Plus-Size Models Had More Than a Moment During Fashion Month, and It’s About Time

As Fashion Month comes to an end, we’re reviewing spring’s new trends, reporting on impressive designer debuts, and taking note of the new faces rising to fashion fame. Between analyzing the shows, making personal shopping wish lists, and feverishly publishing articles, one thing we’re especially happy to be celebrating is that there have been a handful of plus-size models on the runway this season. (Rejoice!)

While there’s yet to be a full-on revolution, there is cause for celebration: Designers in New York are finally making more consistent strides towards diversifying body types on the catwalk. In case you missed it, Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund nominee Chromat kept in line with the label’s 2015 show and cast more than one token curvy model. Canadian plus-size retailer Addition Elle had its very first show for holiday and debuted model Ashley Graham’s buzzed-about lingerie line. And at Project Runway‘s finale, contestant Ashley Nell Tipton showcased her plus-size collection on—you guessed it—bigger models. But by far the most impressive moments took place when Sophie Theallet and Marc Jacobs sent Candice Huffine and Beth Ditto, respectively, down their high-fashion runways.

“Yesterday, a question I’ve received for most of my career, ‘When are you going to walk in Fashion Week?’ was finally answered—the right way,” Huffine told Glamour the day after Theallet’s show. “I couldn’t imagine a better debut than for Sophie Theallet. There’s no one like her, and I’m beyond proud to be a part of her efforts to celebrate diversity and showcase the beauty of all women. It was an absolute honor to be a part of one of the most diverse runways you’ll see.”

Candice Huffine on the Sophie Theallet runway on September 16.

Singer Beth Ditto on the Marc Jacobs runway on September 17.

Sabina Karlsson on the Chromat runway on September 11.

Jennifer Maitland at the Project Runway showcase on September 11.

Another big win for curvier models on the runway? The majority of their appearances at spring ’16 fashion month have been clothed, unlike fall ’15 when most of the plus-size models were walking for sexy lingerie labels like Zana Bayne. “We’re finally seeing more curvy bodies at New York Fashion Week and there’s no reason why people doing proper [non-lingerie] collections can’t do that too,” says model Naomi Shimada. “Why aren’t they? I don’t think fashion takes plus-size seriously yet. Nobody wants to be the first to take big steps to make change, so instead we’re doing things very slowly—but at least they’re trying, something is better than nothing.”

These instances add to the major developments we’ve already seen in the industry’s slow shift toward including women beyond a size zero. Other recent highlights include Lane Bryant’s runaway #ImNoAngel and #PlusIsEqual campaigns shot by Vogue and i-D favorite Cass Bird, Glamour Iceland’s feature on IMG’s brood of plus-size models, Vogue giving contributor status to Huffine in its April 2014 issue, and Calvin Klein’s Perfectly Fit campaign boasting a size-10 Myla Dalbesio in late 2014. What’s more? This year, sexier publications like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,CR Fashion Book, and even the Pirelli calendar have been flaunting some extra curves.

The above publications, photographers, and clients (to name just a few) signal a significant change in the editorial and advertising aspects of the industry. For more inclusion at Fashion Weeks, all we seem to be waiting on is the designers. As model Marquita Pring puts it, “We’ve got everyone else working with curvy models. It’s the designers that need to take the next step. It’s a matter of them being receptive of us, changing their traditional mindsets, and making another sample size.”

The notorious issue barring plus-size models from hitting the runway is that sample sizes are only made in a zero or two but many industry insiders are calling for the sample size to change—or for a straight-size and plus-size version to be made. Model Julie Henderson adds, “Not having sample sizes has been designers’ excuse. But now they know we’re coming and they have to put a proper size on us. We’re going to make their clothes look amazing and we’re going to make them a billion dollars with our size! Their customers are women who will look at me and say, ‘I can relate to her and I can wear that dress. And those dresses would sell out faster than anything.”

Keep in mind, these hesitant designers are the same ones that sell up to a size 14—and sometimes even 22, by special order. There’s money to be made ($18 billion, according to Forbes) and attentive customers to please. And with the runway as accessible as it is to the public through live-streaming and collection reviews online, there’s even more reason to book more size-diverse models.

Ashley Graham on the Addition Elle runway on September 16.

So what does it feel like to have a hand in Fashion Week’s changing shape? “When they told me when they were showing [at New York Fashion Week], I couldn’t believe it,” Graham told Glamour backstage. “While I was getting my hair and makeup done backstage, I was nervous. But right before I went out, I took it all in and told myself this was going to be great. Now that it’s done, I’m really proud to have shown. It means a lot to me and everyone watching—to me, this is showing women in America that you are included, we haven’t forgotten about you.”

While the runways are still 99 percent made up of straight-size models, the demand for more body diversity is snowballing. In 2010, designer Mark Fast booked curvy models Camilla Hansen and Laura Catterall among others; Jean Paul Gaultier had Pring walk his spring 2011 show; and Crystal Renn walked Gaultier, Chanel, Zac Posen, and Cushnie et Ochs between 2011 and 2015.

Looking back: Camilla Hansen on Mark Fast’s February 2010 runway; Crystal Renn walking Jean Paul Gaultier in October 2010; and Renn at the Cushnie et Ochs show in February 2013.

On the heels of last month’s New York Fashion Week, U.K. Plus-Size Fashion Week—which runs for three days and hosts the country’s plus-size designer collections—ran for the third time. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the extent of plus-size inclusion in fashion month across the pond. Though there weren’t any plus-size models booked for major (read: industry) shows in London, Milan, or Paris, it’s only a matter of time before that change happens.

In fact, you can literally feel it in the air. Model Denise Bidot walked Serena Williams’ show last season and left with goosebumps. “When I walked onto the runway, I could see the surprise and excitement on everyone’s faces—models, make-up artists, stylists, casting directors. I was closing the show and started clapping. Anna [Wintour], tennis players, celebrities, media, all clapping. It was for the moment, and how far we’ve come and for Serena letting us be represented. By the time I got to the end of the runway, I was holding back tears. I was like oh my God, this is real, this is here, this is the change we’ve been asking for.”

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