Why I welcome Marc Jacobs new plus-size range
As Marc Jacobs announces a plus-size range, New York stylist Annabel Tollman says the impact on designers will be huge.
I can vividly remember being in Milan for Fashion Week some years ago and calling my then-boyfriend on the phone in tears, having seen Gisele walk down the catwalk in a bikini several times that day, wailing: “But my limbs are the wrong shape!”
I’m a UK size 12/14 and wear a 32F bra, sharing similar measurements with model Crystal Renn, who has become the recent poster girl of plus size. I have a reputation for embracing a certain old-Hollywood volupté both personally and professionally: as a stylist in New York, I dress a number of celebrities with dangerous curves, such as actresses Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Simpson – and I know that it’s infinitely more difficult.
The fact that designer clothing is usually only tailored for, and showcased on, girls who are a sliver of the population is troubling, but the tides appear to be turning. Imagine my delight when viewing the Louis Vuitton catwalk show (designed by Marc Jacobs) for autumn/winter 2010 and seeing not just delicious bombshell-worthy circle skirts, nipped waists and bustiers showcasing cushion-y bosoms, but a model line-up that included Laetitia Casta, Adriana Lima and Karolina Kurkova, all of whom are usually considered too plump for catwalk work.
Other examples of recent size-inclusive casting include Mark Fast’s last two shows, where he has used a smattering of plus-sized models, and the Chanel resort presentation for spring/summer 2011, where Renn walked the St Tropez boardwalk-cum-catwalk alongside the “normal” models. I know that, at a UK 14, Renn could hardly be considered “plus” in real-life (the average size in the UK is 16), but the impact of seeing clothing on a more realistic frame is powerful and encouraging.
So what of the actual plus-sizers that most designers don’t cater for? When shopping for my plus-size clients, I have found, to my surprise, that Dolce & Gabbana make pieces up to a UK 16 and Chanel go up to a French 50, which is a UK 22. There are, of course, special plus-size ranges, but they tend to be rather formal and mother-of-the-bride-ish, so it requires determination and wily shopping to look au courant and young. Which is why Botticellian beauties all over the world are overjoyed by reports, via Twitter, that Marc Jacobs is starting a plus-size line: “Listen, we are in the very beginning stages of talking to a partner about plus sizes,” Robert Duffy, Jacobs’s business partner tweeted this week. “Relax. It won’t be based on the collection line.”
Renn is delighted: “I’m not surprised by Marc Jacobs deciding to expand his range of sizes. He has always been a forerunner when it comes to the industry shifts and trends. I think it’s a positive move because it sends a fantastic message to women, showing that Marc Jacobs believes diversity is beautiful, a message shown by his previous ad campaigns which challenged us to look at beauty in a different way.”
The normalising of the average woman’s sizing in designer ranges continues thanks to Saks Fifth Avenue, which is adding bigger sizes to its designer third floor, rather than relegating them to their own special department. “After recent review, we concluded there are customers who desire designer clothing in sizes that are not currently available in our stores. To meet their needs, Saks Fifth Avenue has worked with certain well-known designers, and for fall this year we will offer some designer brands up to size 18 in select Saks Fifth Avenue locations.” In the UK, Harrods offers size 26 in some brands; Selfridges up to size 16; and Harvey Nichols, 14, with only one designer, Calvin Klein, offering a size 16.
It seems to this curvy fashionista that the commercial viability of increasing the plus-size market has been recognised, at last. Hopefully, the way women are portrayed aesthetically in the media may change because there’s an economic incentive to do so. I don’t just mean the annual “shape” issue, which puts our dear plus-size pin-ups next to somebody who fits in a runway sample, but a more inclusive casting across the board. To make this a lasting shift, women will have to vote with their wallets.
Ultimately, the broader spectrum of bodies shown in the fashion world – Renn was in the August issue of French Vogue, while curvaceous model Lara Stone is another regular – can only be a good thing. I very much hope that it will help women to make peace with their bodies and come to terms with their shape. Fashion is a fickle mistress, but it’s still nice when the world looks back at you and agrees: “Yes, you are gorgeous, too.”