Jillian Mercado has an undeniable star quality. It’s not just her glowing skin and striking features—it’s the confidence with which she carries herself. When IMG Models President Ivan Bart met the 28-year-old New York native, he noticed it, and he offered her a contract this past summer.
“It’s a big deal, going into modeling being how I am,” says Mercado, who uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. The fashion world first got wind of her when she appeared in a global campaign for Diesel in 2013, and now she’s landing Nordstrom ads and editorials in Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book. And Mercado is just getting warmed up: This fierce beauty is out to change the fashion industry as we know it.
You just signed with IMG. What does this mean for your career going forward?
My goal is to make diversity actually happen—and not just for people with disabilities. It’s about having more Hispanic girls or more androgynous guys and girls on the runways. It’s an issue we have in this industry—this is not Pleasantville; it’s real life. It’s so frustrating to know that all these gorgeous people are being overlooked because of some quota. That’s something that needs to be changed.
What are some brands you’d like to work with?
I’ve always been a fan of Alice & Olivia; their shows are magical. I’d love to work with [them] one day. And Alexander McQueen was a huge, huge inspiration to me, both for clothes and beauty.
What piece of clothing do you never leave home without?
Leather jackets. I went to London last year for the first time and lost my first [one]; it was Versace, and I cried for a whole day. I was sad when summer came because I couldn’t wear leather jackets all the time.
Where do you find the most style inspiration in the city?
Chelsea and the West Village. People really love dressing up in these neighborhoods. It’s not dressing up for a party; it’s dressing up to go to the gym or to the grocery store. You can go buy milk looking fabulous.