Tall, athletic and bestowed with that particular type of beauty that is catnip to the fashion industry, it was only natural that Lauren Wasser would follow in the footsteps of her parents both former models, and become a model herself. That Wasser’s footsteps are different from most people’s has been no impediment to her success.
In 2012, aged 24, Wasser fell victim to toxic shock syndrome, a condition caused by an excess of staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the body which can produce a deadly toxin in the bloodstream. After being given a one per cent chance of survival by doctors, she was placed into a medically induced coma. Ten days later, she woke up to find that gangrene had set into her feet. Her right leg was amputated shortly after. After enduring several years of excruciating pain, her left leg was amputated in 2018.
Which made her appearance on the runway at Louis Vuitton’s Cruise show all the more inspiring, given how hard she has battled to overcome a level of physical and mental trauma that would have felled most people.
Dressed in a long silver coat and knee-length silver shorts that revealed her gold prosthetic legs, Wasser, 34, was the show’s biggest talking point, of far greater interest than the starry front row that numbered Phoebe Dynevor, Gemma Chan, Lea Seydoux and Squid Games star Jung Ho-yeon.
As well she should be, for Wasser is a model with a cause. If anyone can raise awareness of toxic shock syndrome, it’s the model dubbed “the girl with the golden legs”.
Certainly, the Bond reference is appropriate for this brave, resilient woman who now dedicates her life to raising awareness of TSS. On Instagram, where she posts as @theimpossiblemuse, she has a link in her bio to dontshockme.org, a website that raises awareness of a condition which is estimated to affect 3-6 people per 100,000 every year.
As well as campaigning for better education around the dangers of feminine hygiene products, she is currently working on a documentary about her experience. She is also training to run the New York City Marathon in November.
While she was a guest at several fashion shows including Balenciaga, Off-White and Louis Vuitton in March, Wasser’s turn in the Vuitton show was her first major catwalk appearance since ill-health forced her to put her modelling career on hold. It was judiciously chosen to make an impact. Louis Vuitton is the world’s most valuable luxury brand, worth more than £12.5 billion in 2021. Budget is never a concern at a Vuitton show, but post-pandemic, with the world finally opened up again, it’s fair to say that the budget was well and truly blown. Guests were flown in from all over the world to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, a brutalist Sixties building that proved the perfect backdrop to creative director Nicolas Ghesquière’s latest vision.
Described by the designer as “nomads of the future”, the models wore Dune-like armour in gold, silver and copper hues whose radiance was much amplified by the sun, the show having been timed to coincide with sunset. Ultra-shiny leathers, metallic denim and embroidery that oxidises and changes colour with time were three key features of the collection.
No expense may have been spared, but the visuals generated by the spectacle were worth their weight in gold, given how rapidly they spread on social media. This is how luxury brands advertise now: with lavish shows that make a strong visual impact whose purpose is to cut through all the chatter and provide a genuine talking point.
That Lauren Wasser’s cause was as big a talking point as the clothes is a huge positive for those who have suffered from toxic shock syndrome, and a personal triumph for a woman who has overcome so much.