Getting to know fashion editor Jillian Mercado, Fashion Merchandising Management ’10, Diesel’s most talked-about model

Fame has been good to Jillian Mercado, executive editorial director of WeTheUrban, an online fashion, art, and music magazine. She caused a media sensation in January when she appeared in Diesel’s Reboot ad campaign, created by artistic director Nicola Formichetti, mastermind of Lady Gaga’s insanest getups. Hue spoke with Mercado about her chair, her career, and her fabulous hair.
How did the Diesel ad come about?
I met Nicola Formichetti in February 2013 at a fashion week party for WeTheUrban. We hit it off, talking about our dogs all night. One day, he posted on his Facebook page that he was doing a casting call. I submitted some photos, and two or three weeks later, I got an email saying they were really interested in me. I was like, “Whaaaaat? This is not happening!”
Were you nervous about such intense exposure?
It was a risk. I didn’t want people to think this was a Make-A-Wish Foundation kind of photo, because I sleep, eat, and drink the fashion industry. For their part, I know they had a huge meeting about me. They opened a conversation that’s been buried for a long time, which is that we don’t really have diversity in fashion. It’s really sad to say that. But I’m the only one in a wheelchair at fashion week.
What is the medical condition that keeps you in a wheelchair?
It’s called spastic muscular dystrophy. In certain parts of my body, my muscles get tight all of a sudden. They say it’s hereditary but no one in my family has it. As a child, I was told I had cerebral palsy, but finally the doctors figured out that nothing was wrong with my brain. At an appointment, I read my diagnosis on my chart. They didn’t tell me. They thought I knew.
Who’s the other model in the picture?
James Astronaut. He’s an artist and designer, but he’s also a model. The original idea was to pair me with the six other bloggers at the shoot. At the last second, they were like, “You and James have the same hair color. Let’s put you together.”
What’s your natural color?
A really dark brown. Like super dark, almost hitting black. I never was a fan of natural hair colors. I’ve tried all the Revlon and Garnier boxes in the drugstore, and natural color just isn’t fun for me. I can’t spice up my outfits with it.
And now you share a hairstylist with Courtney Love?
I hooked her up with my hairstylist. At a photo shoot for WeTheUrban, Courtney Love was in the next room, complaining about how her hair was in knots. My hairdresser did her hair, and Courtney fell in love with her.
What has happened as a result of the Diesel campaign?
I’ve gotten interviews almost every day for four months now. And that is so unheard of, a campaign being so relevant four months later. I thought it was going to last a week.

—Jonathan Vatner