"Its not about talk about anymore, it’s about action," said Ashley Graham backstage before Wednesday's Addition Elle runway show at the Kia STYLE360 venue. The entrepreneur and model-of-the-moment is the most successful plus-size model around, having landing multiple covers (Elle Canada, Cosmopolitan, and Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue) and appeared on major runways (Marc Jacobs, H&M). As such, she's a major voice pushing for body diversity in fashion, a topic that's been buzzing again this season after Tim Gunn wrote a powerful op-ed for The Washington Post and designer Christian Siriano cast five curvy models in his spring show.
"It's a time in the industry when people are given the opportunity to make change, and we’re really seeing who is actually doing it and who’s not," said Graham, adding that even though there weren't enough plus-size models on the runway this season, progress is being made.
The model spoke backstage before walking the runway in her own lingerie collection as well as blogger Nadia Aboulhosn's ready-to-wear designs for Addition Elle. The Canadian plus-size retailer also debuted its new F* This campaign— which calls for a "fashion democracy." The show's high-profile, plus-size model lineup included Sabina Karlsson, Precious Lee, Marquita Pring, Candice Huffine, Barbie Ferreira, Tara Lynn and, in only her second runway appearance, Jordyn Woods.
"Marquita walked in the Tome show but nobody talked about it," said Graham. "And I think that it's great that nobody talked about it, but it’s also sad that nobody talked about it because we’re in a really interesting place where you want people to use us and not talk about that there’s a curvy, plus-size model in your show. But if you’re not talking about it, nobody knows about it." Pring herself agreed about the Tome show. "I love that it was seamlessly incorporated and it wasn't just, 'Look at us and our curvy girl!,'" she said. "It was just, this is another woman that we can dress; but at the same time, it does need that attention because we are making a huge change."
Pring has seen the modeling industry change radically over her 11-year career — "It's a slow progression but, of course, that’s the way it has to be, that's how change happens" — and she sees inclusion starting to move away from just a publicity stunt. "The reality is starting to finally sink in for these people and they're realizing that there’s so much more money to be made; and these women are demanding it." She's eager to continue building on her success this season (she walked Siriano, too) and land more editorial and high-fashion runway jobs. Pring also wants to bridge the gap between plus-size and straight-size in fashion. "If you're size 6, 8, 10 — those women need to see aspirational images and things that they can be inspired by and not just think that they need to be super skinny or much bigger." She says that size range is even harder to find represented in mainstream media.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Barbie Ferreira has seen her fair share of industry change even in the one year since she signed with Wilhelmina. "Just [in terms of] opportunities, even if I don't necessarily get the job, I get the casting and to me, that's amazing, to get your foot in the door," she said. On Tuesday night she appeared in Rachel Antonoff's Betty and Veronica-themed presentation. "I got a DM from (Antonoff) saying, 'Do my show!'" she said. "It was the cutest thing I've ever been a part of." After fashion week, Ferreira is hitting the road for several different projects: she's shooting a magazine editorial in Paris, then a shoot for Missguided in the U.K. and heading to Los Angeles for a catalog job. "I think it's definitely going in the right direction," she said. "We'll see if the higher-end shows ever bite."
In the meantime, the atmosphere on stage and backstage at Addition Elle on Wednesday was one of powerful positivity. "Last year, we made such an impact and this year we're just going to slay even more," said Graham.
"I'm ready to kill it; I'm just thinking about not falling," said Woods before showtime. Her Boohoo collection debuted on Monday and she made the rounds during fashion week with BFF Kylie Jenner. "I try not to think about it too much and just go with the flow," she said, adding that she learned not to sway her arms too much after her runway debut for Christian Siriano's Lane Bryant collaboration in May.
When it was finally go-time, the models brought Graham's lace and bondage-influenced lingerie to life on the runway as the crowd cheered on — not because it was brave, but because it was chic. And, of course, very sexy.
See images from the runway show in the gallery below.