A fashion show for mental health heads to Ottawa

It is probably the least likely place to expect a catwalk- the home of Canada’s Governor General in Ottawa. But on October 9th, guests such as Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Olympian Clara Hughes and singer Susan Aglukark crowded Rideau Hall for the Mad Couture Catwalk show, an art-meets-fashion-meets-mental health awareness fashion show.

The Mad Couture Catwalk show is the brain child of Workman Arts, a Toronto based organization that helps people with mental health issues develop their skills as artists. In celebration of the 25th anniversary, the people at Workman Arts came up with the Mad Couture Catwalk, an event where artists would design outfits that represented the various mental health issues they were struggling with.

“It’s a great opportunity for mental health to take the center stage because it’s often portrayed in a very clinical sense,” says Annalise Walmer, the designer of the Mental Chaos collection. “But this is a more playful way to explore it and to show the darker side sometimes or the whimsical side.”

Walmer’s designs include a cage dress to represent feeling trapped in one’s mind, a straight jacket covered in broken glass to represent fractured identity and a jacket made of found objects to represent hoarding. Walmer has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, depression and bipolar disorder.

The event was hosted by the Governor General David Johnston and his wife Sharon and featured 28 outfits designed by 11 artists. Creations represented issues ranging from anxiety and depression to addiction, each with its own creative flair.

Her Excellency Sharon Johnston says that events like Mad Couture Catwalk will help de-stigmatize mental illness. “I think creativity and mental health are entering into a dance,” she says. “This is very powerful, a very powerful conversation, a very powerful voice coming out of the Catwalk.”

Jaene Castrillon, one of the Mad Couture models, has lived with the stigma associated with mental health. As a teen she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and depression. She attempted her first suicide at 16 (she has tried 11 times) and spent years in and out of group homes and psychiatric wards.

Read more: Dancing on broken glass

Castrillon says she was drugged, restrained and not offered proper treatment. Scars up and down her left arm are daily reminders of the self-harm she used to inflict on herself with pieces of glass or razor blades. She lost count at 3,000 cuts.

“You know, in our society we’re so obsessed with perfection,” says Castrillon, who will be wearing Walmer’s straight jacket. “I think that’s an important message that you can be perfect, beautiful and broken all at the same time and there’s nothing wrong with that”.

A fashion show for mental health heads to Ottawa

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