In the world of high fashion, it seems to matter not if you’re a globally successful model, in a hit TV show feted the world over or have multiple awards tucked under your belt: if you’re not thin, you’re not getting in.
Stars from Christina Hendricks to Leslie Jones, Beyoncé to Octavia Spencer, have previously spoken about the difficulties of getting top designers to consider lending them haute couture for red carpets because they are not – brace yourself – ‘sample size’. That is to say, they’re not of the waif-like proportions seen on catwalks and thus, many labels find it just that bit too hard to cater to anyone else.
However, there are some designers determined to overhaul the industry’s attitude to size and want to be part of that shift. Prabal Gurung is one such designer, yet he reveals that fashion is so resistant to change that insiders have openly mocked his dedication to representing all women.
Gurung, whose lines have gone up to size 22 (UK size 26) since 2009, has recently collaborated with US plus-size label Lane Bryant, and recalls a conversation with an acquaintance who asked him “Why are you designing for fat people?”
While she told him it was meant in jest, Gurung was quick to expertly school her on just why her attitude was so damaging.
“She saw my reaction and she said, ‘Oh no, I meant it as a joke!’ I said to her, ‘Clearly, you know it’s not funny,’” he told fashionista.com.
“I said to her, ‘Words are very powerful, they impact and affect lives. The majority of American women haven’t had a voice, haven't felt like they belong in our world, and I wanted to be sure that they do. It’s people like you who make statements like these – there's a reason I wanted to do this.’”
Gurung counts a huge amount of stars as fans, including Candice Swanepoel, Mindy Kaling, Elizabeth Moss, Kerry Washington, Bella Hadid and Sarah Jessica Parker.
He says the line, modelled by Ashley Graham, was inspired by his realisation that there needed to be a sea-change in fashion, not just a few token gestures.
“The changes I wanted to see, in the industry and the world, just didn’t happen by me doing a show with a few plus-size models or a diverse group of models; it needed to continue, and I felt like if lending my voice could move the conversation forward, I want to be part of it.”
He added: “Our industry is very, very slow at change, and fearful, we are operated by fear.
“There are a handful of people who operate with absolute courage and guts, but the majority of us, we don't.”
British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has previously revealed that some high-end brands refused to lend the magazine clothes for Ashley Graham to wear on a 2016 cover shoot: “Sadly there were other houses that flatly refused to lend us their clothes […] It seems strange to me that while the rest of the world is desperate for fashion to embrace broader definitions of physical beauty, some of our most famous fashion brands appear to be traveling in the opposite – and, in my opinion, unwise – direction.”
In 2014, star of Ghostbusters and Bridesmaids Melissa McCarthy said she struggled to find a designer to lend her a gown for the Academy Awards: “Two Oscars ago, I couldn’t find anybody to do a dress for me. I asked five or six designers – very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people – and they all said no.”
She added: “I don’t understand why if you’re a certain size, designers think your taste level goes down and you have less money to spend. The quality and construction is often so bad. Finding a great T-shirt or a great cigarette pant in a good fabric is next to impossible.”
Similarly, last year Orange is the New Black star Dascha Polanco said she was disgusted to realise a brand she loved wasn’t prepared to be affiliated with her: “I had a situation with a high-end brand the other day where I had personally invested so much money purchasing their items, and I love what they do, so I had my publicist reach out to their PR team.
“Their response was, ‘Oh, you’re not the sizes we have, not right now, maybe in the future.’ Now even if they want me to [wear their designs] down the road, I will not give them the pleasure.”
And despite her huge success on Mad Men, Christina Hendricks said in 2012 that she was still turned down by many: “Not one designer in town will loan me a dress. They only lend out a size 0 or 2. So I'm still struggling for someone to give me a darn dress.”
Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer proves that Oscar nominations count for nothing – revealing in 2013 that she was disappointed in the standard of clothes designers were prepared to lend her for her big night: “It’s very difficult to make a woman of different sizes look as chic, as sexy, without making them wear a tent.
“Normally, that’s what they give you. ‘Here is your designer dress, but it’s a tent.’ I’m sorry, I just refuse to do that. It’s not gonna happen, honey! I’m not going to wear a muumuu!”
Kevan Hall, who has often dressed Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe has previously called out other designers for not working with anyone above a size 8, implying it’s about ego because they’d have to adapt their precious designs: “But at the end of the day, it's always really about the client. Let's be realistic, after all. What is the end-use of these clothes?”
Images: Rex Features