Fashion Month has wrapped, but that doesn’t mean we’re done talking about size inclusivity in the industry. After watching plus size representation at fashion week take a disappointing step backwards in February 2020 (a.k.a. the last normal pre-pandemic Fashion Month) and then seeing few—if any—plus models in the digital shows during lockdown, I was fully bracing myself for this Fashion Month to backslide progress even further.
So this season, I was pleasantly surprised when more designers included plus models than ever before.
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At New York Fashion Week alone, there were curve or plus models on runways like Altuzarra, Moschino, Prabal Gurung, Khaite, Michael Kors, Anna Sui, Tanya Taylor, Maisie Wilsen, Rachel Comey, LaQuan Smith, Eckhaus Latta, Markarian and more. For many designers, this was the season to take a stab at curve model inclusion on the runways.
It was my first time seeing a curve model walk Naeem Khan, for example—and his sumptuous designs look just as stunning on a fuller figure. I hope to see more plus models in his shows going forward.
Staud, a brand that quietly launched plus sizes back in May—and I do mean quietly, to the point where they refrained from commenting publicly on the decision—finally chose to acknowledge their extended size offerings on the runway, with plus models Paloma Elsesser and Devyn Garcia looking amazing in their designs. Hopefully more plus representation on their social media will follow, because the runway shot of Paloma is the first time in recent history a non-sample-size model has graced their IG page.
Fresh names on the NYFW calendar made their debut with plus on the runway, from fashion industry darling Peter Do’s vibrant minimalism to C’Est D’s pastel grunge vibes to Chuks Collins’ unique take on athleisure with TASOU.
Also making her NYFW debut was designer Renee Cafaro, showing her millennium-inspired couture collection. This was the only entirely plus-size event on the official Fashion Week calendar held in person, featuring a range of plus model body types, from the statuesque Emme (known to many as the original plus supermodel) to up-and-coming models well above size 14 with fuller busts, bellies and thighs.
These types of plus bodies aren’t usually considered when it comes to runway representation. And it matters.
Another new arrival to Fashion Week was Selkie, the brand best known for their signature diaphanous Puff Dress. Though they technically showed a few days outside of the official NYFW calendar, their dreamy event at Elizabeth Street Garden was still a season standout, both in aesthetics and size inclusion.
Selkie’s commitment to serving an extended range of sizes went beyond the beautifully diverse runway. The front row had arguably the most plus-size attendees I’ve ever seen (even compared to some plus-specific shows!). There was also a riveting modern dance performance by a plus dancer and a pre-show gifting suite with dresses up to 5X on the racks.
As someone who has been attending NYFW for over 15 seasons now, I can tell you firsthand that this is beyond rare. The resulting show felt like a true celebration of beauty in all forms—and showed a sharp contrast to the excuses of established designers who refuse to include body diversity in their shows.
If a small label debuting at fashion week can weave inclusion throughout their show, why can’t the big brands keep up?
Those of us asking for size inclusivity on the runways don’t want a one-and-done walk, either. We want long-term commitment. Designers known for delivering exactly that, like Christian Siriano and Chromat, continued to showcase a variety of sizes in their SS22 shows. Siriano had eight plus models in his show (the most this season, per The Fashion Spot’s diversity report).
Chromat’s beautiful beachside runway was one of the best castings of the season, with a celebration of non-cis-het beauty of all shapes and sizes and a collection of swimwear combining form and function for trans bodies at the beach.
Pleasant body diversity surprises were much more common this season, too. When I attended Roopa Pemmaraju’s vibrant secret garden presentation, for example, I was expecting to have to ask for #plussizeplease—but in fact, I saw a gorgeous, visibly plus model in the show and the brand was already offering plus.
Pemmaraju’s show wasn’t the only one to leave me pleasantly surprised. Making his big return to New York Fashion Week after four years showing in Paris, Altuzarra made waves with plus models on the runway. Chuks Collins closed out his stunning eponymous show with another icon of the plus community, model Liris Crosse. Jonathan Simkhai included visibly plus size models on his runway and took one of the few plus-size guests in attendance to the Met Gala just days later (Barbie Ferreira, in one of the best looks of the night).
I’d love for these moments to be the rule instead of the exception, but in the meantime, I’ll celebrate whilst continuing to push for more.
New York is typically the best of a bad bunch when it comes to size inclusivity during Fashion Month, so it was another pleasant surprise to see big-name designers bring some body diversity as shows continued in Milan and Paris (though London was notably lacking this season).
Seeing plus models walk for brands like Versace, Fendi, Marni, Etro, Lanvin, Chloe, Balmain and Chanel was all but unimaginable just a few years back, so every curve on the runway felt like a little victory.
But though this long and illustrious list of shows might seem like a sea change, it is important to remember that we’re still talking incremental gains here. The vast majority of shows during Fashion Month featured no plus models at all. Shows with a variety of plus body types were rarer yet: At Paris Fashion Week, only one designer (Ester Manas) cast more curve and plus models than straight-size counterparts.
There were some undeniable stars of the season when it came to plus models, with Precious Lee and Paloma Elsesser fast approaching supermodel status courtesy of schedules packed with prestigious shows all month long. And we truly love to see it! Both Paloma and Precious are gorgeous, hardworking representatives of the community and deserve every bit of success they are getting and more.
That said, other plus models should be getting cast in these shows alongside them, too. Otherwise, I fear that the very limited pool of plus models that prestigious designers are willing to cast from will only reinforce the idea that only a few plus bodies deserve a place in high fashion.
That said, there’s also the issue of tokenization to grapple with. I’m of the mind that I’d rather see one plus model than none at all—which is still very much the standard. Remember, this season (one of the best yet for NYFW!) still had a grand total of about 4% plus representation.
As I discussed the increase of plus models with my fellow NYFW attendees, there was a mix of excitement and skepticism from others familiar with the state of plus representation in the fashion industry. A common concern was that these gains wouldn’t go beyond a token few plus models.
The sparse history of size inclusion at NYFW shows that these concerns are not unfounded, but as more brands come on board, we can only hope that a new, more representative standard will be set.
Optimistically, this season indicates that some designers are starting to realize plus representation is becoming all but necessary, which is progress in and of itself, however small a shift it might bring about. The thing to caution against is that it simply cannot end there. If we stagnate at this point of representation, the tokenization will just become more apparent, echoing season after season to come.
Going forward, the old guard should take notes from younger designers who fully celebrate the beauty of all types of bodies on their runway, including plus models that go beyond the current handful of high-fashion favorites.
Size inclusivity, it seems, is on its way into fashion. Anything else will soon seem outdated—the last thing these designers want to be.
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