Cover Sofía Jirau makes history as the first Victoria's Secret model with Down's Syndrome (Photo: Supplied)

A historic first: this week Sofía Jirau became the first model with Down’s Syndrome to appear in a Victoria's Secret campaign. She talks to Tatler about living her life with no limits

Representation matters, and seeing just one person that looks like you on screen can make a big difference. After Puerto Rico-born Sofía Jirau finished secondary school, her dream was to model. But as casting agents and brands turned her away, she had two options: give up or push forward. It’s testament to Jirau’s fighting spirit that she chose the latter.

Victoria’s Secret’s latest campaign, Love Cloud, features 18 women from a “myriad of backgrounds”, including different ethnicities, abilities and body types, as part of its efforts to both champion people who fall outside narrow mainstream beauty ideals and appeal to a wider range of customers. The collection is another step in the lingerie brand’s mass rebranding, after it scrapped its annual Fashion Show featuring its Victoria’s Secret “angels” in 2019, and features models Adut Akech Bior, Hailey Bieber and Taylor Hill, as well as firefighter and member of the Idahoan Nez Perce tribe Celilo Miles, and medic and fitness trainer Jailyn Matthews.

Jirau’s mission goes far beyond promoting external beauty­—she’s using her voice to empower and inspire others like her with Down’s syndrome by proving that anything is possible.

Congratulations Sofía! What a momentous week for you. Can you describe the moment you found out you landed the campaign?

Jirau: Thank you so much. My team received an email from Victoria’s Secret in December. They were interested in having me be part of their new Love Cloud collection. My team kept it secret from me because they wanted to surprise me. They just told me I had to go to Los Angeles for a photoshoot, but when I arrived they told me the big news that I was going to model for Victoria’s Secret. I was extremely happy and excited. I always dreamt of modelling for them.

What was the casting process like?

Jirau: There wasn’t really a casting process for this. Victoria’s Secret saw me modelling at New York Fashion Week, followed my posts on social media and selected me for the campaign.

Have you had a chance to meet the other women in the campaign, like Hailey Baldwin and Priyanka Chopra?

Jirau: I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Hailey or Priyanka, but I met other models during the photo shoot like Sabina Karlsson and Abby Champion. We hugged and took photos together. It was amazing.

Supermodel Helena Christensen has called you “beautiful and smart”. Have any other celebrities reached out to you to congratulate you? What did that feel like?

Jirau: Yes! Many celebrities have commented on my Instagram and shared my posts on social media. Baseball player Enrique Hernández, actress Giselle Blondet and TV host Yizette Cifredo congratulated me and told me that they were very happy and proud of me. I also received an invitation to meet the governor of Puerto Rico [Pedro Pierluisi] at his mansion. I feel grateful to all of them for spreading my message and accomplishments.

Tell us about how you first got into modelling.

Jirau: Last year I started my professional career as a model. I modelled for [couture and headpieces designer] Marisa Santiago at New York Fashion Week and San Juan Moda in Puerto Rico for designer Juan Carlos Collazo. Modelling at New York Fashion Week was a dream come true. I showed the world that people with Down’s syndrome can accomplish whatever they dream of.

What were the challenges you faced growing up with Down’s syndrome and how did you overcome them?

Jirau: The main challenge I faced was finding out what to do once I graduated from high school. I wanted to work. Unfortunately, there weren’t any jobs for people like me with Down’s syndrome. Then, [Puerto Rican professional development firm] INprende gave me a job opportunity [as an experience ambassador] and I have worked for them ever since. I love working for INprende, and I’m grateful for the entire team because they have helped me accomplish my dreams. People with Down’s syndrome are just as capable of working, holding down a job and developing their own businesses as anyone else.

You also have your own lifestyle brand­, Alavett. What was the inspiration behind this?

Jirau: Alavett is based on the phrase “I love it”. My inspiration for the brand came from self-love, hard work and motivating everyone to dream big. I live my life with no limits; I believe dreams can become a reality if we work hard, and we can all accomplish anything we set our minds to.

You’ve recently signed a major contract with L’Oréal Caribe in Puerto Rico. How does it feel to have joined the L’Oréal family?

Jirau: I am very happy and grateful for this opportunity. I love L’Oréal and I use their products on a daily basis. I’m living my dream.

How do you hope this news will inspire others?

Jirau: My advice for anyone who has Down’s syndrome or a similar diagnosis is never to forget that this world has space for everyone’s dreams. I hope this news will inspire the world to have courage. People like me are more than capable of making their dreams a reality.

What’s next for you?

Jirau: I want to model on runways around the world. I want to keep spreading the message that there are no limits.

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