This is the era of the fashion clapback. The power of social media means hardly a week passes without a designer or big name brand being held to account about issues such as racial diversity and discrimination, cultural appropriation and copying. But are attitudes to plus size fashion changing fast enough? New York designer Prabal Gurung doesn’t think so, revealing the ‘snickering’ his collaboration with plus size US retailer Lane Bryant drew from industry peers. He was even asked ‘why are you designing for fat people?’ by one acquaintance. Such comments are shocking, and yet shockingly common - despite the fact that the average UK size is a 16, and the equivalent of a UK 20 in the US – so just why does plus size fashion still feel like the final frontier?
A new documentary Straight/Curve sets out to address these outdated attitudes: ‘The issue of size is hugely stigmatised in the US and the UK, and a lot of the western world,’ says the film’s director Jenny McQuaile. ‘One health expert in our film tells us “we definitely see largeness as failure”. And as a society, we praise and celebrate women who are thin and white. We spread the message that this is what you have to look like to be successful and happy. This absolutely has to stop.”
Plus size models Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence
The film, which is lined up for UK release later this year, brings together views from those within the industry – a diverse range of models, academics, and designers – as well as young people being shaped by fashion imagery. Resoundingly, the message is that something needs to change – but whose responsibility is it?
‘The biggest hurdle we face in an attempt to offer a broad range of sizes has been at retail,’ says Gurung. ‘We’ve always been able to cut up to a size 22 (UK 26), however the retailers only tend to buy up to a 12 (UK 16). Overall the industry has been slow to adapt and I still have people ask me why I’m doing this. What we really need to see is more designers here in the US and in Europe introduce a range of sizes in their collections and on the runway.’
While the blame is often placed soley with retailers and designers, Straight/Curve suggests another party is also at fault – educators. If designing for a broad spectrum of sizes is not taught as the norm, little wonder that there’s scant interest in doing so when a young designer is building a brand on limited resources.
Ultimately, McQuaile believes the power of imagery in the Instagram age needs to be recognised, and harnessed for good: ‘The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words, so we simply must change the images we are creating and seeing.’
As founder of Milk Management, Anna Shillinglaw agrees. A former model who ‘never felt slim enough’, she wanted to represent all kinds of women with her own agency. Signings include Nicky Griffin, Sabina Karlsson, Denise Bidot and Robyn Lawley who feature in Straight/Curve, as well as Tess Holliday the 5 foot 2, UK size 26, tattooed model who has taken the industry by storm. Shillinglaw believes there’s still a long way to go, but that the industry has reached a tipping point as brands are realising the billion-pound industry that they’re excluding themselves from: ‘In the last three months I’ve had top casting directors calling, about high end jobs I could only have dreamed about for my girls. Thanks to social media, the world is so much more educated now, it’s a real moment of change.’
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