Living Ind


by Amanda Jean Harris

Wardrobe by Romey Roe. Hair and makeup by Hellianna Verrett.
Photo by Robin May

Rosanna Stuart knew her daughter was different. And not because she has Down Syndrome. Madeline Stuart is fast becoming a household name in the same context we speak about Gisele, Naomi, Tyra. She is a model. Not a model with special needs or a certain type of model. She is a model. Period.

Madeline is the first and the only model with a developmental disability who has risen quickly and successfully through the ranks of an industry based on appearance. Based on what we as a society consider beautiful. In typical Madeline fashion, she made a trip to Lafayette recently to lend a hand with a local organization and took time to shoot with one magazine in town, The Independent.

Her road to Acadiana began with another local and bighearted model, Shaquana Lewis. The lady at the helm of her own modeling agency in town volunteers with Dreams — a statewide organization that grants wishes to Louisiana children with terminal illnesses — and in pursuit of upping its annual fashion show game contacted Madeline. When Rosanna, Madeline’s mom and manager, said the flight had been booked from their home in Australia to Cajun country, Lewis was elated.

“Madeline is making a huge impact on the modeling industry,” Lewis says. “She is the first model that has Down Syndrome to walk in New York Fashion Week last year and that’s just the beginning … in just six months she has gained over half a million followers on Facebook and over 100,000 on Instagram. I can tell just by spending time with her the few days she and her mother were here that she loves what she does, and her mother truly supports her modeling career.”

What it means to be a model is changing, and the world finally seems more than ready. Madeline is the proof.

“I think her success is because society needed a champion in the disability sector,” Rosanna says. “There are so many people with disabilities or who know someone with disabilities and for so long they have gone unnoticed, invisible and isolated. So now I believe these people see Maddy as hope, a glimpse of how the future should be.”

When it came time for Madeline’s photo shoot, we wanted something pure Lafayette from beginning to end. Our first call was to local designer Romey Roe, who has a way of balancing divinely beautiful pieces on the outside with something that makes women feel powerful on the inside.

“Madeline’s story and determination to make it in the industry was an inspiration,” Roe says.

He pulled a vivid vermilion red gown and we headed to the UL swamp for a photo that captured the redheaded model in Acadiana. While Madeline was in Lafayette, Mayor- President Joey Durel gave her keys to the city and an honorary citizenship certificate, she walked in the Dreams fashion show and Lewis scheduled other private shoots. In a matter of a few months, Madeline’s star will likely rise even higher.

When her mother sent this reporter a message at press time, they were in an airport headed for Hawaii and then L.A.

“Next year is huge for Maddy,” Rosanna says. “She is out of the country 11 of the 12 months in places like Uganda, Alaska, Milan, Tokyo, South Africa and Mauritius to name a few. Madeline symbolizes that you don’t have to be tall and thin to be beautiful. Beauty really is on the inside, and in the end that is all that lasts or matters.”