Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This fashion show celebrates World Down Syndrome Day

By: Karen Kadilak | Link to article

Over 25 models take their turns on the runway at Ross Park Mall

Colton Vazquez and Luccia Harpalani have traveled the country as models. On Saturday, they rocked the runway at Ross Park Mall as part of the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh’s first fashion show.

Celebrating World Down Syndrome Day — it’s actually March 21 — they were joined by 25 other models, all outfitted in spring looks by American Eagle and Aerie. A dance party followed the show.

The Aerie Real Foundation, whose mission is to build confidence in women, foster an inclusive community and protect the planet, recently approved a $10,000 grant to support the association’s programs.

Macee Peterson, 15, got the show started, She is the daughter of Meredith Peterson, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh, who said the goal of the fashion show was to raise awareness of individuals with Down syndrome and their families.

World Down Syndrome Day, which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012, is held on the 21st day of the third month to signify the triplication, or trisomy, of the 21st chromosome, which causes Down syndrome. That extra chromosome causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability and associated medical issues.

Vazquez, 23, a Duquesne University senior from Forest Hills, sported tropical shorts and a beach shirt from American Eagle’s beach line and an OBX hat.

“I love to be on stage any chance I get,” he said. “I like dressing up and going out for a night on the town. I like the college vibe.”

A professional model, Vazquez said he does not practice his walk, preferring to get energy from the crowd. He has appeared in three fashion shows and on billboards, including four times on one in New York City’s Times Square.

He is is studying theater and performance at Duquesne and is the first student with intellectual disabilities to live on campus. He said Saturday’s show was his first one in a while.

“Being in college, I haven’t had a chance in a long time,” he said.

Vazquez said he was thrilled to meet Madeline Stuart, the world’s first professional model with Down syndrome, the last time he was in New York.

Harpalani, 18, a Pine-Richland High School senior, wore a spring dress and sandals from American Eagle.

“She likes working with clothes and loves putting together outfits and looking cute,” said Jennifer Harpalani, her mother.

The Pine-Richland cheerleader is taking modeling lessons and working with an agency in Washington, D.C. She walked the runway recently there for World Top Model USA-DMV.

In September, Harpalani will represent designers during New York Fashion Week and in July, she will appear at Orlando Swim Week in Florida.

Singers Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande are inspirations, her mother said.

“She admires Taylor Swift and her music, but also her style,” Jennifer Harpalani said. “She likes Ariana Grande as well, and enjoyed seeing her outfits on ‘The Voice’ TV show.

Each of the models received cheers and applause as they walked, strutted and sometimes leaped on the runway. Afterward, the models celebrated with their friends and family. Olivia Reiser,14, received flowers and posed proudly with her grandmother, Sue Bond, and her mother, Laureen Reiser.

Peterson said she had been thinking of a fashion show to mark World Down Syndrome Day for years.

“In planning, I wanted it to be in a public space, free and open to all…. I posed the idea to our board president, Abby Vernon (an Aerie vice president) and, in brainstorming, she pitched the idea to her team last summer and they were in.”

Peterson said she wanted families who have younger children with Down syndrome to see adults thriving. Biographies of models on display highlighted their college, competitive employment and community activities.

“As a leader in the Down syndrome community and a parent of a teen with Down syndrome, I strive to advocate for the acceptance of all abilities and embrace everyone’s uniqueness,” she said.

Photo Credit: Dave Hochendoner Photography