We talked to the designer behind AnaOno Lingerie and the founder of #Cancerland about their uniquely powerful show.
If there's ever been a moment for women to speak up and show that fashion and activism are synonymous, it's now. While this synergy isn't exactly new—after all, women have been using what they wear to reflect their point of view for a long time—today these conversations are far more widespread thanks to the proliferation of social media.
Inclusivity for women (of every size), as well as the push to keep women-centric organizations like Planned Parenthood alive have already been highlighted on the runway during this year's New York Fashion Week. But there's another very important topic that AnaOno Lingerie designer Dana Donofree wanted to add to the mix: breast cancer. AnaOno is one of the first brands to offer lingerie and loungewear specifically for women who have had surgery related to a breast cancer diagnosis.
That's why the designer decided to partner with #Cancerland, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to providing support and services to women in the fight against breast cancer, to put on a fashion show during New York Fashion Week highlighting the disease that takes the lives of more than 40,000 women every year in the U.S. alone. The show featured 16 real-women models of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages, all of whom have been touched by breast cancer personally to walk the show. The models encompassed varying stages of breast cancer diagnoses, surgery and reconstruction choices, and some evenly proudly displayed their surgical scarring.
One of the aims of the show was to simply highlight what breast cancer does to women's bodies. "It's a very real and body-altering disease that is both physical and mental," says #Cancerland founder Champagne Joy. "It's very emotional. To put these women and this disease on the runway is something NYFW hasn't really seen done before."
Joy enlisted her best friend, metastatic breast cancer activist, and Academy Award–winning actress Mira Sorvino to host the show, and the women who walked the runway included ballet dancer Maggie Kudirka, trumpet player and musician Kiku Collins, and tattoo artist Beth Fairchild, who also founded Metavivor, a breast cancer research and support center.
Like Joy, Donofree has also been personally affected by breast cancer. Though she had been a fashion designer for her entire career, she switched over to designing lingerie after losing both her breasts at 27 years old. She explains that her difficulty shopping for clothing based on photos of models whose bodies looked so different from her own had a huge influence on her. "That's why we've used women whose bodies have been altered by breast cancer since we launched in 2014," she says. (Related: Why More Women Are Having Mastectomies)
She wants breast cancer survivors to see themselves in the spotlight, whether they have no breasts, one breast, or two. "I want her to feel an emotional connection because the women she is seeing have been where she's been. That is the most important thing to me because I'm not doing it for publicity or marketing. I've been through it," she says.
In addition to simply making women feel empowered to remove their breasts without shame, the women hope the show can help turn breast cancer awareness into action and eventually finding a cure, says Donofree. "Pink ribbons and running races are amazing, but we need more. We need more research because it's an epidemic and it's a women's issue that has been pushed to the side," says Joy. "For three decades, the number of breast cancer deaths hasn't changed."
Joy believes the slow progress with breast cancer is specifically because it has been labeled a "female" disease, though many men get breast cancer and die from it every year—nearly 500, in this country every year, in fact. "Male ailments get cured and addressed quickly, but when you lose your breasts and all your fertility options, they think you can be satisfied with a wig and a bra," she says. "What's most important to know is that we're out here and we're amongst you. We're motorcycle mechanics, artists, doctors, and a million different things. And we have cancer. It's everywhere and we're more than just the bald women in the corner."
Ultimately, the runway show was a much-needed step in the right direction. Hopefully, we'll continue to see fashion's elite promote women's health issues throughout this year's shows and beyond.