She walked the catwalk for the fall edition of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in September. She has a namesake eco-friendly bag and is also the face of cosmetic label GlossiGirl. But Madeline Stuart is not inclined to pack up and leave with just these achievements.
The Brisbane-based model, also known as the first professional adult model in the world with Down syndrome, is set to make waves again at NYFW for its spring/summer edition in February. She had first captured headlines when she made her catwalk debut for FTL Moda in September 2015, presenting the creations of designer Hendrik Vermeulen. But the teen with a beautiful smile and warm persona quickly stole the hearts of people all over the world.
Stuart, who recently celebrated her 19th birthday with a dance performance with the newly formed non-profit organisation the Inside Outside Dance Ensemble at the JellyRun Bulimba Festival in November, has always loved performing and being in the centre of attention. It wasn't surprising that modelling came naturally to her as well, despite being diagnosed with Down syndrome almost immediately after she was born.
The now-famous teen was born at the Royal Brisbane hospital on Nov. 13, 1996, and quickly set herself apart for being strong and defying all odds. Her doctors had expected her to go into heart failure within the first two days of her birth, but baby Maddy took their prognosis and threw it aside, nevermind her atrial or ventricular septal defect - the huge hole in her heart.
“The doctors believed Madeline being alive was a miracle,” said Rosanne Stuart, Madeline's mother and the force behind the teen model.
As a child, Madeline went to a private mainstream school from prep to grade 5. Her mother thought that this was the best way for her little girl to have a normal life. However, after those formative years, Madeline was transferred to a special school.
“[The special school was] the best place for her and she leaped ahead with her education and friendships,” Rosanne said exclusively to International Business Times Australia. She now believes that if she could go back in time, she would have sent Madeline to a special school from the very beginning.
But for Madeline, these speed bumps in her journey could not deter her, and it wasn't long before she developed an interest in modelling after watching a fashion parade. According to Madeline, her mother had explained that in order to model, she had to exercise and develop healthy eating habits. Nine months later, the teen painted her first brushstroke with the glamour world.
Madeline had photographs taken by a professional photographer, which her mother then uploaded to social media.
“My mum created a public profile called Madeline Stuart on Facebook, and within a week my photos went viral,” said Stuart. She was soon chosen as the brand ambassador for GlossiGirl and EverMaya, an eco-friendly handbag label which created ‘The Madeline’ bag. Five percent of all proceeds from the sale of the handbags go to the National Down Syndrome Society.
From here, things only began picking up for the “outgoing, happy, loving, young girl,” whose fans once began to flood her social media accounts with requests that she keep her smile intact after Maddy stopped smiling while walking the runways and at shoots. 2015 in particular was a very busy year for the Australian, who visited the US, Sweden and Russia to pursue her dream career.
“I have been nominated for Pride of Australia and the young Australian of the Year Award and I also received Model of the Year Award at Melange 2015 in San Francisco,” Madeline said.
“Of course I believe this is just the beginning and to anyone that knows me they also know that this is not just about modelling. This is about changing the world. This is about creating inclusion, stopping discrimination and breaking down those walls of confinement. Modelling is just the vehicle that is letting me do it. I want everyone to love and be loved, after all that is all that truly matters."
IBT Australia spoke to Madeline via an email interview about her rise to the top and the challenges she faced along the way. Her mother Rosanne also shared her personal album of Maddy (seen in the slideshow above), which details the beautiful Brisbane teen from her journey at just eight weeks old, to her recent 19th birthday.
IBT Au: What was your first modelling stint?
MS: My first modelling stint was for Tripple L jewellery, an internet site.
What are some of the difficulties you face as a model?
I am quite short compared to most models. Also, I cannot eat a lot if I do not want to put on weight. At the same time as with Down syndrome, I have a low functioning thyroid gland and a result a slow metabolism.
What is success to you?
I think every day is a success story, as I am living a dream doing what I want. My life is filled with love and laughter and the fact that I am educating people in the process with regards to disabilities and inclusion is such a bonus.
Tell us about your contribution to the fashion industry and being a role model for others.
I believe I have had a huge effect on society, especially for people with disabilities and people that have people with disabilities in their life, as I give them hope that anything is possible and am a symbol of how important and normal they are.
Will you be back on the runways this year?
I will be walking twice at NYFW, once during the day for ready-to-wear fashion and once in the evening for couture again for FTL Moda on Feb. 15.