Sydney designer Gary Bigeni, who celebrates his 20th anniversary at Australian Fashion Week this year, says brands must work harder to promote size diversity by offering bigger samples and extending representation beyond the runway to their websites and social media.
“Why aren’t we supporting and encouraging designers to broaden their sizes?” Bigeni says. “When they’re designing they should stop and think of someone who is a bit curvy or a bit shorter.”
Resistance comes from an industry currently promoting Y2K-inspired designs that emphasise thinner bodies and the increasing popularity of the diabetes treatment Ozempic, used for weight loss, in the entertainment and fashion community.
When fashion search engine Tagwalk posted to social media that Milan featured 77 per cent fewer curvy models than London during the autumn/winter 2023 season, one reply asked: “Is Milan taking Ozempic?”
While Tagwalk’s report shows London was the most inclusive city, with 39 per cent of shows including a model above a size 8, London-based Australian curve model Sophia Brenn says it was a different story at castings.
“There were a few instances last season after I had gone to castings where my agent received an email saying, ‘Please stop sending curve, our plus size has been cast,’ in which they meant one girl,” Brenn says. “This happened more than once.”
“We all go to a casting with the hope of booking one, maybe two spots total. This is only if the designer is offering a different-sized sample and only if the spot has not already been filled by one of the plus-size supermodels.”
Breen walked in the Karoline Vitto show, a label committed to greater diversity; other plus-size champions include designers Sinead O’Dwyer, Christian Siriano and Ester Manas.
Some hope can be seen from major labels, with Chanel sending four midsize models on the runway as a signal towards its size expansion to an Australian 22. Nearly half the Dior runway featured midsize models, but this failed to alter the thinning of the model herd on the Paris runway. Neither of the labels featured plus-size models, categorised as a size 18 and above.
Xenita hopes that the make-up of designers at this year’s Australian Fashion Week will buck the trend.
“Even though we are not having a dedicated curve edit show this year a lot of the designers that had inclusive casting last year, like Erik Yvon, Indigenous Fashion Projects and Nicol & Ford, will be showing again,” Xenita says. “I think for those designers it’s part of their brand DNA.”
The Butterfly Foundation, which offers support for people living with eating disorders would like to see more done.
“The fashion industry has the potential to make change for the better,” says Melissa Wilton, the organisation’s head of communications.
“While some progress has been made, these statistics are a stark reminder of the reluctance of the fashion industry to embrace accurate representation of the population. The average size of an Australian woman is 14-16, yet this is far from evident at fashion week.”
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