Models go beyond the label at GIFT's inclusive fashion show

JC writer is moved by a celebration of diversity on the catwalk


One of the best compliments my inimitable Hungarian grandmother can bestow on her granddaughters and great-granddaughters is: “You look beautiful, like a model.” But none of us had actually ever been a model until my 13-year daughter Yael took to the catwalk for GIFT’s incredible Beyond the Label inclusive fashion show.

This was the second time that Beyond the Label, co-created by Hasmonean students Adina Rosenstein and Shira Gubbay as part of a GIFT charity incubator course, had run.

I only found out about it last year after my Instagram feed suddenly filled with models of all ages, sizes and abilities strutting their stuff on the runway.

It is an incredible concept. The fashion industry famously fêtes a very idealised version of female beauty, and as someone who really values the rare sight of a plus-sized model in women’s magazines, this has long bothered me.

When I saw the advert for models for this year’s event, I asked my daughter if she wanted to apply. Rather wonderfully, the organisers didn’t ask to see photos of the prospective fashionistas. Instead, they asked why they were hoping to participate. Yael explained that as someone with ADHD, she values and celebrates neurodiversity and felt it should be reflected in the show. She was thrilled to be accepted.

All the Beyond the Labels models were treated like queens from start to finish, thanks to the tireless work of Adina, who jumped straight from completing her A-levels into what must have been a logistical whirlwind. Yael was invited to a dress fitting at a boutique in Golders Green (seven different boutiques loaned outfits to the show), got her hair and makeup done and even had the chance to choose the music to which she would work the catwalk. (It had to be Taylor Swift.)

All evening, my emotions were on high alert. Seeing Dalia Persell, a young woman the entire community had been praying for after a virus left her temporarily paralysed from the neck down, looking radiant on her own two feet, left me fighting back tears.

Beverley Barrell, who was channelling her grief after her son’s recent tragic death into an opportunity to spread kindness, was awe-inspiring.

The youngest model, eight-year-old Anaelle Shirazi, who has Down’s syndrome, bounded along the catwalk joyously and could only be coaxed back behind the curtain when her choice of music was turned off!

By the time Yael’s turn came, the tears had no chance of staying put. Seeing her striding out so confidently, looking beautiful from the inside out, made me feel incredibly proud and emotional.

During the evening, Rivkie Baum, digital fashion editor for Woman & Home magazine, addressed the audience, exhorting us to “counter every negative body thought with two positive ones”. It is a message I am taking to heart.

If Beyond the Label returns next year, I may well be putting in an application to take part. If only so next time my grandma tells me I look like a model, I’ll know it’s the truth.

You can donate to GIFT here.

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