For modeling agent Chelsea Bonner, securing catwalk spots for plus-sized women at Australian Fashion Week has always been difficult.
“The challenge every season, to get one, two or three models over a size 12 onto a fashion week runway, is enormous,” she said on the phone from Sydney. “The amount of time it takes, the amount of convincing you have to do – it’s just a real battle.”
So Bonner, whose agency Bella Management has around 60 fuller-figured models on its books, took matters into her own hands: She organized the event’s first ever runway show dedicated exclusively to plus-size brands.
“I thought, ‘You know what, I just want to do it myself,’” she recounted. “And once everyone sees how perfect it is, it may just help break down all of those old, outdated, preconceived ideas about what a model is and what a woman looks like.”
With recent editions of Australian Fashion Week criticized for their lack of inclusive casting (after last year’s event, plus-size model Kate Wasley wrote on Instagram that diversity had been “non-existent” and urged the country to “catch up”), organizers were receptive to the idea, Bonner said. She invited six local labels that design clothes for women sized 12 to 26 – equivalent to 8 to 22 in US sizes – to participate in a show dubbed “The Curve Edit.”
On Thursday, in Sydney’s Eveleigh neighborhood, the brands sent a combined 84 looks down the runway in front of an estimated 650 guests. Almost 30 of Bonner’s models, including one of Australia’s best-known plus-size models, Robyn Lawley, sported items spanning from swimwear to elegant gowns.
Participating designer Kerry Pietrobon, who co-founded plus-size label Harlow with her husband in 2012, said the show was a reminder that “fashion is for everybody.”
“As a human, I’ve felt like a second-class citizen, she said in a phone interview. “And as a brand – as someone who works in fashion – I’ve always felt like we are not considered ‘fashion.’”
Harlow, which Pietrobon created after she struggled to find stylish clothes that fit her body type, sent 14 looks down the runway, including patterned maxi dresses and all-black eveningwear. Elsewhere, size-inclusive label Embody Women showcased structured suits and form-fitting gowns that “do not shy away from a fuller figure, (but) rather celebrate it,” founder Natalie Wakeling explained over email.
Other labels featured in the show included Saint Somebody, 17 Sundays, Vagary and Zaliea.
Work to be done
Although the so-called “Big Four” fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan and Paris) are yet to dedicate an entire show to plus-size fashion, curvy models have slowly gained visibility in the industry’s upper echelons. In January, Italian label Valentino won praise for showcasing fuller-figured body types at Paris’ Haute Couture Week, an event known for its use of waif-like models.
But while Australia’s flagship fashion event has clearly made strides with this year’s casting, the country lags behind the rest of the industry, according to Saint Somebody’s founder and creative director, Sophie Henderson-Smart.
“Australia is a long way behind our friends in the US, and part of my vision for us is that we can intertwine curve and straight-size fashion seamlessly,” she said over email prior to Thursday’s show, where Saint Somebody showed its new “Just as You Are” collection. “This is the first time in its 26-year history that Australian Fashion Week has featured a curve designer let alone an entire show dedicated to curve fashion.”
Diversity was on display elsewhere at the event, with two shows highlighting the work of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander designers. The schedule also featured a presentation on “adaptive” fashion – a term used to describe clothes designed for people with disabilities.
But while Bonner welcomed the inclusion of her models, she said the need for a dedicated plus-size event demonstrates that there is still work to be done. The goal, she added, is for all runways to be representative of diverse body shapes.
“I think the next step is the same as it’s always been – and one that I’ve been pushing for since the beginning – which is to help brands and designers understand that … we are the mainstream fashion consumer, and we would like to be acknowledged and represented.”