From Shelter to Catwalk

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:01

A recovering addict getting back on his feet will walk as a model at Fashion Week

David Butler spends his nights at the NYC Rescue Mission, checking residents in and out of the showers and performing general housekeeping duties. He's been enrolled in the shelter's 12-step recovery program for about five and a half months, and it's going well.

But during Fashion Week, he'll be doing something unusual for a man with no address: Walking down the runway for Unruly Heir, a label launched by creative directors Joey Goodwin and John Gagliano in 2007. Goodwin said the label specializes in classic men's sportswear with an irreverent and non-conformist philosophy.

The idea started about a week ago when Goodwin met with TJ Hadley, the mission's manager for gifts in kind. Hadley's job is to connect homeless men with contributions from the community - businesses, schools and other interested parties who want to help out. Goodwin had tutored a resident some years earlier and stopped by to make a donation. An idea was formed to incorporate the mission in Fashion Week, and it was decided that the best way to do that was to have a resident in the recovery program walk the runway.

"I picked David because David always says yes," said Hadley. "He gave himself to the program and said 'tell me what to do.' He deserves a chance like this."

Butler, 34, is a recovering cocaine addict from Willingboro, NJ. He has two sons, Israel, 5, and Zion, 7. Both are in foster care and his goal is to get them back.

"[Hadley] noticed that I'm outgoing and willing to help with anything that anybody needs me to help with," said Butler. "When I'm here I do my job duties and I reach out to do other things besides that."

For Goodwin, it was an authentic way to bring attention to a worthy cause and in keeping with his rebel sensibility. The collection - named The Fortunate Son Brigade - is cheeky, poking fun at the fashion industry that Goodwin said is fighting a war that means nothing. Aesthetically, it borrows from images of the Vietnam war.

"We're poking fun at the whole establishment and ourselves as well," said Goodwin. "It's fun, when it has meaning. It's not just about getting your name out there. It just seems like it means a little bit more. Doing what we're doing with David is extremely positive."

Initially the idea was for the mission to have an information booth at Fashion Week, with Unruly Heir's literature suggesting a donation to the shelter. With Butler participating, it's become a way to tell a story of hope and recovery.

"Being in a fashion show is so outside anything that David has done before," said Hadley. "He wants to show everybody how he got back on his feet."

Is he nervous? "A tiny bit," said Butler. "I'm not really that nervous because this is something I've been wanting to do, just to try, so I'm looking forward to it."

Butler said he's thrilled to get a look into the world of fashion models, which most people only read about in tabloids and gossip magazines. But to actually be there and experience it for himself? "I'm excited," said Butler. "I can see what the models go through and I get to experience that."

Butler said he's been homeless for seven months, and came to the mission about five months ago. He picked up a cocaine habit in Wellingboro, right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia where he was born. He came to New York and started staying at the mission and enrolled in the recovery program soon after.

"I feel real good about it," said Butler. "Before I joined the program I was tired of doing what I was doing, I just wanted help."

Butler has already completed the mission's resume program and has a background in warehouse work. He plans on securing a job upon completing the recovery program and supporting his family.