Kendall Jenner was not one of the models on Carrie Hammer’s short list for New York Fashion Week.
Instead, the designer enlisted 27 powerful women—including CEOs, entrepreneurs, journalists and an Olympic gold medalist—to walk the runway on Thursday for the fourth installment of “Role Models Not Runway Models.” Although the event featured Hammer’s new collection, it was also a platform to acknowledge the accomplishments of a diverse group of women.
When Hammer was invited to show at NYFW for the first time in 2014, she immediately knew that casting traditional models didn’t make sense for her brand. “I literally said, ‘I don’t know if I can do a model casting when all my clients are such role models,’” says Hammer. “It was a lightning-bolt-opening-of-the-sky moment."
And Hammer's concept isn't just about the runway show; she doesn’t begin designing the collection until she’s chosen her "models" because the clothes are inspired by the women.
“Every single look that came down the runway is named after the woman who wore it,” Hammer says. “We think about the woman: What is her job? What does she need?”
The fashion show was truly a celebration. As each woman got on stage, the crowd cast aside any traditional NYFW etiquette. There was cheering, dancing and Melanie Schnoll Begun, managing director of wealth management at Morgan Stanley, even threw her jacket into the audience after she struck a pose.
“It was so incredibly nerve-wracking but empowering and so much fun,” said La Neice Collins, a communications and advocacy advisor to the United Nations. “I’m looking at these women and I’m like, ‘These are clothes I would wear, these are women who look like me, these are women who would dress like me. This is fashion week for me.’”
Being invited to participate in the show is also a networking gold mine. The night before the show the women went out to dinner and got to know each other.
“It was one of the most fun times of my life,” said participant Deborah Jackson, who is founder and CEO of Plum Alley, a crowdfunding platform for female entrepreneurs. “There’s so much power and strength in these women and Carrie’s clothes reflect that.”
And with a group of influential women all in one room, business is bound to happen. Hammer calls it the “Billion Dollar Dinner.” In the past, the get-together helped one woman secure $50,000 in grants, and two multi-million dollar business deal, she says.
“All the role models from all the classes network with each other,” Hammer said. “We have 100 in all the four classes and hold reunion events.”
Plus, participants have an opportunity to pay it forward. The previous class nominates the next group of women. Hammer says they have a list of about 500 nominations.
Now, Hammer hopes to expand the network internationally as her brand prepares for show in Shanghai.
Olympic champion ice skater Meryl Davis, who walked Hammer's runway this year, has no doubt the concept will translate. “Everyone is so different here but the common thread of strength is really empowering,” she says. “To talk to the women, and hear their stories and getting to walk the runway with them—It was really special.”
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