By Rob LeDonne
When New York’s spring Fashion Week kicked off last month, it featured a host of the usual designers on the scene; brands such as Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein typically rule the roost. This year, however, one of the week’s main highlights was courtesy of Carrie Hammer, a 2003 Torrey Pines High School grad who is the head of her very own, New York-based namesake fashion line.
“[When I put on shows,] I only include role models on the runway — not runway models,” she explained from her New York City headquarters. “This year we had a variety of CEOs, executives, and philanthropists walk the runway, as well as a doctor who speaks out for people with disabilities named Danielle Sheypuk.”
In a historic first, Sheypuk, as it turns out, is wheelchair-bound due to the effects of spinal muscular atrophy, and when she appeared on the runway in a custom dress from Hammer’s line, the fashion world took notice.
The story went viral, and Hammer says after the show she “received a lot of fan mail from women in wheelchairs, and from former and current models. I couldn’t believe it.”
In addition, Hammer’s show was highlighted by MSNBC, Fox News, morning talkers “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show,” and by personalities such as Katie Couric and Ariana Huffington — among countless others around the world.
“Fashion goes through trends, and right now the quote-unquote ideal look for a model is straight, skinny and eastern European,” said Hammer of the inherent exclusivity in the world of modeling. “I really hope we start going in a different direction.”
It looks like Hammer is leading the way when it comes to changing that world, thanks largely to both her passionate outlook on the downsides of the industry and her love for fashion, which dates back to her humble beginnings growing up in North County. “It’s somehow in my DNA,” she explains. “In fourth grade, I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas, and my hobby in elementary school was needlepoint.. so it goes way back.”
Hammer made a splash once she hit high school, and was even voted homecoming queen before graduating. She later attended UCLA, and then jetted off to the Big Apple after college. “I got a job in advertising, but quickly realized I needed to be in a creative field,” she says of her impetus to launch her own line. “My mom is pretty famous (RSF artist Jean Wells) so I think I inherited a creative gene.”
Hammer’s job in advertising turned out to be perfect primer on how to run a business, and by 2012 she launched one of her own.
“It happened super organically,” she remembers. “People would stop me literally several times a day asking me where I got my dress because they fit so well, and at that time I was making all my own which came out of my frustration in shopping. I had difficulty in finding things that fit me perfectly,” she said. “I’ve never spoken to a women who said everything fit her perfectly off the rack.”
The idea behind her line is to empower females to shatter current ideas about body image in today’s fashion world. In Hammer’s words: “Dresses should be made for the person. You shouldn’t have to fit your body into a dress.”
It’s that thesis which led to casting Sheypuk, and the rest seems to be falling into place for everyone involved. Said Sheypuk of her runway jaunt in a recent interview with the UK’s premiere newspaper The Guardian: “ It was a surreal experience that continues to bring me goosebumps every time I think of it. I remember most turning the corner from backstage and facing the audience and the catwalk. I felt sexy and glamorous. Most importantly, I felt like all of the other models there. We were all women who have achieved significantly and made outstanding contributions to our community. I just happened to use a wheelchair.”
For more on Carrie Hammer, visit www.carriehammer.com.