On Monday night, Sotheby’s hosted the Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s first ever Design for Disability Gala.
The Gala was a culmination of five months of hard work from five Fashion Institute of Technology students who were finalists in a competition focused on making accessible clothing for women with disabilities. Disabled women traditionally have trouble finding clothing that looks good, fits their needs, and isn’t extraordinarily expensive. Every woman wants to feel good and be able to express herself through fashion and with the help of the student designers each model now has a customized outfit that allows them to do just that.
Each student designer was matched with two models and together over the past semester they have theorized and constructed beautiful and accessible designs. The Knockturnal spoke to the five finalists–Grace Elizabeth Insogna, Emily Chao, Ayao Sasaki, NylLeah Ford, and KatiLin Stone–before the show about the importance of making beautiful, adaptable clothing. Fourth runner-up KatiLin Stone said, “Adaptability is really important. You may design something and it looks pretty, but how do you get into it? Is it comfortable? Can you move?” Many of the designs featured hidden snap closures, wide neck openings and sleeves, and angled pockets that served both aesthetic and functional purposes. Each designer was able to customize these features after spending months with their models. Contest winner, Grace Elizabeth Insogna said:
“You definitely learn through your models their everyday life. One of my models, Andrea, she doesn’t like to wear long sleeves because when she’s using her wheelchair they get dirty really quickly and she goes to shake someone’s hand in a business interaction and she’s got dirty sleeves and it makes her really uncomfortable. So I put special emphasis to make sure things weren’t getting anywhere near her wheels. It’s really important to collaborate with the people that are going to be wearing the clothes so they can feel the best that they can in them. This isn’t about us really, it’s about the people wearing the clothes and about how they are underrepresented. My model said to me how sometimes she feels invisible and sometimes she feels like so put down that she cannot find clothing that fits her, that’s not made for her. So for her to have this garment and this look that’s made to her specifications and to her body is super empowering for her and also for me as a designer to be able to give that to her.
The models definitely weren’t invisible during the runway show. They strutted and danced around the rectangular runway to Selena Gomez’s “Who Says,” a song that celebrates the beauty of all women. Guests clapped along and cheered as they congratulated the people the event was all about. In true Sotheby’s fashion, following the runway show a live auction was held featuring a custom suit from mentor Thom Browne, a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Manus x Machina exhibit given by judge Andrew Bolton, a lunch with Johnathon Adler in his West Village Studio, and two tickets to Thom Browne’s 2017 runway show. Guests bid high with the promise that their donations would go to a great cause. After the live auction, winners were announced and it was revealed that starting in September Rent the Runway would offer filters to assist disabled women in finding affordable, rentable clothes for their specific needs.
Richard Ellenson, CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, ended the evening on a hopeful note. He asked, “What happens tonight is great, but what happens tomorrow?” With the support of brilliant young designers like those featured last night, soon differently abled women will find representation and support from the fashion community.