PARIS — Despite claims that the fashion industry is embracing curvier bodies, the data suggests it could be guilty of what one expert calls “fat-washing”.
While a handful of plus-size models such as Paloma Elsesser have grabbed media attention in recent years, the figures show they remain a vanishingly small minority.
Vogue Business looked at 9,137 outfits unveiled during 219 shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris last season and found that 0.6 per cent were plus-size — defined as US size 14 or above, which is actually the average size for a woman in the United States — and only 3.8 per cent were size 6 to 12.
This means 95.6 per cent of outfits presented were in US sizes 0 to 4.
Dr Paolo Volonte, who teaches sociology of fashion in Milan, says brands use a few curvy models to deflect criticism.
Dr Volonte says the obsession with thinness dates back to the birth of industrial production techniques.
Previously, designers made clothes specific to individuals. In the mass production era, they use small templates which they scale up for larger sizes.
This only works up to a certain size, however, after which fat and muscle can change the shape of bodies in more complex ways.
“It is much more expensive to produce and sell clothing in higher sizes and requires more expertise,” said Dr Volonte.
At the same time, thinness became firmly associated with wealth — having the time and money to work on your body — an aspiration that has been deeply entrenched by advertising and the day-to-day practices of the fashion industry.
‘A FANTASY WORLD’
There have been efforts to change things since the early 2000s when fears spread that size-zero models were encouraging anorexia in young people.
Since 2017, France has required models to pass medical examinations, while the country’s two biggest luxury conglomerates, LVMH and Kering, signed charters vowing to stop using size-zero models.
But with sizes varying from one brand to the next, this is hard to enforce.
Designers are as trapped in the status quo as everyone else.