From The Runway

Why 2017 is the year of the plus-size supermodel

Casey Russell | Feature Editor

Plus-sized models such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence are changing the conversation in a fashion industry to one that accepts body diversity.

We haven’t seen the craze of the supermodel since the 1990s with legendary faces like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Gisele Bundchen and Kate Moss plastered all over every magazine or campaign and walking in every major runway show in the world. But history tends to repeat itself, and now in 2017 a rebirth of the modern day “social” supermodels have taken the spotlight. For example, the “Big Three,” comprised of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid.

Within the past year, the narrative of what it means to be a supermodel has taken a turn. The ideal model of yesterday was 5’10, thin and had sculpted cheek bones. But now, the fashion world seems to be more open when it comes to body diversity. It might be too soon to make a total call, but this year could be the year of the plus-size supermodel.

Already, two plus-size models have snagged major magazine covers — Ashley Graham on British Vogue and Iskra Lawrence on Self. It’s not often that two plus-size models have landed on the cover of major magazines at the same time and on different continents. This seems to be proof that on a global scale, the fashion industry is taking notice of the progressive changes of diverse women in fashion.

The label “plus-size” model dates back to the early 20th century. By the late 1920s, clothes were mainly made at home or by a tailor. It wasn’t until the boom in industrial growth that the mass creation of garments created advertising and the sizing scale. Women who did not meet the straight and slender figure of the time were deemed stout. In 1922, the popular women’s clothing brand Lane Bryant introduced the term “plus,” referring to clothing which was then coined in advertisements as “Miss Plus Sizes.” The term eventually turned into the familiar term — plus-size.

The demand for more body-friendly clothing is increasingly prominent in department stores. The same goes for the demand in diverse body sizes in the media and the fashion industry. With this demand comes the desire to modify the labels given to women above a size 10. The fashion evolution over the past century has turned “plus-size” into a noun. In the past, the term had been used to describe clothes.

The fight for plus-size inclusion is not about discriminating the well-known modern models of today, but rather to have a melting pot of size. Although it has taken decades for plus-size models to make their mark in the fashion world, some have defeated stigmas that said they could never rival the top models of today.

In 2011, the late Vogue Italia Editor-in-Chief Franca Sozzani made history and raised eyebrows by putting three plus-size models in lingerie on the cover of the magazine’s June issue. Being the mother of all Vogue magazines, people took notice of the risky cover art for Vogue Italia and furthered the conversation of body diversity in the industry.

Designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano and Christian Siriano have taken note and included plus-size models in their shows. Siriano, for example, dedicated his entire New York Fashion Week show to having women of all sizes present his clothes on his runway. Conversation then turned into action as models such as Campbell, Lawrence and Graham continue to carry the banner for plus-size models in the industry this past year.

Graham rebelled with the rest of the world’s top supermodels in 2016, landing possibly every major magazine known today: Maxim, Glamour, Self, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and, maybe most historically, her appearance as the first ever plus-size model to land on the Sports Illustrated cover.

Although much of the world has been celebrating Graham landing her British Vogue cover, there were several major designers who refused to provide clothes for the 28-year-old’s cover shoot.

Heading into 2017 with models like Graham and Lawrence only makes this progress something to look forward to. The industry seems to be looking to make size diversity a rule, not an exception.

Modeling agencies, designers and magazines are opening their doors to a variety of women, but including one plus-size model on a runway does not make for a diverse fashion industry. Rather, celebrating all body types that make the fashion industry what it is today will make for a more welcoming industry and communicate a message that the fashion industry is an empire of art that celebrates beauty of all types.

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