The Spring/Summer 2021 runways set milestones for the plus-size community in luxury fashion. The Versace show included three plus-size models — Alva Claire, Jill Kortleve, and Precious Lee — on the runway, a first for the brand; Salvatore Ferragamo tapped Paloma Elsesser as the label’s first curve model; Fendi featured plus-size models for the second season in a row; and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty cast a male plus-size model to promote the men’s line. But does this mean that the fight for curve representation in high fashion has been won?
Typically, plus-size can be defined as sizes 12 and up. While contemporary labels like Michael Michael Kors or Lauren Ralph Lauren offer sizing up to a 3X, their luxury counterparts may not be as inclusive. Despite the plus-size fashion industry being estimated at $21 billion, most high fashion brands are hesitant to carry above a size 12. For accessible lines, it is important for labels to offer clothes for a diverse clientele so as to maximise profit. However, on the runways, designers continue to be selective in who gets to wear what. Although the recent choice of including plus-size models seems to suggest that designers are pivoting in a more size-inclusive direction, for some, it may be more of a trend.
Versace only carries up to a large or Italian size 46 on its website, which is the equivalent of a U.S. size 10, according to a sizing chart provided by the brand. The site does offer limited pieces (mostly T-shirts and leggings) up to XXL, and robes up to 5XL. Fendi’s online retailer carries up to a size 16, while Ferragamo goes up to XL. The most inclusive brand of the four is Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, which carries up to 3X. However, the range of sizes does not account for inconsistencies in sizing between brands.
Despite not including plus-size models in their runway shows, other brands have extended their size options. Dolce & Gabbana and Max Mara currently sell up to a U.S. 18, but neither have cast plus-size models in their most recent ad campaigns or catwalks. Other luxury labels offer up to size 14/16, but this marginalises members of the community who wear larger sizes. Nevertheless, this reflects a substantial change from the status quo, considering that two years ago, Dolce & Gabbana only carried up to a size 12.
With the rise of the body positivity movement, plus-size models have garnered significant support in the past few years. Dutch model Jill Kortleve had an impressive breakout season for Spring/Summer 2019, making her debut at Alexander McQueen and going on to become the first curve model to walk a Chanel show in 10 years. Meanwhile, curve model Ashley Graham has walked for designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Prabal Gurung and Fendi. In 2016, she also became the first size 16 model to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. However, the next year, it was reported that several companies would not dress Graham for one of her 2017 cover shoots because of her size.
This points to the fault of the fashion system at large to celebrate diverse body types. There are gatekeepers at each step — from casting runway shows to featuring models in publications to dressing models for publicity or events — and without the support of all of these different facets, there will never be complete inclusion.
While the needle towards plus-size representation has definitely experienced a shift, the reality is that many brands continue to dismiss curve consumers. Plus-size representation means not only offering people size 12 and up an opportunity to own and to wear luxury fashion, but also allowing them to see bodies like their own represented in the media. Plus-size fashion is definitely having a moment, but for it to become truly mainstream, all fashion houses have to play a part in this change.
Representation comes with a sense of validation — when luxury labels cast curve models, the industry itself is telling them that they are worthy of being fashionable. With that kind of widespread acceptance, not only can plus-size men and women occupy a space in the fashion industry and use their voices, but they can feel like they belong there, too.