Like all working mums, Colleen Theriault has her hands full with her four-year-old son and a full-time career as head baker at a patisserie in the US state of North Carolina. But the 24-year-old is also an advocate for a budding movement that is breaking into the international fashion scene. Its models, like their initiative, are small but strong.
The International Dwarf Fashion Show, a non-profit organisation that aims to “reverse the discriminatory diktats of beauty”, brought seven women with dwarfism to Dubai this week for a show dedicated to raising awareness about the need for more inclusivity in fashion. “This is the farthest I’ve ever travelled, especially by myself,” said Theriault after modelling two dresses at the show. “This trip was a big step.”
In shimmering bodycon dresses and bright embellished saris, models from the United States, the Philippines, Italy, Bulgaria and Russia strutted down an impromptu garden runway under heart-shaped arches of flowers. The show closed with a charismatic model in a bridal dress, her holographic Mary Jane shoes peeking out from under a rose-dotted train.
Zahra Mufaddal Khumri waited for more than two hours with her husband and young daughter to get into Saturday’s show. After living in Dubai for more than a decade, she recently set up a Facebook support group for individuals and families in the emirate who, like her own, live with dwarfism. She and her banker husband have built “a pretty good life” for themselves in the global shopping hub, she said, but even there the basic task of finding clothes that fit has remained a struggle.
The couple generally seek out the help of a tailor to alter or make garments to be the right size, particularly traditional Indian clothes. “You should be comfortable in anything you wear,” Khumri said. Beyond the ‘kids’ section.
She does manage to buy tops and dresses off-the-rack, she said, “but with a bit of difficulty since I do have to search in the petite section. Sometimes in the kids’ section.”
It was witnessing firsthand the exasperation of a woman with dwarfism shopping for basic staples that inspired Myriam Chalek to set up the International Dwarf Fashion Show. “It was seeing this little lady shopping in a kids section -- very frustrated, not finding clothes that fit her,” she said. “I work in the fashion industry, so you always deal with designers and clients who ask you for tall and skinny. Even though some people are trying to turn the tide, like we are, unfortunately that still remains the norm.”
The International Dwarf Fashion Show has attracted worldwide attention since it launched in 2014, taking to the runway during New York Fashion Week, as well as in Tokyo and Paris, supported by France’s culture ministry. But in Dubai, the show almost did not happen after an eleventh-hour cancellation, organisers said.
Chalek said there was “chaos, drama, disappointment and anger” when the hotel they had booked cancelled on them last minute. A second hotel also refused to host the show. Contacted by AFP, the manager at one hotel said he was not aware of any fashion show.