Full Figured Fashion Week Shines a Spotlight on an Untapped $17-Billion Market

Models walk the runway at the Indie Designer Showcase
(Richard Lew )

NEW YORK — Last week at Bloomingdale’s, models strutted down the runway wearing the latest designs by Calvin KleinRalph Lauren, and Michael Kors — but they weren’t the typical stick-thin variety who frequent the catwalks of the global fashion weeks in New York, Paris, London, and Milan — their figures reflected that of the average American woman.

The runway show, which was part of Full Figured Fashion Week, showcased styles for a segment of the population that the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines often overlook: those size 12 and up. More than 62 percent of American women are overweight, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and the average woman wears a size 14 — yet most high-end designers like Prada and Louis Vuitton rarely go beyond a size 10, even though the plus-size clothing market was worth a whopping $17 billion last year.

“There’s definitely challenges in finding plus-size clothing because we’re a little curvy,” stylist Sheryll Lavonne told ARTINFO. “We need better materials, and we like high fashion too, but it is difficult to find nice fashion for us.”

Experts say that luxury labels want to stay away from the plus-size market because it conflicts with the image they wish to project.

“It’s about selling the dream,” Constance White, style director at eBaytold the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in March. “These people are in the image business, and a larger woman doesn’t fit with their image of the brand. They want you to buy their perfume but not one of their dresses.”

Only a small percentage of high-end fashion designers offer sizes for curvier women. Oscar de la RentaDonna Karan, and Tommy Hilfiger are among the few who create garments for that retail market.

“We’re seeing it now with Calvin Klein, we’re seeing it with Michael Kors, we’re seeing it with Tadashi [Shoji], and all of the designers that were featured here today at Bloomingdale’s,” Reah Norman, a fashion stylist and an editor at Plus Model Magazine, told ARTINFO following last week’s presentation. “I think it’s going to take some time for people to really consider plus-size women fashion, more so from a straight fashion perspective.”

For Bloomingdale’s, participating in Full Figured Fashion Week was clearly a way to reach a diverse range of customers. Anne Keating, a senior vice president of public relations at the company, told ARTINFO via email that their partnership with the event is an example of the store’s commitment to “offering all of our shoppers the opportunity to enjoy exciting events and top designer fashions.”

More people in the straight-size fashion industry are taking notice of plus-size women and their spending power. Along with the steady stream of designers slowly entering the market, mainstream women’s magazines like Marie Claire, which has a plus-size fashion column called “Big Girl in a Skinny World,” and events like Full Figured Fashion Week are helping to bring the larger female form to the spotlight. Will the luxury designers eventually catch on to their needs? Hopefully.

“I think that as more designers take the chance and they see success, then others will follow suit,” said Norman.  

Click on the slide show for highlights from Full Figured Fashion Week.