At the premiere of Straight/Curve, a documentary about body image and the people working in the fashion industry to change the beauty standard, designer Prabal Gurung shared some fairly distressing but not entirely unexpected news about the way the fashion industry still feels about plus size clothing.
Gurung’s collaboration with Lane Bryant launched earlier this year to much praise from the media. But, as Fashionista reports, the launch of the collection wasn’t as well-received in private as it was in public. Speaking at the premiere, he told the audience a story about how, when his collection launched, there was a lot of “snickering” and an “acquaintance” of his found him at an art gallery and asked him why he was “designing for fat people.”
“She saw my reaction and she said, ‘Oh no, I meant it as a joke!” I said to her, ‘Clearly, you know it’s not funny,’” he recalls. “I said to her, words are very powerful, they impact and affect lives. The majority of American women haven’t had a voice, haven’t felt like they belong in our world, and I wanted to be sure that they do. It’s people like you who make statements like these — there’s a reason I wanted to do this.”
Per Fashionista, Gurung has always designed up to a size 22, but retailers weren’t interested; his collaboration with Lane Bryant was his way of addressing the needs of women who want fashionable, well-made clothing in prints and shapes and colors that look and feel contemporary. What’s notable about Gurung’s clothing for Lane Bryant is that he didn’t treat his customer like someone who wanted to drape her body in shapeless polyester and “flattering,” strategically placed ruching—he designed for a normal woman who wants clothes that look good. “We designed for the same woman we always design for,” he told Vogue in February when the collection launched.
Retailers are often leery of embracing the vast and mostly untapped market of plus sized women willing to throw their money at clothing that fits and looks good; making clothes for larger sizes often requires more care and attention to fit and would require factories to make changes to their production methods in order to accommodate the larger sizes. It wouldn’t be difficult to make this change—it would just cost money. But if that change meant that more women would spend money on clothes that fit them without having to revert to online shopping, maybe that would be enough to save American retail as we know it from its protracted death.