Project Runway host Tim Gunn has been incredibly vocal on his belief that the fashion industry fails to cater to all shapes and sizes. In a scathing op-ed for The Washington Post earlier this year, the fashion mentor slammed designers for not creating for the plus-size market or acknowledging the size of contemporary women.
Considering that Gunn seems devoted to standardizing the sizes the majority of women in the United States wear, it’s not surprising that his Christmas list aligns with the notion as well. The television personality shared his wish list with the New York Post, and No. 2 on the list reads, “A new season of Project Runway in which all of the models are size 12/14-plus.”
“Isn’t it time that fashion designers address the real world?” he wonders. Gunn isn’t wrong; more than 67 percent of women in the United States are considered plus-size (size 14 and up). This vast market is often neglected by designers, and Gunn is one of the many figures within the industry who are working to change that.
“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women,” Gunn wrote in the Washington Post piece. “It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University.”
Gunn also noted how lucrative the plus-size market is. “There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”
Along with the opinion piece, Gunn has also more recently been featured in a segment for PBS NewsHour in which he urged designers to widen their target clientele and explained how much more successful they could become by doing so.
Interestingly enough, only one contestant has designed a plus-size collection for the show’s final episode — designer Ashley Tipton in Season 14. “I hope that I’m starting something, where people feel that it is expected to have plus-size models walk in New York Fashion Week,” Tipton said at the time of the collection’s release. “I hope this starts a whole revolution, that plus-size is accepted in fashion.”
Although one would have expected Gunn to be supportive of Tipton working to bridge the gap in the market, the fashion mentor was far from it. In his Washington Post piece, he slammed the designer for her “hideous clothes.” “Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show’s first plus-size collection. But even this achievement managed to come off as condescending,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout ‘prom.’”
Gunn felt that her victory was not warranted and her designs did not bring the plus-size industry any justice. “Her victory reeked of tokenism,” he wrote. “One judge told me that she was ‘voting for the symbol’ and that these were clothes for a ‘certain population.’ I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn’t dream of letting any woman, whether she’s a size 6 or a 16, wear them. A nod toward inclusiveness is not enough.”
Although Gunn wasn’t a fan of Tipton’s designs, that doesn’t mean he is not fully supportive of increasing plus-size awareness and the scope of the market. Training designers within an upcoming season of the program to cater to only the plus-size market would be an interesting twist for a show that has remained unchanged for years.
Considering Gunn has been a fixture on Project Runway since the show’s debut in 2004, he must hold considerable weight and might even be able to make the plus-size season happen. It could be interesting to see what’s in store for the show’s 16th season.