For the last five years, I’ve reported from backstage at New York Fashion Week as a beauty and style editor. I know what you’re thinking—must be glamorous. But actually, while it can be fun to see all the gorgeous clothes up close, it can also be something of an emotional challenge. Not just because I’m constantly fighting to catch cabs from uptown to downtown, or wrestling other reporters to get that perfect quote from Gigi Hadid—but largely because I’m spending seven days in a row face-to-face with women that many people believe to be among the most beautiful in the world.
At 5’2” and 145 pounds, no one would mistake me for a model backstage. I’m the short, curvy, black woman, kneeling between the manicurist and the hairstylist to get an interview. Or, you can spot me floating near the craft services table, munching on bite-size snacks. So, you can only imagine what I look like standing next to these goddesses in designer clothes. Or at least, what I think I look like in comparison. I’m normally pretty confident, but there’s something about being in such close proximity to these women that magnifies every body insecurity I have (which is totally not their fault; for what it’s worth, the models are generally professional, sweet, and surprisingly shy backstage).
It’s also worth noting that it’s not just the models that make me feel this way. I’ve often admired the clothes lining the racks backstage but thought to myself, that silhouette will never work with my muscular thighs and wide hips. And I’m not alone in these thoughts, either. When I started to ask other editors about their own experiences, it was more of the same. “In terms of body type, some clothing simply wasn’t cut for me,” says Janell Hickman, a fashion editor and freelance beauty writer who’s covered Fashion Week for the last six years. “Or, something that looks great on someone else with a smaller frame, like a body-con dress, is more distracting or even ‘too sexy’ on me.”
At some point, I began to feel like Fashion (with a capital F) was not made for me—and I’m only a size six. This problem is more pronounced for women who are size 12 and up. “I’ve always been a big girl, and I always loved fashion. But it felt like something totally not accessible to me,” CeCe Olisa, co-founder of CurvyCon and author of the blog Plus Size Princess, tells SELF. “I had subscriptions to all the fashion magazines. It was almost like a wish list, not something that I could really step into and be a part of.”
Who can blame us for feeling like outsiders? When you look at the runway, it’s nothing like what we see on the sidewalks or in the shopping malls. SELF assistant beauty and style editor Alexis Bennett summed up the feeling perfectly. “When you have shows where 95 percent of the models look exactly the same, it sends a message to the world. It says, ‘This is beauty. And if you don’t fit into this narrow category, you aren’t good enough.'”
Of course, it’s no wonder that I and many others can feel out of place. A recent study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education found that the average American woman is a size 16. In contrast, the vast majority of the items that make it down the catwalk during Fashion Week are sample sizes, which are typically size zero or two, and are essentially a preview of the actual clothes that will be made in the months to come. Then, over the next three months, the team sizes up the item for mass distribution in stores. So, the pattern that was made as a sample is copied and expanded for sizes four and up.
This process is one explanation of why certain (small) sized models have been the norm. In order to showcase more size diversity on the runway, many designers would have to develop a different manufacturing process, which can require months of forethought because the samples must be made in multiple sizes. That can add time and money to the typical production schedule because more fabric is used, more fit model fittings may be required, and more samples must be made. In addition, clothing patterns have to be rearranged to work for curvier body types. The same pattern that works on a size two, won’t necessarily work for a size 22 because the proportions are different. So, when you’re designing a line to work for plus-size women, you have to keep that in mind from the start, and finding the perfect fit requires a lot of trial and error.
“I feel like people in the industry are scared to take that chance because it’s not easy to design plus-size clothing,” Ashley Nell Tipton, winner of Project Runway season 14, tells SELF. Additionally, Tipton says that there are also durability issues for plus-size clothes that designers have to think about. “The lifetime of plus-size clothing is not the same as [for] a straight-size woman. We have a lot of rubbing in our thighs, so our jeans tend to wear out quickly or the stitching on our shirts doesn’t last [as] long,” she says. Before it was time to debut her first clothing collaboration with JC Penney Boutique+ at NYFW, Tipton took all her designs on a road test to make sure fabrics didn’t fray or rub the wrong way.
But designer Becca McCharen of Chromat says that none of this is an excuse. “Sure, adding extra time to the schedule for the development of the different sizes can add cost,” McCharen wrote to SELF in an email. “But if the garments go into production, the technical designer has to size up the patterns into the full-size run anyways. So, I don’t know if economics is a good reason to choose homogeneity.” Indeed, some designers are now adopting a see-now-buy-now model where multiple sizes are immediately available in stores following a show. It’s a departure from the typical production cycle, and it’s also a great opportunity to showcase more sizes on the runway.
Designer Christian Siriano also acknowledges that the fitting experience is different when you’re accommodating different body types, but he’s ready to change the look of the runway, no matter the challenges. “When we make a sample for the first time, you don’t always know if it’s really going to work on every shape,” he told SELF at the launch of his fall collection with Lane Bryant. However, he adds, “if it’s not going to really work if she’s a size 12, 14, 16, then those are the dresses we usually cut from the collection.” Siriano has been applauded for his ability (and, honestly, willingness) to dress women of many different sizes. He’s designed for models like Coco Rocha and actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones. On top of that, this season was his first time featuring plus-size models in his primary presentation.
Customers are vocalizing a desire to see themselves represented by the fashion brands they love, and the body positivity movement has been driving the dialogue to effect change. “[Women] are a lot more excited and unapologetic about our bodies,” model Asia Shane, who walked in the Byron Lars Beauty Mark show this season, tells SELF. “We are putting pressure on the designers, [saying] it’s unacceptable that you don’t cater to us.”
In addition, the blogging community has been crucial in catapulting body-diverse models to the main stage at NYFW. “If the fashion designer as an artist wants to select their canvas, I don’t think that it’s my place to do more than suggest that they look at a different canvas,” Olisa said. “And if they choose not to, that’s the beauty of being a plus-size blogger. I’ll take the garment, and I’ll put it on. Then, you’ll see how it looks if you have a little bit of extra jiggle in your thighs.”
This September, I noticed something refreshing: Models who looked more like me—different shades of brown skin, curly Afro hair that wasn’t straightened into submission, and voluptuous body types—strolling down the catwalk. Overall, casting directors are seeing a difference in the requests that come in for NYFW. Becca Thorpe, an agent with Muse Management, says that she is noticing a higher demand for plus-size models, also known as curve models, than ever before. Siriano, for example, included five plus-size ensembles among his 51 total looks for Spring 2017.
Many women are applauding the brands that are committing to this type of inclusivity. “A few years ago, it was more segregated and there was Full Figured Fashion Week [for curve models],” says Tashina Zamlowski, an agent at TRUE Model Management. “Now, the straight-size designers are including models in wheelchairs, models with curves, and athletic models on the runway.” Take the Chromat runway as an example. In addition to plus-size models, the lineup included transgender women, women of color, a pregnant dancer, and a woman who uses a prosthetic leg. And on the Tracy Reese runway, there were women of various ages, sizes, and ethnicities represented—and not all of them were professional models.
And this change isn’t just happening on the runway. Several body-positive fashion campaigns went viral in 2016, plus-size model Ashley Graham was on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, and unretouched stretch marks appeared in several nationwide ads. The message is clear: It’s time for something different, something that feels relatable and authentic.
According to the The Fashion Spot’s Spring 2017 Runway Diversity Report, out of the 2,973 models that walked in the Spring 2017 New York Fashion Week shows, only 16 were considered plus size. And across New York, London, Milan, and Paris, 25 percent of the models were women of color. In addition, there were only 10 transgender models and 13 mature models cast during the whole of Fashion Month—all stats that show there is a need for improvement when it comes to diversity in fashion.
So where do we go from here? Yes, there are more and more designers including models of various sizes on the runway, but there are more aspects of inclusivity that cannot be ignored. “At some point, we just have to integrate. The conversation needs to be less about diversity and more about programming what people think is beautiful—because it’s not necessarily just about curves,” says Denise Bidot, a plus-size model who walked in the Chromat show. “It’s about age; it’s about ethnic backgrounds. There is so much more to cover and so much more to be included in. While I think it’s wonderful how far we’ve come, I think there needs to be more than one seat at the table.”
For me and others like me, we want to look at a designer’s clothing coming down the runway and know that it will work with our curvy hips because the models we see on the catwalk are similar to what we see in the dressing room mirror. We want to feel empowered and accepted by fashion insiders, no matter our age or skin color. “We all have to wear clothes,” says Hickman. “You should be able to ‘see’ yourself in something across the board. If you want to make the largest profit, you need to sell to everyone—not just one sector.”
This year was a good start, and hopefully Fashion Week runways continue to transform to look like the melting pot that is the world we live in. “I remember growing up when there was a day that you couldn’t look on the runway and see anyone that didn’t look the same—every [model] was pretty much a clone of the other,” says Bidot. “Fast-forward to now and my daughter is going to get to grow up in a world where she never sees herself being an outcast or feeling like she doesn’t fit in. She gets to grow up seeing herself on the runways and on billboards.” If this is the future of fashion, you bet I’ll be backstage cheering everyone on.
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Source Article from http://www.self.com/story/diversity-in-fashion-2016