The pre-show buzz of the curvy crowd permeated the senses. As plus-size activist and content creator Lacey-Jade Christie described it, “The atmosphere was electric.” It was a declaration of pure joy that curves had finally been invited into a space where they had never stepped before. Influencers from every state in the country converged, taking snaps in their carefully curated outfits, posing unapologetically in front of the iconic brick windows along the alley of Carriageworks.
“Complete nervousness” was how designer Rachael Galea of Vagary described her feelings before the show. “Not just for myself, but for our plus-size community. We were about to make history and as a brand you want to make sure you’re doing that justice.”
This was the first show in Australian Fashion Week’s 26-year history to feature a line-up of models sized between 12 and 24. The labels that showed are dedicated to serving a size 12+ market, creating unique styles that cater to the needs and desires of the curvy community.
Robyn Lawley, Australian curve icon, opened the show with an enormous screen behind her showcasing the oceanic lifestyle embraced along the Australian coast.
Adorned in clean cut European-style swimwear designed by Saint Somebody creative director Sophie Henderson-Smart, Lawley stepped out a vision of luxury with a classic black-and-white, high-cut bikini embellished with white seashells, worn with a long linen throw over in a bold polka dot print cascading behind her like the cape of a superhero, because that’s what she is – a trailblazing superhero.
Saint Somebody is a modern, luxury swim brand that caters to a market that wants to look and feel expensive, regardless of size. With fabrics that evoke sparkling Tuscan waters and superyachts in Monaco, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the now global brand.
The collection “Just as you are is a celebration of being exactly who and how you were meant to be,” Henderson-Smart said.
That ‘Bohemian feel’
Vagary stepped out in an expansive range combining the on-trend cowboy boot with a deeply feminine collection that floated onto the runway worn by the striking size 16 model Bruna Lapinskas. A missing piece in the plus market, Vagary has Bohemia at its roots, traditionally capturing “celestial and galaxial themes” Galea explained. “I wanted to combine that with a more classic retro Bohemian feel.” The fashion spoke for itself. With billowing skirts, textured shirring and out-of-this-world prints, the collection inspired a whimsical feeling that left you wanting to ditch the office, throw out the black work pants and become a vagabond.
Catering for the gender-neutral set
It’s clear that art is the muse for 17 Sundays. Upon close inspection, every piece reveals itself as meticulously crafted, with a focus on creating androgynous shapes that resonate with an array of womxn.
“We have a growing customer segment who identify as gender neutral. We are expanding our capsule range to provide more options,” brand manager Claire Primrose said. 17 Sundays’ range delivered a street aesthetic, with detailed layering, double denim and artful tie-dye prints that brought together a bougie, yet edgy early ’00s/late ’90s vibe. The brand inspires an authentic New York street style that isn’t often seen in the Australian market.
Release your ‘inner rock chick’
Harlow’s collection delivered from its Melbournian mindset. Texture played a major part, decorated with joyous prints that made for sexy yet sophisticated shapes. “There is a nod to our inner rock chick roots, with black pleather accents and mixing it back with new and exciting prints, textures, flowing silhouettes and a little glomesh glam,” Harlow co-founder Kerry Pietrobon said. The brand caters to a cross-section of the curve market, with styles ranging from what would delight at a garden party to pleather dresses that wouldn’t look out of place in a dive bar in downtown London. The collection screams ‘look at me’ in an intentional, yet sophisticated, way.
In stark contrast to Harlow, Embody Women stepped out in bold, vivid colour and metallics, in superior suiting shapes that define chic and enhance the stunning curves on the runway. “Retrospect is a high-voltage glamour,” Embody Women designer Natalie Wakeling said. “It’s important that we look back and reflect on what past standards were in the fashion industry.” The collection was strong and feminine, with oversized blazers and perfectly cut jumpsuits that seemed to morph to suit every body on the runway. Wakeling has created a collection that will be worn again and again. In her own words, “It’s iconic.”
Gilded glamour endures
Drop-dead gorgeous are the only words that could describe Martin Sanders’ collection for Zaliea. As it lit up the runway, gasps of delight echoed around the soaring high ceilings of the Carriageworks venue. Hot on the heels of the Met Gala’s Gilded Glamour, it was hard not to ask if Sanders was inspired by the age of illustrious wealth. Perfectly fitted to the slopes of the stunning women such as Jess King walking in his show, Sanders knows not only to complement a figure but to adore it, lavish it in pleasure and place it on a pedestal of glory. The deep emerald ball gowns with thigh-high splits, and show-stopping reds with plunging, delicious necklines, were in step with the dynamic, optimistic energy that filled the room.
“I wanted it to be spectacular, and it was. What a day, what a historic moment,” Sanders said.
The show was powerful and inspiring. As Christie said, “The brands that showed their garments were fantastic, the items were beautiful, ready to wear, and will hopefully fill the wardrobes of fat babes around the country.”
What comes next?
Although the show was groundbreaking, there is always more that can be done to bring inclusivity into the fashion world in a more authentic capacity. Instead of settling for a separate show that requires a supermodel to garner attention, it would better serve not only the curve community, but also the Australian fashion community to normalise and include all bodies in all shows. And to demand that brands cater to all shapes, sizes, genders, ages, and ethnicities and can’t get away with continuing to cast waif-thin white models to make money from an economy and an industry built on shaming people into fitting into a box.
There are no excuses anymore. Not when brands like Dyspnea and One Mile create samples in all shapes and sizes and factories are producing plus brands globally. There is no reason not to change – other than prejudice and fatphobia.
We are light-years behind the US in terms of inclusivity and brands are only doing themselves a disservice by leaving out a $6 billion dollar plus-size market in Australia.
As the economy continues to put a strain on the fashion industry, it’s imperative brands and the wider industry consider that their lack of diversity could be affecting their ability to make money and capitalise on expanding markets. The lack of on-trend fashion available to the curve market means the opportunity for brands to capitalise on this gap is fruitful and shouldn’t be ignored.
Christie said: “I would like to see more items that are on trend. My dream is to see fat babes in the same kinds of fashion that other models wear: loud colours, drowning in tulle, scantily clad, gorgeous avant-garde pieces – the possibilities are endless once that door is open.”
The desire for this kind of fashion is there. It’s a choice that brands make to exclude a consumer market that is ready and waiting to spend money on them.
“I only hope it becomes a springboard to more in the future, and isn’t a tokenistic movement,” plus-size content creator Katie Parrott said.
The ‘it’ girl has changed shape. It’s time to start dressing her as well as these incredible brands have succeeded in doing. Australia has a vast, fresh, and inspiring pool of talent that has contributed to this movement and we’d love to see more of them next year. We know the curvy community supported this show and, as Parrott said: ‘“We were no longer interlopers or the exception. Instead, [we] belonged.”