Designer labels plus-size models 'a joke'

By Harriet Walker

It is a debate that will run and run but where the fashion industry is concerned, clearly size does matter.

In remarks that will come as a disappointment to campaigners for diversity in fashion, designer Julien Macdonald has dismissed the recent rise of plus-size models, insisting that "a catwalk model is a size six to eight".

In an interview, the British designer, who is also a judge on reality TV show Britain's Next Top Model, said of the competition: "This is a serious show. You can't have a plus-size girl winning - it makes it a joke."

Macdonald's comments may be at odds with the general turnaround in fashion, but the Welsh designer knows how to generate helpful controversy: his spring/summer 2007 collection provoked animal rights groups who felt it relied too heavily on fur, and his search for the country's Next Top Model will no doubt get a boost in ratings.

His remarks to Wales on Sunday come after a year of intense scrutiny, which has seen several high profile magazines electing to use plus-size models, as well as designers booking bigger models to appear in their catwalk shows.

"A programme like Britain's Next Top Model could have pushed the boundaries a little further by recognising the shift in thinking and looking for a size 10 instead," said fashion commentator Caryn Franklin, co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, which campaigns for diversity in modelling.

"Let's get one thing straight: there's big money to be made by models with curves, as everyone but Julien knows."

Since the British Fashion Council's 2007 Model Health Enquiry, the issue has never been far from the headlines, but the past 12 months have seen good progress in bringing diversity more generally to the pages of the glossies.

In June 2009, editor of British Vogue Alexandra Schulman wrote a letter to designers asking them to adjust their sizings because her magazine had been photo-shopping models to look bigger, after "miniscule sizes" forced them to hire models with "jutting bones and no breasts or hips".

Two months later, American Glamour printed a picture of size 12 Lizzie Miller, in which a roll of stomach was clearly visible; then Germany's most popular women's magazine Brigitte pledged only to use real women in its shoots; and in January 2010 industry bible V ran a "size issue", in which photographer Terry Richardson shot the sample-sized Jacquelyn Jablonski next to size 16 supermodel Crystal Renn.

"I do believe fashion is making a change," Renn told The Independent earlier this year.

"I don't believe all models should be size 14 - that's discrimination the other way - but I know most people cannot relate to size zero, 5ft 11in."

Renn's big break came with an invitation to appear in Jean-Paul Gaultier's spring/summer 2006 catwalk show; the French designer is one of a few known for tackling fashion's politics head on, having once also shown a collection entirely on black models.

Cynics may say that attention-seeking tokenism works well when the industry is in downturn, aiming for attention and accessibility to boost dwindling sales.

But Katie Grand, editor of Love magazine, which used a naked Beth Ditto on its inaugural cover, said: "There are plenty of celebrities and models who are extremely successful financially and have great credibility, who are not necessarily 'sample size'. It is possible to be a successful model without ideal clothing measurements."


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