Designer to the stars dresses disabled catwalk in Milan

From outfits for Lady Gaga to disabled fashion, designer Antonio Urzi is breaking the mold

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From outfits for Lady Gaga and Beyonce to disabled fashion: Antonio Urzi, a long-time collaborator with Armani, is trying to revolutionize Milan fashion week with creations designed for amputees.

Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Britney Spears have all worn his masterpieces, but Urzi's latest face is hunky British amputee Jack Eyers, the star of a radically different catwalk show which mixes able-bodied and disabled models.

"My life's changed dramatically, it's a full-on rollercoaster ride," said Eyers, who was born with a rare condition which meant his right leg failed to grow properly, leading him to decide to have it amputated when he was 16.

Now 25, the personal trainer-turned-model has got two years of work in the fashion industry under his belt, and is clearly thrilled to be in Milan, sporting a large silver suit-of-armor type outfit designed especially for him.

"It actually blends into the leg," he tells AFP, showing off his prosthetic limb, which Urzi has incorporated into the quirky, gladiatorial design.

"He's using my leg and disability as an accessory as part of his fashion clothes. I think that's great," he says with a grin.

Urzi, who did not go to design school but honed his art during a job as a dancer in nightclubs - where he made his own special-effects outfits - specializes in rigid materials such as aluminum and Plexiglas.

This year has been his first venture into disabled fashion and he created the collection for free, to draw awareness to a gap in the luxury clothes line.

"The big players, the important maisons (fashion houses), should start thinking differently and contribute because the world is full of disabled people... who want to look good just like us," he said, slamming the industry as "snobbish" and "squalid."

"If someone is missing an arm or a leg it makes little difference on an artistic level, I can still create a sculpture," he said, before rushing off to organise the so-called "static-dynamic" catwalk, where models sporting futuristic body suits and large hooped shoulder pads posed on stands.

FTL Moda, which promotes 'Made in Italy', presented "Loving You" on Sunday after a stop at New York's fashion week, where it took to the runway in collaboration with Italy's Fondazione Vertical, a spinal cord injuries research foundation.

FTL President Ilaria Niccolini says she believes "we're ready for this."

"This presentation wants to show the world that the most prestigious places for fashion are becoming open to disability," she told AFP in English.

"Our top maisons are really trying to find the new look for the runway. We've seen so much in the fashion world already, sometimes we tend to go loud, scandalize, confront -- while we just need to look around" to find diversity.

Eyers admits it's not easy to persuade designers to use disabled models.

"A lot have said they are afraid to use us for a number of reasons, they don't want to do something that would offend us or the public.

"They're scared, they don't know how to use us, how their clothes would fit on a wheelchair model or an amputee -- also they don't want the attention to be on the model rather than the clothes," he said.

But since appearing in the London 2012 Paralympics' opening ceremony and going on to star in a number of advertisements, he says he has overcome the lack of confidence he suffered as a child and believes fashion can do the same for others.

"If you feel like you look good then you feel great. Getting more disabled people in fashion is going to help with their heads," he said.

As models from New York's Global Disability Inclusion and London's Models of Diversity take up their places among their able-bodied colleagues under the bright lights, Niccolini says she will not be deterred.

"Brands, actors, performers in general are endorsing this concept and I hope this will be absolutely normal, let's say, in two years."

By then, she says, you will get disabled models "included in every single runway in the world."

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