Kids with Down Syndrome don’t usually get to star in a fashion show. But today they do, at the O'More College of Design in Franklin — where the junior fashion design students were paired up with children with special needs, who could request anything their hearts desired from their personal stylists.
A week earlier, the six-to-11-years olds were at O'More's fashion school for a fitting of their tailor-made couture. There was an excited prince in a denim jacket with a yellow cape, a shy princess, and an Iron Man
And there were fashionistas, like seven-year-old Danny Gupton. She tells her student designer, Peach Malone, "I love, love, love, love my new outfit!" When Malone asks if she wants it shorter, or longer, Danny beams, "Just the way it is!"
As the girl twirls in delight at her reflection, Malone explains that Danny's request was pretty specific: "She wanted a pink dress with short sleeves, a really flared skirt, pink buttons down the front, pink and black sequins on it. And then she wanted a white sweater with silver buttons and pockets, that was three-quarter length."
The project was conceived by Jamie Atlas, who chairs O’More’s fashion school. Her son was born premature, which brought on some physical complications, so Atlas likes to push students to create for different types of bodies and mobility.
This time, she teamed up with GiGi’s Playhouse, which works with people with Down Syndrome, who often can’t find clothes that fit well. The genetic condition can lead to distended bellies, shorter limbs, tactile sensitivity, and limited dexterity.
In fact, some of the kids in the show can handle zippers, but they all struggle with buttons. It’s hard for them to be independent, to even go to the bathroom alone, if their clothes won’t allow it.
Lauren Hoy says, for her 10-year-old son Cooper, "elastic-waist pants [are] really all we can do. As he gets bigger that’s really hard to find, especially cute ones. So that’s why we were excited about this."
Cooper is obsessed with hip-hop, and his mother doesn’t like that clothing options for him are becoming less and less cool as he gets older. So Cooper’s designer, Kristopher Kelley, made him a pair of baggy jeans and a loose black shirt with spiked shoulders, modeled after the boy’s idols.
"He wanted a Chris Brown...," says Kelley. Cooper chimes in, "Chris Brown and Eminem!" When Kelley asks Cooper if his outfit looks like something Brown and Eminem would wear, Cooper nods happily and gives his designer a big hug.
There’s a lot of that going on, and the students seem equally smitten with their young clients. For Jasmine Stewart, this project was particularly rewarding.
"It’s exciting," she says. "You can be creative and then, after today, seeing how they react, it’s priceless."
Back at the mirror, Danny can’t wait to show off her pink dress — and runway moves — at the fashion show. "I’m going to do one, two, one, two," she says. One foot directly in front of the other — she already knows how to sashay like a model.
"And then you're going to do a little twirl at the end?" asks Peach Malone, her designer. Danny responds with a decisive "Yep."