There's nothing quite as wonderful as a fed-up and fired-up "Project Runway" mentor recently took aim at the fashion industry in a guest blog for the Washington Post, headlined, "Tim Gunn: Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It's a disgrace."
He included "Project Runway" in his critique, and re-shaded last year's "Project Runway" Season 14 -- which he openly hated -- for honoring Ashley Nell Tipton's designs just because they were for plus-size women, even though he and others felt the unflattering clothes only made women look even larger. In Tim's eyes, her win was a patronizing statement that said all the wrong things.
Here are some excerpts from Tim's post:
I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It's a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.
I've spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, "I'm not interested in her." Why? "I don't want her wearing my clothes." Why? "She won't look the way that I want her to look." They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven't bothered to hide their contempt. "No one wants to see curvy women" on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009. Plenty of mass retailers are no more enlightened: Under the tenure of chief executive Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch sold nothing larger than a size 10, with Jeffries explaining that "we go after the attractive, all-American kid."
This is a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can't look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape.
"Project Runway," the design competition show on which I'm a mentor, has not been a leader on this issue. Every season we have the "real women" challenge (a title I hate), in which the designers create looks for non-models. The designers audibly groan, though I'm not sure why; in the real world, they won't be dressing a seven-foot-tall glamazon.
This season, something different happened: Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show's first plus-size collection. But even this achievement managed to come off as condescending. I've never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout "prom." Her victory reeked of tokenism. One judge told me that she was "voting for the symbol" and that these were clothes for a "certain population." I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn't dream of letting any woman, whether she's a size 6 or a 16, wear them. A nod toward inclusiveness is not enough."
There's a lot more to his full post, including a breakdown of the business lost and more opportunities for change. He's a treasure. And he's right -- there are millions of women just waiting to give their money to someone who will make them flattering clothes. Capitalism should be supplying this demand.
Anyway, more Tim Gunn is ahead starting this week with the Thursday, September 15 premiere of "Project Runway" Season 15 on Lifetime.
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