Australian Fashion Week hosts its first plus size runway show

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

For modeling agency Chelsea Bonner, securing a catwalk spot for the big woman at Australian Fashion Week is always tough.

“The challenge every season, to get one, two or three models over a size 12 onto the fashion week runway, is huge,” she said by phone from Sydney. “The amount of time it takes, the amount of convincing you have to do — it’s just a real battle.”

So Bonner, whose agency Bella Management has about 60 more complete models on the books, took matters into her own hands: She hosted the first runway show dedicated exclusively to the plus-size brand.

A model walks the runway in a design by Vagary, one of six brands participating in the show.

A model walks the runway in a design by Vagary, one of six brands participating in the show. Credit: Flag Nolan/Getty Images

“I thought, ‘You know, I just wanted to do it myself,'” she recalls. “And once everyone sees how perfect it is, it might just help break down all the old, outdated, preconceived notions of what a model is and what a woman looks like.”

With the latest issue of Australian Fashion Week criticized for its lack of inclusive casting (after last year’s event, plus-size model Kate Wasley wrote on Instagram that diversity was “non-existent” and urged the country to “catch up”), organizers embraced the idea, Bonner said. She invited six local labels that design clothing for women size 12 to 26 — the equivalent of 8 to 22 in US sizes — to participate in a show dubbed “The Curve Edit.”

On Thursday, in Sydney’s Eveleigh neighborhood, the brands sent a combined 84 displays onto the runway in front of about 650 guests. Nearly 30 Bonner models, including one of Australia’s most famous plus-size models, Robyn Lawley, wore everything from swimwear to elegant gowns.

A model prepares backstage before a performance of The Curve Edit.

A model prepares backstage before a performance of The Curve Edit. Credit: Flag Nolan/Getty Images

Participating designer Kerry Pietrobon, who co-founded the plus-size label Harlow with her husband in 2012, said the event was a reminder that “fashion is for everyone.”

“As a human being, I feel like a second-class citizen, he said in a phone interview. And as a brand — as someone who works in fashion — I’ve always felt we weren’t considered ‘fashion’..'”

Harlow, created by Pietrobon after she struggled to find stylish outfits that fit her body type, sent 14 looks to the runway, including a patterned maxi dress and an all-black evening outfit. Elsewhere, size labels including Embody Women flaunted structured suits and form-fitting dresses that “don’t shy away from fuller figures, (but) rather celebrate,” founder Natalie Wakeling explained via email.

Other labels featured on the show include Saint Somebody, 17 Sundays, Vagary and Zaliea.

A model walks the runway in a dress by Embody Women.

A model walks the runway in a dress by Embody Women. Credit: Caroline McCredie/Getty Images

Work to be done

Although the so-called “Big Four” fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan, and Paris) haven’t dedicated entire shows to plus-size fashion, curvy models are slowly gaining visibility in the upper echelons of the industry. In January, Italian label Valentino received praise for displaying a more muscular body type at Paris’ Haute Couture Week, an event known for its use of model like an abandoned child.

But while Australia’s flagship fashion show has made headway with casting this year, the country is lagging behind the rest of the industry, according to Saint Somebody founder and creative director Sophie Henderson-Smart.

“Australia is way behind our US friends, and part of my vision for us is that we can seamlessly weave curves and straight-size fashions,” he said in an email before Thursday’s show, where Saint Somebody showed his new “Collection.” Just like you”. “This is the first time in its 26 year history that Australian Fashion Week features a curve designer let alone an entire show dedicated to curve fashion.”

Six labels sent more than 80 runway appearances at Thursday's show.

Six labels sent more than 80 runway appearances at Thursday’s show. Credit: Flag Nolan/Getty Images

Diversity is showcased elsewhere at the event, with two shows highlighting the work of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander designers. The schedule also features a presentation on “adaptive” fashion — a term used to describe clothing designed for people with disabilities.

But while Bonner welcomes the influx of models, he says the need for a dedicated plus-size event shows that there’s still work to be done. The goal, he continued, is so that all runways can represent diverse body shapes.

“I think the next step is the same as before — and a step I’ve pushed since the very beginning — which is to help brands and designers understand that … we are mainstream fashion consumers, and we want to be recognized and represented.”

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