Smart and stylish is how people with Down syndrome also want to be seen as. It's a statement they will make in a fashion show – Fashion with Us – at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain on Wednesday.
Richard Young is the production designer and creative director for the Down Syndrome Family Network’s fashion show, which features models from the NGO. They will be styled in the creations of six designers – Claudia Pegus, Radical Designs, Charu Lochan Dass, Lisa Faye Sarjeant, Ecliffe Elie and The Cloth.
“The designers who are featured are all elated to be part of a life-changing practice, in terms of fashion show production, more so to foster empowerment motivation and to serve the cause of tangible ‘diversity and inclusion’ mandates that we all feel must dictate our transactions in the modern human living space,” said Young.
Prior to the show, a casting day was hosted at Hyatt and Young and the production team bonded with the models of the Down Syndrome Family Network, encouraging them to be courageous enough to walk on the runway.
Questioned on how the production will adhere to this year’s World Down Syndrome Day theme, Young explained, “The theme for this year is 'with us not for us' – which essentially means that people with disabilities have the right to be treated fairly and have the same opportunities as everyone else, working with others to improve their lives. So we decided to include the willing participants, our advocates, to be included in the charity benefit in a meaningful way by actually modelling in the show. We came up with the name – Fashion with us, utilising fashion as a noun as well as a verb to emphasise the active and intentional nature of our inclusivity. We feel honoured to do our part to change the narrative and break down barriers for all the contributing stakeholders.”
Young’s responsibilities are to sequence the show, create the music score, fit the models, choreograph, stage manage and script the presentation. He also works with a team which includes Lisa Ghany of the Down Syndrome Family Network, Diane Hunt and Giselle Laronde-West, Dominique La Roche for model and wardrobe management, Stephen Doobal of OMG Media publicity and social media, Miss World TT for most of the model cast, Sacha Cosmetics will be responsible for makeup and Ashvin Bally and his team will be responsible for hair. Broadcaster Jessie-May Ventour will be the host for the event. Partners for the event are the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, Media 21 and DH Maison.
On casting day, Laronde-West did some demonstrations and she, Hunt, and Young had pep talks with the families and willing participants. Rehearsal sessions were then held for them to prepare for the show.
Asked how he feels being so involved in this production, Young stated, “Co-ordinating the components of this unique presentation fills me with great pride. I feel Lisa and I are changing the paradigm for staging events nationally. Everybody came on board so willingly and enthusiastically to make a difference and to do a meaningful engagement that renders a palpable realisation of acknowledging our similarities as human beings but more so celebrating our differences.” He added that working with Ghany and Glen Niles (who is also strutting on the runway) has been inspirational. “Diane Hunt and Giselle Laronde-West are real troopers,” he stated.
As for selecting the music, Young pointed out, “Selecting music in consultation with designers and crafting a story within a story in the distribution of the model cast per designer to speak with nuanced interpretations of the same theme yet representing each brand fairly and with integrity are rewarding and delightful expressions of my creative capacity. I feel gratified.”
Questioned on how parents and advocates responded, Young said, “The response at rehearsals from the most invested and loving parents, I know, reminded me of our collective purpose and fuelled me to make the experience the most memorable ever. And the commitment of the advocates is exhilarating. The model cast are also very overjoyed to be doing an out-of-the-box showing and they have pledged their services wholeheartedly.”
Young also pointed out that the Hyatt truly understands the essence of substantive corporate social responsibility. “They have extended themselves beyond the call to facilitate the highest calibre showing, through providing a venue for all our processes leading to the final day,” he said, “and Media 21, under the stewardship of Sean Mahabirsingh, has been nothing short of magnanimous in building out the production. The show is a symbol of real collaboration and goodwill.”
On the cast will be Laronde-West – Miss World 1986, Aché Abrahams – Miss World TT 2023, Tya Jané Ramey – Miss Universe TT 2022 and top-16 finalist at Miss Universe 2022, Leteisha Clarke– Miss Top Model of the World TT 2023 and top-16 finalist at Miss Top Model of the World 2023 and leading models Soowan Bramble and Athaliah Samuel.
Special guest for the event will be Canadian model Monika Myers, an international Down syndrome ambassador who has been awarded the title of the Youth Day Global Down Syndrome Advocate.