Diesel’s artistic director Nicola Formichetti has cast a wheelchair-bound fashion editor and blogger in its spring 2014 campaign. Jillian Mercado – a 26-year-old New Yorker with Dominican roots who suffers from muscular dystrophy – stars in the label’s ‘We Are Connected’ campaign. The campaign sees her posed alongside visual artist James Astronaut in a denim dress, bright red lipstick and her signature platinum blonde hair, making it clear how Formichetti consciously decided to feature, rather than hide her electric wheelchair in the photo.
She told MailOnline that she hopes the ad “gives hope to people who are maybe saying, ‘My life is over’ because they are disabled. You can totally do it, nothing should be stopping you.” The campaign – photographed by the acclaimed duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin – will run in the March issues of magazines including Vogue and Interview, and will also be displayed on the walls of every single Diesel store worldwide.
Mercado first met Formichetti through a shoot produced by We The Urban magazine, where she works as the executive editorial director. A few months later, she saw that his assistant put out a casting call for young, culturally-representative models to join Diesel as a campaign ambassador. Miss Mercado and her friends decided to enter the lot as a ‘joke’ she said.
But then, “a few weeks later I got an email from the casting agency that said ‘Hey can you send us more pictures? We are kind of interested in having you in the campaign.'” Out of disbelief, Miss Mercado responded with an assortment of Facebook and Instagram photos. Following a few days of deliberation, she was chosen to star in the campaign among 23 tastemakers hailing from her own generation.
Miss Mercado was not aware when the campaign would become public and on Tuesday morning woke up to see that Mr Formichetti had ‘tagged’ her in a photo on Instagram, signaling the campaign’s surprise release. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Formichetti indicated that Miss Mercado was his favorite cast member of the campaign’s total 23 participants, who were picked to represent different sects of youth culture (including Japanese Internet stars and tattooed models).
‘It’s never easy for her to move from point A to point B, but she’s totally fearless and has really been an inspiration to me,’ he told the paper. ‘You don’t have to be a conventional model type to represent a brand.’
Miss Mercado admitted that she “always gets scared [of the public’s reaction to her disability]. You never know, there are a lot of people who hate, or a lot of people who are not comfortable with the situation. I always have it in the back of my mind “Don’t be surprised if someone hates on the photo.”’ But when Formichetti released her image on his Instagram feed yesterday morning, the overall response “was completely amazing,” she told Daily Mail.
Miss Mercado thinks that Formichetti’s decision to use her in the campaign represents something “so much bigger than just an ad.” Drawing on her own experiences, Miss Mercado said “I know some people look at me and say ‘Oh wow, I can’t believe you’re doing this’ and in my head I think, ‘Why don’t you believe me?’ I went to college, I did what everyone else did to follow their dreams.”
In fact, Miss Mercado did that ten-fold. When Mercado attended college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she commuted to the school’s downtown Manhattan campus via a grueling series of multiple bus and subway transfers, as the city’s mass-transit system is not fully wheelchair accessible. Rather than appearing discouraged or frustrated, Miss Mercado came off as decidedly more cheerful, driven, and pleasant than the school’s average student. During her time in college, Miss Mercado completed internships at Veranda magazine, Allure, and with the society photographer Patrick McMullan – establishments that all embraced her disability.
Miss Mercado says that there is no reason for people in similar physical situations not to pursue their dreams. “Maybe their family doesn’t want them to pursue something because they don’t want them to get hurt, and yeah, you will get hurt, I won’t lie to you. It just depends on how badly you want it.”
Miss Mercado thinks that her feature in this new campaign is effective in how it shows that “anyone can wear Diesel – You don’t have to be a supermodel, you don’t have to be a millionaire, you can wear it no matter who you are and what you look like.”