Beth Ditto understands the power of her words. It's a knowledge gained after a decade in the public eye as the singer of Gossip and as a fiercely outspoken advocate for LGBT causes and body positivity. When I met her on Monday in New York to talk about her new eponymous plus-size line, she was careful to avoid making generalizations about the plus-size industry, "fat activists" and even musicians turned designers. It was a refreshing humility from someone so confident both in person and on stage.
"'Flattering' is a hard word for me," she said, adding that she wasn't forbidding me from using it in this article. She prefers "accentuating." Ditto explained how a ruched seam along the back of a form-fitting skirt or dress emphasizes the butt and creates a "really good line" for the body. It's one of the many design elements she was careful to include in her new range that went live on BethDitto.com (and Selfridges in the UK) on Monday.
The 11-piece collection is available in U.S. size 14 through 28 and is priced between $65 and $395. With the exception of a vintage embroidered denim jacket, every piece is made in New York. "Other [plus-size lines] exist... there's so much online, but I wanted to do something that wasn't already there, something that isn't trendy," said Ditto. "[Something] you can feel good about buying." This isn't her first foray into fashion, though her first with absolute control. She designed two capsule collections with High Street store Evans in 2009 and 2010.
"I met with Torrid once and they never called me back, this was years ago, and I didn't want to order out of the catalogue, I didn't want to do that and I didn't have to with Evans," she said. "The team was amazing and all the intentions were great — it was really good fun." But she had to compromise, for example, when she wanted to put Miss Piggy on a shirt and the brand worried it would send the wrong message. "To me that's an incredible message, especially being a queer femme," she said. "To have to explain that was so strange, but that's where that was [at the time]."
About eight months ago, Ditto found herself with some downtime between tours and albums and got a small group of friends together to dive into this project. Most of what she usually wears is custom, so she had a very clear idea of what she wanted to design. "Almost everything has to be made for me because there's nothing else," she said.
The plus-size fashion industry has advanced over the past few years, Ditto admitted, even though there still aren't enough options for plus-size customers. "We are marginalized," she said. "The more that fat people start to realize that they aren't unhealthy, lazy people like we've been told our whole f****ing lives... I think that's one of the big things. Being fat, to some people that's the worst thing in the world, but it's the best thing that ever happened to me — because it made me creative, resourceful, [it gave me] a sense of empathy for people or an otherness and it really grounds you."
Ditto's collection celebrates larger bodies by catering to them specifically with pieces such as the aforementioned ruched seams, a very high-waisted legging and a versatile caftan. "All of it has good give and is really well-built," she said. For the look book, Ditto enlisted longtime friend and supporter Katie Grand to style her and models Barbie Ferreria and Philomena Kwao.
It was Grand who orchestrated Ditto's runway appearance at Marc Jacobs's spring 2016 show as well. "She's always been 110% amazing to me," said Ditto, adding she was particularly excited to walk for Jacobs because the brand didn't ask her to perform — they just wanted her to model. "I think a lot of people would be like, 'What's it like to be fat and do that?'" she said. "But at the same time we're all people. And it was really fun and funny because I'm so short compared to those girls." Ditto followed it up with an appearance in the label's spring campaign, too.
So will Ditto be staging a runway show of her own in the future? "I'm so excited about the next [collection]," she said, implying this release is just the beginning. I suggested branching out into bridal in the future, but she responded that a big dream would be to tackle prom wear — a particularly underserved plus-size market. "I don't consider myself a part of fashion," she said. Looks like that's about to change.
See Beth Ditto's debut collection look book styled by Katie Grand below.