disability Advocate, editors, CEOs, and Entrepreneurs to strut their stuff on her catwalk last month for her fourth show in New York.
Check out these beauties:
We love that Hammer is expanding the definition of beauty, and encouraging women and girls to be true to themselves and do big things.
We love that she makes dresses to fit women, not dresses that women need to fit into.
We love that she rejects the fashion industry’s “norms” and celebrates real women doing real things.
She is breaking the mold and re-defining beauty. One model at a time.