I’m sure many men, and even some women, have fantasized about what it would be like backstage at a New York City fashion show. Images of beautiful women running around in their underwear come to mind.

Curiosity peaks our interest.
Let me take you backstage with me during the Rolling with Style Gala held in New York City at Cipriani’s on February 6, during the glitzy Fashion Week. I’ve got news for you, I never saw anyone in their underwear backstage. They were all in the lady’s restroom changing clothes. Don’t let me disappoint you; I have plenty to tell you!

This was unlike any fashion show ever held before! Seven fashion designers showcased their new spring 2007 collection. Yes, there were supermodels, including Kim Alexis, Carol Alt, and Zuleyka Rivera, Miss Universe 2006. And then there was me. Pinch me – am I in a dream?
No really, I was one of the models in this fashion show! That’s what made this show incredible for me. I was one of four women selected in a national search to be a “roll model.” What we roll models have in common is that we all use wheelchairs for mobility. The other roll models included: Michele Boardman, Melissa Holley and Jenny Smith.

The fashion show was the brainchild of four other women who use wheelchairs: Wendy Crawford, Julia Dorsett, Ashley Lauren Fisher and Marilyn Hamilton. These chairwomen founded a nonprofit organization, Discovery Through Design dedicated to honoring women’s lifestyles, creating awareness and raising funds for disabled women’s health initiatives and spinal cord injury research.

The fashion designers who participated by creating one-of-a-kind wheelchairs and ensembles included: Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, Marc Bouwer, Lloyd Klein, Nicole Miller, Zang Toi, Thom Browne, and St. John.
I could never have imagined the creativity exhibited by the St. John designer, Dorie Wishmyer. She created my chic gold and periwinkle blue Quickie wheelchair and matching couture jacket, slacks, shell, shoes, laptop bag and purse. The gold chain that circled the two wheelchair handrims was interwoven with ribbons of periwinkle suede that matched the covers on the seat cushion and wheelchair back. The same chain was used to adorn the laptop bag, purse and jacket. I later found out that the chain and buttons on the jacket had been dipped in 24 karat gold!

The CBS Early Show crew captured the entire event. The interview of the eight women in wheelchairs was led by correspondent, Michele Miller. At one o’clock that afternoon lights and cameras were focused on us. The cameras followed us throughout the evening, capturing each of us on the red carpet and runway. After the interview, I quickly dashed across the street to the Hyatt, put on my fashionable attire, and changed wheelchairs. I arrived fully dressed at Cipriani’s at three o’clock and met with a hairstylist and makeup artist.

The VIP guests started to arrive at six o’clock. We roll models had just finished a short rehearsal on the runway, and were gathered backstage. Jennifer Frey from People Magazine was interviewing me and the other roll models and chairwomen for a story.

I was startled by the feel of a warm cheek and soft kiss on my face. I turned and looked up to see my husband, Mark Leder, a dashing, tall, handsome figure in his tuxedo. One look from him and I knew the makeup and hair stylists had done wonders for my appearance!

After my interview, I rolled to the reception area to meet the guests, media, and press that were waiting in front of the red carpet area. What a rush to be in front of about 100 photographers! At about 7:30 p.m. it was show time! All guests were taking their seats at their reserved tables for dinner. The rolling models made their way up the ramp to the backstage area. Wow, were we nervous! “Are you going to smile?” one of the roll models asked me.“You bet! I’m going to let them know how happy I feel!” I said. “Should I?” asked another. I replied, “Do what comes naturally out there. Have fun with it!”

The walking models were lined up backstage, secluded from the audience on the other side of the center opening of the curtain. Each fashion designer had four walking models that preceded the rolling model on the runway. The opening music had a deep, beat that added drama to the evening. All of us backstage watched the show on the large screen.

Just before it was my turn to roll out, I looked at the St. John model that I would follow. Kim Alexis gave me a wink and then took her first step onto the runway. I felt a sense of reassurance and couldn’t wait until it was my turn.

A smile flashed on my face. I was given my cue to start rolling out in plain view of the dinner guests and all the camera lenses at the end of the runway. I was in view! Instantly I heard loud applause and accolades from the audience. I looked across the audience as I slowly rolled down the center of the runway and stopped at the end to pause—then rotated the wheelchair to showcase the laptop bag that hung on the back of the chair. Soon my stroll was over and I was backstage once again.

As I was escorted to my seat at the dinner table to join my husband, I felt like a celebrity!
The 500 people attending the event included over a dozen other women in wheelchairs who were seated at the dining tables. Each woman had an opportunity to share the spotlight and tell a little bit about her current career. The three years it took to plan the event took an incredible amount of time and talent from a team of experts. You can judge the success of the fashion show from many perspectives. The major sponsors, Quickie/ Sunrise Medical, Vestar and Pazzo Pazzo, as well as other sponsors including Delphi and Park Avenue came forward in a big way! The goal was to raise $1 million that night to support spinal cord injury research and women’s health initiatives. This was one over-the-top experience!

End Note: For more information about this fashion show including video from the CBS Early Show, national articles, and photos, go to the home page of: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com Byline: Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is a speaker, trainer and author. To book her to speak at a conference.

Rosemarie conducts presentations that bring out the best in people, to help them achieve goals, and take charge of their lives. Rosemarie helps her audiences discover their inner strength. Her core message is focused on sharing information, strategies, and life lessons that provide the tools to LIVE LIFE WITH CONVICTION.

She is the author of “Take Back Your Life!” and is Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004.
Rosemarie would like to receive your comments about the impact her article has made on your life. Write her at: Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com

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