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The 11 Diverse Models Who Are Changing the Face of Fashion

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There’s long been talk of a reform in the modeling industry — and finally, it looks like change really might be happening. It’s Fashion Week in New York City, and we’re seeing an influx of rising models that are breaking the traditional mold and redefining beauty. Below, we’ve rounded up the newest crop of models you need to have on your Fashion Week radar.

Melanie Gaydos
Courtesy Mike Pont/Getty


Melanie Gaydos (@melaniegaydos)
Perhaps one of the most inspirational models out there, Melanie Gaydos was born with a rare genetic disorder called Ectodermal Dysplasia, but that hasn’t stopped her from taking the fashion world by storm. The term “ectoderm” literally means outside the skin, so the disorder affects the growth of teeth, hair, bones, nails and more. She walked her first fashion week show for Nina Athanasiou’s F/W ’15 presentation, and scrolling through her Instagram shows numerous high fashion editorial shots. As for this NYFW? She’s hinted at her presence, posting a picture on Wednesday captioned, “dressing appropriately for castings and fittings ahaha #nyfw.”

Perfect day in NYC!! #NYC #lincolncenter #bionicmodel #touchbionics #amputee

A post shared by Rebekah Marine (@rebekahmarine) on

Rebekah Marine (@rebekahmarine)
People recently reported on this stunning model, but in case you need a reminder, Rebekah Marine is the “bionic model” changing all the rules in the game. Born without a right arm (which was replaced with a bionic arm), numerous websites have highlighted Rebekah’s incredible accomplishments, including Zooey Deschanel’s site, HelloGiggles — which was even followed by a tweet from the star. This will be Rebekah’s second season walking at NYFW, specifically at FTL Moda’s presentation, and depending on how her castings go, who knows what other runways we might see her grace.


Hari Nef (@harinef)
Hari Nef, a transgender model born in Massachusetts, is already signed to IMG models — and we all know what being represented by fashion’s top agency means: a big résumé. Hari’s androgynous beauty makes her perfect for high fashion, and she’s been featured in countless publications (Dazed and i-D magazine to name a few). She cites transgender model pioneer Andreja Pejić as a close friend, and is also a writer and actress (her writing has appeared in Dazed and Vice). She walked at NYFW last season, so hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of this up-and-comer this week.

⚽️🏆 I won't let you show me off or shine me up, or line me up..

A post shared by ♔Winnie Harlow♔ (@winnieharlow) on

Chantelle Brown Young (@winnieharlow)
Chantelle Brown Young — better known as Winnie Harlow — is probably one of the most recognizable faces on our list. Winnie gained widespread attention when she participated in the 21st cycle of America’s Next Model. Post-ANTM, Harlow has modeled for Desigual, Diesel, and has appeared in publications such as Cosmopolitan, i-D, Complex and Dazed. Most recently, she graced the cover of Ebony magazine’s fall fashion issue.

Madeline Stuart (@madelinesmodelling_)
Madeline Stuart didn’t let Down Syndrome get in the way of her modeling goals. Stuart loves being in the gym (follow her Insta to see her many workout shots) and will be walking at NYFW this year, strutting her stuff on FTL Moda’s runway. The Australian model was also named the face of everMaya.

Have a great day everyone 💋

A post shared by Diandra Forrest (@diandraforrest) on

Diandra Forrest (@diandraforrest)
Diandra Forrest is an albino African-American model. Alongside Winnie Harlow, Diandra was another stunner picked to cover Ebony’s fall fashion issue — and their September issue. She’s also a humanitarian — look out for her at Tedx Fulton Street’s conference on September 20th, where she’ll be speaking.

💘💘💘💘💘💘💘

A post shared by Erika Linder (@richiephoenix) on

Erika Linder (@richiephoenix)
Androgynous in the most gorgeous way, Erika Linder — represented by Next Models — is largely featured wearing both women’s and menswear in her various campaigns (the Swedish stunner rocks a suit and slicked back hair just as well as in a dress with full on glam.) Recently featured in Elle‘s August issue and Marie Claire‘s September issue, we’re crossing our fingers she’ll be walking at NYFW. Keep your eyes peeled, folks.

Loving this new image with photographer, @thesmokingcamera. Also big thank you to Nata Chantilly for assisting.

A post shared by Shaholly Ayers (@shahol1) on

Shaholly Ayers (@shahol1)
Like Rebekah Marine, Shaholly was also born without an arm (right underneath her elbow) and will also be walking at FTL Moda’s show this NYFW. And as you can see from this photo, Shaholly rocks swimwear just as well as the Victoria’s Secret Angels. Check out her Insta for some serious fitspo — and so you can keep up with her budding career, too.

And that's a crazy 2 weeks of diy over! Ready to have a housewarming ! #DIYfrenzy #vmlife #maccosmetics #contouring

A post shared by VIKTORIA | MODESTA Official (@viktoriamodesta) on

Viktoria Modesta (@viktoriamodesta)
Viktoria Modesta is gorgeous (perfect skin, perfect nose, perfect eyebrows) — and happens to have a bionic leg. Unlike Shaholly Ayers and Rebekah Marine, Viktoria wasn’t born without her left leg — she had a voluntary amputation in 2007, for health related reasons. Viktoria is represented by powerhouse agency IMG and has been featured in the likes of i-D, Wonderland and Grazia magazines. She’s also a talented singer, in case you needed any more reasons to be obsessed with this Latvian beauty.

Rain Dove (@raindovemodel)
With a striking bone structure, a piercing gaze and the coolest name ever, Rain Dove is rising up the ranks in the fashion industry. A former firefighter, she models both women’s and menswear (PEOPLE previously reported on her campaign for Ace Rivington). She looks killer in a shirt and tie combo, but also isn’t afraid to post a few mini-dress selfies.

Jillian Mercado (@jilly_peppa)
Last (but not least) on our roundup is Jillian Mercado — another beauty IMG was quick to scoop up. Jillian has Muscular Dystrophy, which leaves her in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop her from modeling for the likes of Nordstrom and Diesel. A former fashion blogger and front row fixture, Jillian (who is also an FIT alum) has confirmed her presence at NYFW via Instagram, and judging by her recent presence in the media, she seems to be the person to interview this season.

What do you think of the fashion’s latest facelift? Are there any other types of people you feel are underrepresented in the industry? Share your thoughts with us, below!

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-Adeline Duff