Expose! Plus Size Women in Haute Couture

Expose! Plus Size Women in Haute Couture

“What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people.”

KARL LAGERFELD, VOGUE (2004)

Skinny models, slim models, tall models… that’s about as diverse as it gets.

In an industry that has been a global business since 1995, luxury is not appealing to the overall consumer. Considering luxury brands thrive on what people think about that brand, it’s pretty misguided to ignore around 40 million individuals and a $24 million business opportunity.

I adore the runway, fashion week, designer houses and ateliers. I see the most beautiful clothes by Isabel Marant and Givenchy, as well as flawless and angelic models, such as Adut Akech and Bella Hadid. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t really notice the lack of body representation in each show. The “traditional” model that Karl Lagerfeld envisions is how it’s always been in high-fashion; Chanel originating in 1910, Dior in 1946, these brands were known for showcasing tiny waists. The corset may be back in fashion, but the desire to be just as thin as women throughout the 1900s should not be.

I can’t really scrutinise the luxury fashion industry too much because there is evidence of plus-size women in couture since the mid-80s. Vogue is the fashion magazine no doubt about that. But, Vogue is also notorious for promoting a very narrow definition of beauty and the body. However, even Vogue realised that women’s bodies change, there is no ‘true self’. The March 1986 issue of Vogue, “Fashion Plus” by editor Hara Estroff Maramo is a great example of mainstream media breaking down the stigma of plus-size bodies showing that they can be included in the industry. Plus size bodies were finally celebrated and recognised by designers and since then, plus size high-profile models appeared on the cover of magazines around the world; Candice Huffaine shot in Vogue Italia in 2011, Robyn Lynn for Cosmopolitan Australia in 2018, and of course the lovely Ashley Graham for both Harper’s Bazaar and the first Vogue cover.

Great, right? But what about the other 11 issues of the year where these women were not on the cover? 

“Images have more power to shape how women feel about themselves.” 

FASHION PLUS, VOGUE (1987)

When you look at a magazine, you don’t think about the background edits and processes. Instead, you see a size 0 model and not much else. It is well known that social media doesn’t promote “real life”, it’s fake, full of photoshopped edits and models that appear to be the “perfect” size. We all tend to over-share on social media pages, which causes us to then self-reflect. Most of us have been a victim of reflecting too intensely on a post on social media, or seeing flaws that don’t necessarily exist and then not posting a photo. The “ideal self” dominates all individuals, as society, the media and celeb culture dictate how you should or shouldn’t look. We are reshaping ourselves to fit in with social constructs because of what we see in glossy magazines and what editors deem to be “attractive”. It’s where plastic surgery stems from and perhaps a reason why women especially feel the pressure to undertake such procedures. The self, mind and body is constantly idealised by advertisements and exposure to the male gaze, such as with Victoria Secret being the epitome of how men are supposed to view women in the lingerie.

There are all different and diverse body types, but the problem is that the “average” or most typical size (10,12,14, etc…) aren’t included enough in this industry. It’s disproportionate. To the industry, it’s just business – the beauty and the glamour is what sells.

Perhaps, I’m being too harsh again…

The plus size model can exist and thrive on the runway.

Looking back at Fall 2020 fashion shows, they included some high-profile and trending models. Paloma Elsesser, Fendi, Alexis Ruby, Marc Jacobs and designer favourite, Jill Kortleve for Jacquemus. This highlights a drastic change from the past; illustrating that the plus size model can exist and thrive on the runway. Then again, is it insulting to even call these models “plus size” in the first place? The key issue is that this model type is the minority. Yes, we shouldn’t be glorifying the said “unhealthy” body types and yes, I appreciate that the said “traditional” model will always exist but luxury needs to open its doors.

The business-side of the fashion industry faces challenging times ahead. Luxury in general is seen as an exclusive market in terms of affordability and rarity. There will always be a need for luxury goods, however luxury should be taking every measure to ensure long-term strategic success. Whether that be sustainability initiatives or, promoting more diverse body shapes and types on the runway to represent society more accurately.

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