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St. Madeleine Sophie’s Celebrates New Beginnings

Behind the scenes at their 43rd annual Haute with Heart Fashion Show
Anthony Wardlow

By Sarah Sapeda

Ah, the life of a model—glitz and glamour, cutting-edge clothing, and cruising the catwalk as hundreds of people look on in awe. Sounds pretty good to us.

“It’s an awesome experience,” says Anthony Wardlow, a student at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center. He’s fresh off his sophomore appearance modeling in the nonprofit’s Haute with Heart Fashion Show, where he strolled along the poolside runway showing off a white sport coat and graphic T-shirt combo from Bloomingdale’s. “It’s the real deal.”

In August 2021, the 43rd Haute with Heart Fashion Show, one of SMSC’s signature events, raised around $145,000 to bolster the nonprofit’s mission to empower Wardlow and other adults with developmental disabilities to realize their potential through the arts, education, personal development, and employment. Traditionally, the event has been held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront with a guest list of 600 to 700, but it was virtual in 2020, and this year was relocated to SMSC’s El Cajon headquarters with an attendance of about 300.

Under the circumstances, the show’s theme, “Age of New Beginnings,” seems especially relevant. “It was a beautiful evening,” says CEO Debra Emerson. “It was really special this year because we were able to do it during this time.”

SMSC’s students are heavily involved in the annual production. Some, like Wardlow, model alongside professional counterparts who are booked by the show’s fashion coordinator. Others use the skills they’ve been mastering at SMSC to lend a hand in other ways, such as working behind the scenes baking cupcakes for guests to take home, or creating the artwork that graces Haute with Heart’s promotional materials.

Art plays a crucial role at SMSC, and its gallery exhibitions and Alley Cat Art Walk are also big draws. “We have different program for different people with different abilities,” Emerson says.

Wardlow is also a talented artist: He recently received a grant from the California Arts Council through UCLA’s National Arts & Disability Center. A scratchboard dragonfly he created while the stay-at-home order was in effect was reproduced on thank-you cards for Haute with Heart guests.

I have a unique style like that, and it’s pretty nice,” he says. “I’m glad I raised my potential.”

St Madeleine Sophie’s Center Fashion Show

Anthony Wardlow

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