A 20-year-old Canadian model is shaking up the fashion world and challenging the often-criticized airbrush-perfect standards of the industry.
Winnie Harlow, who has a rare skin condition called vitiligo, is grabbing headlines after scoring two major international fashion campaigns this season. Harlow appears in Diesel's new Spring/Summer 2015 campaign and in Spanish brand Desigual's 'Say Something Nice' campaign.
Vitiligo is a chronic disease affecting skin pigmentation: as some cells die or become unable to function, patches of the skin lose their colour.
The 5'10 Toronto native was first diagnosed with vitiligo around the age of four. She was bullied as a child, called 'zebra' and 'cow' by her peers, which inspired her to speak publicly about the condition in 2011, posting a YouTube video titled 'Vitiligo: A Skin Condition, not a Life Changer'. Shortly after posting her video, Harlow found herself being celebrated for her distinctive look when she was hand-picked by Tyra Banks to appear as a contestant on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model.
She didn't walk away with the crown, but she did break down a few barriers.
Since then, Harlow (whose real name is Chantelle Brown-Young) has shared her story of childhood alienation in a recent TED Talk, starred in Eminem and Sia's gritty 'Guts Over Fear' video, walked the runways at Toronto and London Fashion Weeks, and managed to amass over 450,000 followers on Instagram.
Last week Miss Harlow’s fashionable profile was taken to new heights: Diesel put her front-and-centre in their new spring/summer 2015 ad campaign, which aims to promote "tolerance, equality and unconditional love." The series of ads, photographed by British visionary Nick Knight, feature Harlow alongside seven other smiling models.
"We believe in showing different types of body and beauty - celebrating uncommon beauties, this is what Diesel is and always has been about," Diesel's creative director Nicola Formichetti recently told E! News. "With this new campaign for SS15, we want to convey a message of inclusiveness and positivity -- and all of our models are smiling, which is unfortunately rare in this industry."
Hashtagged #DieselHigh, the ads stay true to the brand's inclusive messaging by being re-touch free.
In addition to Diesel's high-profile ad campaign, Harlow has been unveiled (once again) as the face of Spanish brand Desigual's Spring/Summer 2015 campaign: 'Say Something Nice.' She was also confirmed as their official brand ambassador.
"Chantelle perfectly embodies the spirit, values and attitude that have always characterized the company. She's a model who breaks the established conventions and canons," Desigual said in a statement about Harlow's new role as brand ambassador. "She is pure inspiration, a whirlwind of positive energy, an example of strength and achievement, who demonstrates that we are all special and can achieve what we set out to do."
Clearly Harlow didn't let her skin anomaly hinder her dreams of becoming a model. As heavyweights begin to take notice, one can almost guarantee that she'll continue to break down more than just fashion boundaries.