of size

by marjorieingall on March 31, 2010

My book with plus-size model Crystal Renn, Hungry, will be out in paperback in June. Crystal’s doing great, working constantly — she’ll be on the cover of the June issue of Glamour along with two other models. (Of course I think she should be on the cover alone, but given how few magazines use models on their covers at all these days — it’s all actresses and singers, all the time — the fact that Glamour’s putting a plus-size model on the cover at all is a big deal.)

I was interested in this interview she did with Canada’s National Post. She and a guy named Ben Barry, who runs a “real people” modeling agency in Canada, suggested that designers make samples in a range of sizes. My suspicion is that Barry’s main money-making venture isn’t the modeling business; it’s selling diversity as good business. He’s written a book about entrepreneurship and his background is in business (though he majored in women’s studies as an undergrad, yay). He’s positioning himself as his own brand. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. If he can use his marketing savvy to prove that diversity (in terms of size, age and race) is good for sales and doesn’t hurt a company’s precious brand, that’s fab. He seems up to the task, getting a PhD from Harvard Business School “exploring the disconnect between what models fashion designers cast and who they’re selling to.” The National Post notes (and dang I wish this were a little more clearly written but I’M QUOTING HERE:

Barry can anecdotally point out that Dove’s marketing campaign for real beauty has increased sales, or that Mark Fast’s sales at Browns jumped after Renn appeared on his runway and the notion of authentic representations of women being good for the bottom line just seems like common sense, but he knows there’s no empirical evidence to demonstrate that it works. Yet. Which is why his doctoral research includes global consumer studies and surveys of 3,000 women aged 14 to 65 across several countries (the results will first appear in academic articles, then as a book). “What is the point of having a fashion show if your consumer cannot see themselves in the clothes?” he posits.

(Eek, Ben, “consumer” is singular and “themselves” is plural, BUT STILL, I HEAR YOU. and it’s not like the National Post person is Michael Ondaatje when it comes to the word-slinging WHY CAN’T WE ALL BE ARTICULATE JEEZ but where was I? Ah yes.) We’ve all heard the argument from the consumer side a million times: we want to see ourselves represented! But the industry tends to counter with: we’re aspirational! so I think someone needs to create a compelling B-school-style argument for the fashion folk: here’s how diversity makes you money without sullying your exclusive schmancypants vibe. I think it may be an easier sell for mass-market brands. Right now, high-end labels only use ACTUAL plus-size women for shock value, as Crystal points out in the piece; they use size 10-12s like Crystal, extraordinarily sparingly, because she’s a great model and it’s often hard to tell that she’s actually bigger than is normal in her industry. It’ll be interesting to see if Barry can use data to convince tastemakers to showcase older women, large women and non-white women.

And disabled women? That’s a subject for a whole other post.

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