Q&A: Jillian Mercado speaks on becoming ‘face of’ disabled modeling

Fashion editor and blogger Jillian Mercado was recently signed to Red Model Management. Credit: Tim Zaragoza Credit: Tim Zaragoza
Fashion editor and blogger Jillian Mercado was recently signed to Red Model Management.
Credit: Tim Zaragoza

Fashion’s got a new face, and it’s not afraid to break down the industry norms. Fashion editor and longtime style blogger Jillian Mercado has been wheelchair-bound since age 12, but that didn’t stop her from making her foray into modelling earlier this year with a widely-praised Diesel campaign. More recently, Mercado officially signed with Red Model Management and stars in this year’s Nordstrom summer catalog. We got her take on the shifting face of fashion, and what it’s like being a “different” type of model.

Models who don’t fall into the normal “type” like plus-sized, minority and disabled models like yourself have gotten more attention lately. Do you feel like the fashion industry will continue in this direction? There’s always been slight changes, but I don’t think it’s been full force, ever … we’ve all been waiting for other people to change it, and it doesn’t happen. I feel like whoever has been in the spotlight for being different in the industry, we’ve all been sick of it, and we’re forcing it to become more mainstream. Less of a “WOW” factor, just a normal thing, so hopefully down the road we can just be “models” and not “disabled models.” I definitely feel like it’s changing for good this time.

There was one girl that someone brought up to me, [Paralympian model] Aimee [Mullins], who did Alexander McQueen runway, which was amazing, but I bet you when that came out, she got all the same exposure that I’ve been getting, people going crazy, interviews and blah blah blah, but then it stopped … and that’s not a good thing, because people forget, and now not that many people know about her, or that she had a disability or anything.

How do you feel about being called the “face of” disabled modeling?

It’s so weird when people say I’m the “face of,” say, Nordstrom, because I usually know other people who are the “face of,” and I’m like, “oh my god, that’s so cool, they’re the face of,” but now it’s like, “oh wow, now I’m the face of, this is weird,” But it’s awesome! I’m a really determined person, and I don’t want people to forget – not necessarily me, but the general idea that there needs to be more diversity in the industry. I hope that someone else gets a spark in their head and goes, “I really wanna be a model and I’m gonna do anything possible to do it.” But it’s really awesome, being the first, kinda. [laughs]

You’ve held a lot of other positions in the fashion world, but is modeling ultimately what you wanted to do?

Well, it’s funny because I always say it was pure luck and I  just fell into it, but in the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to be a model. But I guess since society really messed up our heads about what’s “normal” or “OK” I told myself that that’s never gonna happen, and I was just fine with it, I guess. Until I got the opportunity, and then I was like, “No no, that is NOT OK, I should have never thought that way.”

What is your dream modeling gig?

Oh my god, let me think about it good, just in case somebody reads it … Something like, well, Alexander McQueen, if he were alive, that would be ultimately the dream … I wanna say Chanel, but I don’t wanna say Chanel. So I’m gonna say … oh man … Marc Jacobs would be kind of awesome. Or Tom Ford! Go big or go home, you know? But any of those would be amazing.

What’s your favorite thing about modeling?

Other than pampering, I guess, [laughs] it’s gonna sound super cheesy, but my most favorite thing is when a photographer goes, “Wow, that’s beautiful” – it sounds so cheesy, but I’ve worked with so many photographers who are so dedicated, and they only do “normal” models, and me being there is almost a challenge for them. It’s still a challenge for me, having to interpret what a walking model would do, and how to put it for me. So when a photographer goes, “Wow, that’s gorgeous, keep doing that!” it’s awesome! Because I know I’m doing something right, and what I’m doing is beautiful. [laughs] Makes my day.

What else is on your bucket list?

A music video! It kind of sounds funny, but I wanna be in a Rihanna music video. I don’t care what it is, what song it is. She’s kind of, like, my best friend. No, I’ve never met her … I wanna be in music videos, like, Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. Any of those three, my life would be done. Over, that’s it, right there.


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