the shape of things to come

When will fashion finally come to terms with its issues with body diversity?

by Princess Julia
18 March 2015, 1:55pm

I once went to a talk given by Barbara Hulanicki - you know the grand dame that owned Biba back in the 70s. She had a right old ramble about starting her business with a mail order dress that came in one size only. When asked why only the one size, she explained that in the 60s girls and women were all very slender. Barbara couldn't comprehend how people might have been any bigger and perhaps in those days, they weren't, because they sold several thousand of those one size only dresses in just a few days! While Twiggy - poster girl for the 60s - represented the not yet quite a woman, still a slip of a girl ideal - the second wave of the feminist movement was rising up and the pill was just about to become a 'thing'. The zeitgeist might have been liberation, free love, and rock 'n' roll, but for the normal person the 60s staunch Victoria values were still entrenched. Single mothers, divorce, I think not, and gay marriage - blimey forget about that, homosexuality hadn't even been legalized yet. Twiggy represented an innocent vision of womankind, full of hope for the future, but within feminist circles she was also a symbol of cultural oppression.

Fast forward 40 years and instead of 6/8 being the average women's size it's now 12/14. So what's going on? Well, we all know really don't we, so I'm not going to ramble on about that too much. Bad diets, junk food and a sedentary lifestyle have all played their part. On the other hand we're also much more interested in having a healthy attitude towards our own individual body image and being comfortable in our own skins. The process has been a slow one with mainstream supermodels of the 80s relaying a fresh and healthy body conscious sensibility. But the 80s also brought ideas of diversity to the table. Ziggi Golding's Z Agency established itself with a roster which completely revolutionized the industry and represented a new gang of models and personalities going hand in hand with the ethos of i-D, The Face and Blitz.

Then came the grunge era of the early 90s. Kate Moss - young, beautiful and listless - became the decade's official poster girl. Now 41, she still tops the list of influential style icons. Kate has gone from waif to woman with a womanly figure to match. If we're all now verging toward size 12 it makes sense that the curvier amongst us are represented on catwalks and in magazines.

Still, it seems to me the tall, skinny girls are the preferred 'model'. It's interesting. I go to a number of shows every season and it's still rare to see an 'average' sized girl walk. There is an element of street casting going on but it's only the most daring designers that care to step out of the standardized model catwalker regarding size. It's almost a given that clothes look better on a tall, rake-thin girl as opposed to a curvaceous and amply covered female. Perhaps it starts at the drawing board of design and carries through to the final realization? Of course there have been occasions in the past when we've seen different shapes on the catwalk, Sophie Dahl broke the mould in the 90s, and who can forget how Jean Paul Gaultier got his spectacular chum Beth Ditto in for a sashay down the catwalk?

Right now things really are diversifying: Ed Marler adamantly casts his models from the array of stylish friends he has whilst keeping an eye on street cast beauties. And this season, Dame Viv Westwood roped in 6'3" Game Of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie for a strut down her Paris catwalk. With an optimistic eye, beauty and style doesn't stop at the size 6, under 20-year-olds. More and more the industry is recognizing the need to represent a wider demographic.

Edward Meadham recently explained his views on the matter... "For me it feels completely irrelevant to present my clothes on 6ft tall anorexic girls, I am more interested in beauty of character and personality and individuality. The model agencies only sign girls (or boys) who fit into a specific mould, a specific look, shape and size, they are chosen to look the same. When we held our open casting for our Reject Everything show we specified that model looks were not required. I was rejecting the ideals of the model industry in favor of individuality and people who looked alive, who's brains and thoughts are reflected in their eyes."

Caryn Franklin also has a lot to say about body diversity at All Walks Beyond The Catwalk; her mission to redefine models and the role fashion plays in real life. And what about the men, where are we seeing our bulkier boys represented? Back in the noughties, stylist Julian Ganio presented his degree show collection using the chunkier men among us... it caused a few ripples. "The reaction was pretty positive," Julian remembers, "I guess it was more 'different' and that was interesting." He adds, "Boys are either stick thin in Paris or muscular in Milan and New York. There are a small amount of bulkier lads and I'd like to use these guys if it fits with the concept and idea, but it can be hard to find next seasons samples that would fit well." And therein lies a bit of a conundrum; where to find samples that fit a range of sizes to accommodate the array of shapes the human form comes in.

However Jamie Ellis, model booker at IMG says things are on the turn around, "There is definitely a lot of interest in curvy models, from the commercial side right up to the high fashion end of the spectrum. In fact our curvy models are promoted alongside all the other roster of models on our books instead of being compartmentalized in a separate division. One of our top talents is Ashley Graham who's been getting a lot of press and has shot with the likes of Solve Sundsbo and appeared in Love magazine. She's absolutely stunning, with airs of Cindy Crawford, very eloquent and extremely funny. She's testament to the burgeoning conversation the industry is having on model diversity."

It's not that designers, stylists and agents aren't considering size or age, in fact they are stepping up to the fact. i-D cover girl Felicity Hayward has been 'curve' modeling her way to the top and takes her role model duties very seriously. Currently representing Asos as a curve ambassador and personal stylist she's been photographed by Miles Aldridge and Patrick Demarchelier and is very keen to put her point across. Picking out outfits for curvier girls she says, "I don't think there are enough 'bigger' role models, especially in the fashion industry, some younger girls are afraid to come out of their shells. You want to look up to someone who's more extreme and take elements from other people who are more confident to create your own style."

Felicity is a great fan of Anna Nicole Smith, she doesn't want to be her but is inspired by her style. She goes on to say, "If you compare it to five years ago there wasn't enough range for bigger girls. Beth Ditto's Evans collection proved there was a niche for adventurous clothing designed specifically for bigger girls." Felicity modeled at Beth's launch of the range in 2009 and from then on she hasn't looked back. "I think the fashion industry is taking more risks... it makes sense to cater for larger people, we have become bigger so why wouldn't they. A lot of curve girls become ambassadors. You're going to be able to achieve the vision of the creative team you're working with if you're happy with who you are. With me I won't change for anyone." She says, "I don't feel any pressure to lose weight and maybe I would get more work if I did but I would looe part of my personality." Surely the time has come to celebrate, get your curve, age or gender on and get out there, lets face it we come in all shapes, sizes and ages.


Text Princess Julia
Photography Mitchell Sams

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