Directly across town from NYFW's current home base, at Skylight Clarkson Square, there was a very different sort of runway being staged at the Angel Orensanz Center. The catwalk was populated entirely with breast cancer survivors, modeling clothes by a survivor-created brand that's devoted expressly to outfitting that are grappling with or have already beat the disease. Even in a season filled with more substance than usual, that's a particularly poignant sight.
The inaugural "Exposed: AnaOno x Cancerland" show, part of Art Hearts Fashion New York Fashion Week, was organized by Dana Donofree, the founder of AnaOno, a breast cancer survivor-focused lingerie and loungewear line, and Champagne Joy, founder of Cancerland, fellow survivor, and activist. Actress Mira Sorvino, a pal of Joy's and breast cancer advocate, hosted the show.
The runway featured 16 women spanning a wide range of ages, races, and gender identities, who've weathered a various types of breast cancer and subsequent surgeries, who are all "residents" of Cancerland, as Donofree put it. at different stages of battling (or triumphing over) the disease. "We wanted women with breast cancer who are both beautiful and fascinating; that would force people to reimagine the illness because these women aren’t what you may have expected," Joy told Refinery29 of the casting process. She also underscored to importance of showing at NYFW: "Where better to change the idea of what breast cancer looks like than the place where the world goes to find out how to look?"
Donofree sees a lot of room for improvement in terms of how the fashion addresses breast cancer, pointing out that Victoria's Secret turned down a petition for a mastectomy bras back in 2013, and that beyond her own AnaOno line, the limited options that are currently on the market "are still matronly and look like medical devices." Being able to find post-op-friendly lingerie truly can make a difference, Donofree explained. "we are still women, with or without breasts, and if wearing beautiful intimate apparel helps you feel sexy, you should have the same right to it that you did before cancer, whether you are 18 or 80," she said.
Joy underscored how challenging to can be to navigating one's closet while battling breast cancer: "The great struggle is to seem 'normal and to feel feminine and whole, like you did before diagnosis," she said. "AnaOno is on the front lines of giving that back to women, and I applaud them for being such a huge gift to this populace."
It's not just the fashion industry that could be doing a lot more to broach the subject. "As long as breast cancer remains incurable, underfunded, misrepresented, and under-researched, no industry addresses it enough," Joy told us. "I am committed to change, to seeing research go into high gear, to getting honest information out to patients, to being part of Stage V —a cure — and to getting proper help for people going through treatment."
The audience at the AnaOno x #Cancerland Exposed show didn't sit silently. fiddling boredly with their phones before the catwalk kicked off, as is the case at most shows; there with a palpable sense of excitement (whoops and hollers and all), which only ramped up once the models emerged. Plus, in a departure from the typical exclusivity and politicized seating charts that traditionally define the fashion week experience, the uplifting event was open to the public, with 100% of proceeds from ticket sales going to charities benefiting breast cancer patients.
Photographer Carey Kirkella was on hand to shoot the show: Since August 2016, Kirkella has been photographing portraits of breast cancer survivors with their sisters, in honor of her own sister, who passed away suddenly at age 40 three years ago from metastatic breast cancer that spread to her bones. (The goal is to eventually compile the portraits into a book, Sisters & Survivors, with proceeds going to metastatic breast cancer research.) Kirkella met, and later photographed, Donofree via the first woman she photographed for the series, Chiara D'Agostino, who also participated in the incredibly poignant NYFW show. "The concept for the show really inspired me, and I wanted to be a part of it and contribute to it as a photographer," Kirkella told Refinery29.
Ahead, meet six of the courageous, resilient women who hit the catwalk, photographed backstage by Kirkella at the first-ever AnaOno x #Cancerland Exposed show. (To note, some images are NSFW.)