LFW Hosted Its First Plus-Size Show On Sunday. Was It Worth The Hype?
If you’ve been part of the fashion industry for as long as I have, you’ve definitely come across this myth at some point: the one that says “plus-size women don’t shop”. And it’s usually said with such confidence that you’re almost always conned into believing it. That’s one of the reasons why most designers, brands, and retailers make clothing mostly for straight-sized women only up to UK size 14. It’s almost as if women sized UK 16 and up either don’t matter or don’t deserve to dress well.
But here’s some food for thought: This 2014 study by Lancet states that India has one of the largest population of obese people in the world. And at an average height of 5 feet, Indian women are also among the shortest. So naturally, they’re hard pressed to find clothing that suits their body type and mostly rely on tailor-made or ethnic clothing to cover up. There’s a clear gap in the market for good-quality, fashion-forward clothing — one that Future Group’s plus-sized fashion store aLL is hoping to fill.
The plus-sized clothing market in India is pegged at a staggering US$ 1.8 billion, and with 52 exclusive stores across the country, aLL is clearly a market leader in the category. As the brand’s business head Manish Aziz says, “Much like most countries around the globe, India too has fallen prey to the stigma of size-zero models when reality dictates otherwise. A majority of Indian women and men have genetically fuller bodies, while brands continue to retail clothing in restrictive sizing. aLL was launched 11 years ago to fill this gap. Our aim is to not only provide plus-size clothing to both men and women, but also ensure that they are stylish and on-trend for the fashion-conscious consumer.”
While that is admirable, one look at the offering on the brand’s online store, and I’m far from impressed. Even the talented Shilpa Chavan couldn’t resurrect the clothing she had to style at Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2016 this past Sunday, touted as the fashion week’s first plus-sized show and backed by aLL. While the models looked like they were having fun walking the ramp amidst loud cheers from the audience, there was little to no fierce fabulousness reflected in the clothing. Which was disappointing and eye-opening in equal measure.
Contrary to popular consensus, plus-sized women DO love to shop and you just have to check out the slew of Instagram bloggers killing it on social media — or the success of international retailers like Lane Bryant, Eloquii, Addition Elle, and ModCloth, who make statement-making, fabulous fashion for big girls — to know that that’s true. Why then is Indian fashion making little to no progress on this front, still offering sizes only up to “L” or “XL”? Barring a handful of designers like Anita Dongre, Wendell Rodricks, and Yogesh Chaudhary, few others make clothing for curvy girls. While the powers that be at Lakmé Fashion Week can tout that they care about diversity and inclusion till the cows come home, what are they doing IRL to work with Indian designers to make plus-size clothing more accessible to the masses of Indian women looking for fashionable options? Co-opting a “moment” is not the same as acknowledging and leading a much-needed change in the right direction.
And that was my biggest problem with this show. Their hearts were in the right place, but the show didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Internationally, models like Ashley Graham, Crystal Renn, and Robyn Lawley, and entertainers like Melissa McCarthy and Adele are huge body-positive role models, but India has none — not ONE. The middling state of clothing for curvy women, not to mention their representation in fashion and media, is astounding. Mannequins are still obnoxiously skinny. Fashion magazines are filled with freakishly thin and tall models. Curvy shoppers still have to resort to shopping online since clothing for their size isn’t readily available at brick-and-mortar stores. So LFW and aLL’s plus-size show will undoubtedly invite a certain amount of scrutiny. But perhaps, we should be looking for representation, validation, and change elsewhere.
Being a plus-size fashionista myself, I think we shouldn’t be looking to the runways or high fashion in the first place. By its very nature, high fashion is a heightened version of aspiration and fantasy, and not so much about reflecting reality and normalcy. Plus, most of the general population doesn’t see fashion shows at all. So it’s really quite pointless when you put the lowest common denominator into perspective. For plus-size visibility and change in attitudes, we should be shifting our gaze to the more accessible places that communicate what a “normal” body looks like. Runways are simply not where the revolution is going to take place.
Popular culture is where the change is at. The huge amount of positivity that Femina garnered both online and offline for its body-positive cover with actress Huma Qureshi in July 2014 was superb. As was Elle India’s shoot with plus-size women (including yours truly), which went viral earlier this year and largely received rave reviews. These recent examples were baby steps in the right direction to get the conversation around body positivity and plus-size started. Accessible clothing brands, the advertising community, and the media need to take the lead when it comes to re-jigging what’s considered “normal” for the everyday Indian.
When women start getting celebrated for who they are versus what size they conform to, perhaps then we can start talking about plus-size, fashion-forward clothing in more realistic terms.
Because when it comes down to it, all we really want to do is wear DOPE clothes.