Interview by Scott McGlashan and Feraz Ahmed, with introduction by Jose Morales
We first met Madeline Stuart during a runway show at NYFW, and we were immediately captivated by her confidence and grace. The story of Madeline is one that has taken the fashion world by storm. As a young lady with Down Syndrome, Madeline has been at the forefront in the fight against discrimination of individuals with special needs in an industry that is utterly brutal. The power of her presence can be spotted from any distance during runway events, where Madeline sits front row at the most coveted shows. Designers want her in their clothes, and Madeline has graced the pages of the most prestigious publications in the world. On the runway, Madeline stands tall with the other models as she walks down the catwalk with a smile, blowing kisses to the crowd. Hand in hand with being a top model, Madeline is also a designer and businesswoman, and this past September 2018, Madeline showcased a new collection for her brand, 21 Reasons Why, at the Art Hearts Fashion showcase during New York Fashion Week; a clothing line created to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.
We can all agree that Madeline is an inspiration for people with special needs. However, the story of Madeline transcends her diagnosis. Madeline, and the woman behind her success (her mother and manager, Rosanne Stuart), are an inspiration to us all. They have both managed to succeed in an industry that is quite difficult to conquer. Rosanne has been able to achieve for her daughter what all parents wish to do for their children: to help them make their dreams come true.
At Guild Magazine, we were honored to sit down for lunch with Madeline and Rosanne during their trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, after New York Fashion Week. We had a hearty conversation about Madeline, her dreams, and how Rosanne’s determination, and business smarts have catapulted the Madeline Stuart brand to become a worldwide sensation.
At the time of publishing of this issue, Madeline was recovering from open heart surgery. Her fight to recovery and healing and that of her mother continues to add to the many reasons why they are an inspirational force to be reckoned with.
–Rosanne, can you please tell us about Madeline’s career and your work alongside her?
“I am a single mum, and Madeline is an only child and is very loving, caring, kind and wonderful. I currently manage Madeline’s career alongside being a building surveyor. It is not only the physical work that needs to be done, but also social media as Madeline has such a big following. Madeline has almost one million followers and is one of the most publicized people in the world. She has been number one is Forbes and been published in Vogue. She is the only person I know that has a working visa in the USA with an intellectual disability. Madeline has modeled all over the world including walking the catwalk in fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris, Russia, Runway Dubai and Mercedes Benz fashion week China.”
– Can you tell us about the time Madeline realized she wanted to be a model? What motivated her?
“It’s all about the catwalk when it comes to Madeline. Madeline came to me one day and told me that she could not keep up with her friends in dance anymore as she was unfit. In order to get fit, Madeline lost 17Kg. When she lost all this weight, her health had dramatically improved. We have an annual royal show exhibition that comes to Brisbane which is usually in the winter. Madeline had never attended this show before as she would always be unwell. When her health improved due to the weight loss, I was able to share this experience with her. The first thing we did when we went to this exhibition was to go to a fashion show. Madeline had not been to a fashion show, and as soon as she saw the models on the catwalk, she turned to me and said, ‘Mum, me model.‘”
– Many parents, when they hear their children say they want to be in the fashion industry are not sure how to go about it, or even how to support this dream. What was your reaction to Madeline expressing her goal and how did you put plans into action?
“Honestly, I was terrified! So many parents hold their children back because they are scared. I was scared too and had been for several years; however, I have always let her do what she wants because that is her right. When Madeline said she wanted to be a model, I arranged a photoshoot. Up until then, Madeline had never had her hair and makeup done professionally. I was so blown away when I saw the results. Madeline went from my beautiful daughter to a glamorous model.
“People often feel that an individual with Down Syndrome cannot be glamorous and at that moment, Madeline proved them all wrong. I always saw Madeline through the rose-tinted glasses that all mothers wear. From that moment onwards, I also saw how others perceived her, and I instantly knew she would be a star. I created a public figure Facebook page for Madeline and posted Madeline’s transformation photos under the title, ‘Love yourself, be fit, be healthy and have a long life.’ I wanted to show parents with children with Down Syndrome that they don’t have to be unhealthy. This went viral as 7.2 million people saw this in three days, and she was published in 150 countries in a week.”
– The fashion and entertainment industries are tough businesses, mentally and physically. As the strong woman behind Madeline, how did you prepare Madeline and yourself to enter this world, and forge ahead as a team to fulfill her dream?
“I didn’t really prepare myself for this as I didn’t understand what happens when you go viral. It’s all about expectations. The first year I was terrified, yet excited, ensuring I vetted everything carefully. I may have turned down a few offers as I was a little naive and I think fear stopped us from moving forward. Madeline has a great brand now, and I think that comes from how cautious I was. I use social media a lot and find opportunities I think Madeline would enjoy and excel in. I do not take NOfor an answer.
“The hardest thing in Madeline’s career is doing interviews because she has limited speech. Madeline needs oral representation so that the world will see and hear her as being significant and worthy. Society depicts that unless she also has a voice, she is worthless; therefore, I must be her voice. In my career, I have fought discrimination, diversity and fought for equality and acceptance since I was 18. I was prepared to continue to fight for something I believed in. This time, it’s the same fight but with a different subject.”
– Madeline is now a star. Not only a star but a true inspiration and role model for people all over the world. How does this make you both feel?
“Madeline is a star to not only people with Down Syndrome but also to people who have been told they cannot achieve their dreams. Madeline is an inspiration, and she touches everyone. She is the only thing that keeps me going sometimes. When Madeline was born, I did not know what Down Syndrome was, and I did a lot of ‘why me?‘. I was depressed, and I did not understand why this was happening to me. I now know why I was blessed with Madeline and believe she was put on this planet for this reason. It is her purpose to show that everyone is equal, whereas my mission is to be her voice. There have been people reaching out and thanking Madeline for changing their perception of disabilities and how the world should be; promoting equality and diversity. It’s not just people from the disabled community that reaches out. It’s also people who have felt alone, people who feel like they are not understood, or feel like they are the underdog. The world needs Madeline as there is so much hate in the world right now. She is a shining light.”
– As an inspiration to the world, who inspires you and Madeline?
“My inspiration is Madeline, and her inspiration is me. Madeline has taught me to be passionate about fighting for equality. She is my inspiration as she has created a better person in me. Madeline does admire Lady Gaga, not only for her fashion sense and her songs but also as for how she fights for equality and diversity.”
– The third collection for Madeline’s fashion brand, “21 Reasons Why,” launched during NYFW. Can you tell us about the fashion brand, how the name came about, and the creative process behind it?
“The creative process comes from Madeline herself, by looking at clothes and materials that Madeline likes. The reasoning behind the name was a nod to the 21st chromosome that makes Madeline unique, and because she was turning 21 years old when this collection was released. Additionally, the name highlights a few reasons why we all need to be better human beings; being kinder to ourselves and others, kinder to the planet, being more inclusive and advocating acceptance. These are ‘reasons’ that Madeline stands for.”
– Apart from excelling in her modeling career, what else does Madeline enjoy doing?
“Madeline attends a personal trainer six days a week, dances four days a week and plays basketball and cricket, therefore, doing 15 hours of formal exercise a week. She has her own dance school in Australia called ‘Inside Outside Dance Ensemble,’ and we run some classes at the gym. Madeline enjoys dancing to hip-hop and contemporary dance.”
– Madeline is conquering the world. What is next for Madeline Stuart, the person, the brand?
“There are lots of projects coming up for Madeline. She is the ambassador for P&O Carnival Cruise lines where she will be doing a few fashion shows and meet and greets. Additionally, Madeline’s documentary, which has been filmed for the last three years, will be released in January 2019. With all this, Madeline will be preparing to get ready for the fashion weeks across the world coming up next year.” – GM