Diesel Star Jillian Mercado on Breaking Down Walls and Her Breakout Campaign

jillian mercado diesel

Fashion designers are supposed to be diplomatic, but Nicola Formichetti has been candid about which of Diesel’s Spring 2014 spokesmodels inspires him most. That would be 26-year-old fashion editor Jillian Mercado, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and has been wheelchair-bound since age 12.

“It’s never easy for her to move from point A to point B, but she’s totally fearless and has really been an inspiration to me,” Formichetti told WWD. “You don’t have to be a conventional model type to represent a brand.”

Mercado, who serves as the executive editorial director of WeTheUrban, first met Formichetti while working on his cover shoot for the online magazine and never imagined she’d one day be fronting one of his campaigns. She appears alongside artist James Astronaut in the We Are Connected ads, which feature “modern-day rebels, heroes and just cool people” and was shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

A born-and-raised New Yorker, Mercado always had her sights set on the fashion industry. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, interned at Allure, and covered New York Fashion Week for Patrick McMullan’s PMc Magazine. During that time, she also launched her personal blog Manufactured 1987, which features her fashion and art musings.

We caught up with Mercado to learn more about how her breakout campaign came to fruition and how she approaches the fashion industry.

How did this campaign come to be for you?
I knew Nicola from a cover shoot that I worked on for WeTheUrban. He was our cover for the 6th issue. So, I got to know him through that. We kept in touch, and then he and his assistant put out a casting call on Facebook. So, I just did it for fun — never thinking that anything was going to happen. And then a few weeks later they e-mailed me and told me we’re interested, send us more photos, and we’ll go from there. And the rest is history. [Laughs]

There’s still this mindset that people who aren’t “normal” for the industry don’t have a place. With me, I never had the slightest thought that I couldn’t do anything.

What’s it like working with Nicola Formichetti?
It’s a beautiful experience. He’s super sweet. He’s focused and knows what he wants. He’s really dedicated to what he does. He’s always asking people, “What do you think about this?” or “Do you have some ideas?”. We all collaborate. I felt nervous at the shoot and he helped me. He made it easy. The thing about him is that he is who he is. He doesn’t try to fake it. He doesn’t try and make it seem as if he’s better than everyone else.

What was it like to hear Nicola call you his favorite subject of the whole campaign?
[Laughs] I don’t even know what to think. He’s just so respected in the industry and everyone knows who he is — especially because of his work with Lady Gaga. I’m blessed to know him and super thankful for everything he’s done for me so far.

What was it like working with Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh?
I knew of their work, again, from Lady Gaga. I never get really starstruck but I was when I met them. It was such a bonus that they were super sweet. They spoke with me and gave me some advice on a few things. We were like best friends, even though I hardly knew them. It was awesome.

And James Astronaut?
I actually met him at the shoot so I didn’t know about him until that day. He’s really sweet and we had a good time together. We’re friends now. He’s really good with direction. He gets photographed more than I do. I’ve never really done modeling before, so he really helped me out. It’s like nothing went wrong on that shoot. All of this is like surreal and dreamlike to me. I’m waiting to wake up.

What do you love most about working with Diesel as a brand?

It’s kind of fantastic that I get to work with a company who designs clothing that anyone can wear. Everyone, no matter who you are, we’re all the same at the end of the day. I really like that. They’re stepping it up a notch, more so than other companies are doing.

The campaign is going to appear in Vogue, how does that feel?
Oh my god. I mean… It’s Vogue. It’s going to be in the March issue, so the fact that Anna has seen my face — there’s no greater thing than that. I’m also really excited to go by the store and see my face there.

What are your thoughts on diversity in the industry?
We’re moving forward, which is great. Not all models are stick skinny and “perfect” looking. I’ve been in this industry for about 6 years or so and it’s always scary to be in an industry where everyone might just size you up by your looks, and not what you do. But if you want to do it, do it. There’s still this mindset that people who aren’t “normal” for the industry don’t have a place. With me, I never had the slightest thought that I couldn’t do anything. This industry is a really scary place, you have to have the right mindset. There have been so many crazy obstacles that I have overcome. Everytime there’s a brick wall, just go right through it.

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