Within the already-elite world of modeling, runway models have long been in a league of their own: tall (5'9" at a minimum), willowy enough to fit into size-two samples and often have a look that Tyra Banks would describe as "ugly-pretty." But at New York Fashion Week this February, designers demonstrated an increasing determination to think beyond this narrow category, casting more plus-size models than ever for the Fall 2017 season.
At Michael Kors, Ashley Graham — the first plus-size model to ever walk his runway — looked right at home among a cast of modeling legends and next-generation supers. At Prabal Gurung, Candice Huffine and Marquita Pring strutted out alongside Joan Smalls and Bella Hadid in an ode to powerful women that included a much-buzzed-about finale of tees with slogans like "I Am An Immigrant" and "We Should All Be Feminists." Chromat and Christian Siriano, brands that have built identities around celebrating diversity, again proved that beauty comes in all sizes and that size inclusion on the runway should be the norm, rather than the exception.
This kind of progress has been a slow march; just a few years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than one or two models, if any, who fell outside the so-called "straight-size" category at NYFW. As conversations around identity and representation have gotten louder and more mainstream, however, different levels of the industry have adapted at their own pace. In retail, there is finally a surge of fashion-forward brands serving sizes well above a 12 (see: Eloquii, ASOS Curve and Lane Bryant's collaborations with Gurung and Siriano), while in media, curvy models are becoming regular cover fixtures, with Graham in particular scoring covers from Cosmopolitan to Vogue's almighty U.S. edition in the past year (though, it should be noted, many brands still "flatly refused" to dress her for her turn in Vogue UK). High fashion has been slower to adapt than mass brands, but if the recent runways are any indication, the tide may be turning.
To get their perspective on the season's casting opportunities and where the industry should go from here, we asked six of the boundary-breaking models who walked NYFW this season about being part of the movement towards size diversity and their goals for the future. (Hey, Alexander Wang, you listening?)
Candice Huffine (IMG)
"This was not my first time walking NYFW. I had the privilege of walking for Sophie Theallet twice — shows that were incredibly diverse in casting and that I feel were a glimpse into how runways should and will look regularly. This was, however, my first time being immersed in the go-see casting experience for shows, which I thought was awesome and imperative. Because it was some designers' first time using curvy women in their shows, I thought it was important to have the opportunity to get in front of them, actually walk and show them how this can work. I had a blast during the casting process, callbacks and late-night fittings. It was all a new experience for me, but one I know will not be the last.
We are living in a time where women will not stand for not being represented across the board. We want to feel empowered and inspired, and for that to happen we all need to be fully and fairly celebrated. Mark my words: This is just the beginning. Just as runways are diverse and expressive with designs, so shall that be with the kind of women wearing them. And I don't even mean just size diversity — the shift that occurred this past NYFW includes all shapes, ages and races. To me, seeing an array of beauty on a runway breathes another dimension of life into the fashion.
I want to see the strides made during this season be a solid commitment moving forward — not a one-off kind of thing. There really isn't any going back now, and I am hopeful there will be more designers to add to the list next season that want to celebrate and showcase a stunning variety of women."
Katy Syme (Muse)
"I walked for Chromat in 2015, which was my first fashion week experience. Each season, there seems to be more and more designers asking to see a range of women. February is typically quieter for us than September, but not this year.
The runways are the top of the fashion food chain. They have the most prestige, command the most respect and traditionally set the standards for what will trickle down into mainstream fashion. I'm hoping the more diversity we can get on the runways, the more we will see that reflected everywhere else.
We're moving little by little, but this season we saw more size diversity than ever, as well as some beautiful racial and age diversity in the casting at Tome and Chromat. I'm sure that's the way things will continue to move. We are living in an age of inclusivity, of embracing who you are and celebrating it.
I want to see every type of woman represented in fashion: If you can buy the clothes in a size, that size should be sent down the runway. When I started modeling, I did so to represent the women who have never seen a body type like theirs in the media. Not everyone is a size 2 or a perfectly curvaceous 12, and no girl should feel lesser-than because of what her body looks like. It's our job to normalize more than one or two body types. (P.S. Cast me in the Wang show!)"
Jocelyn Corona (Muse)
"This was my second season doing NYFW, and that means the industry is changing a lot. At the castings, there was so much more diversity: models with all colors of skin, nationalities, body types, etc. My first season at NYFW, [plus-size models] were just doing a few castings and only for a few designers. This season it improved, but there still are not enough designers are casting plus-size.
We have to end the stereotype that there is just one definition of beauty. I think it should be normal to see a curve model doing runway — as well as beauty campaigns, editorials and commercials — in the same way that it's completely normal to see a straight-size model. Social media is a very important factor, because young girls are constantly being attacked with information that makes them feel insecure about their size and the way that they should look. But if we continue our direction, there will not be any "single type of beauty" because there is a huge world of diversity out here.
We are part of the change, but I would love to see more opportunities and different ways to express what we are working toward. Change is already here, but let's talk less and act more. So many people feel connected with the models that are walking a show — feeling you are beautiful, you are strong and there is nothing you can not do. Designers have to be part of [the movement] because that is what the market is calling for. Your designs can't just be for women size 0-4.
One of my personal goals is to appear in a Balmain campaign or show, to do a beauty campaign and shoot for Sports Illustrated, but more than that I want to make a positive impact on all the girls out there my age feeling down or not good enough in their bodies, thinking "I'm not pretty" or that they can't be the person that they want because society doesn't like their authentic self."
Melissa Koole (Muse)
"I would say that this is my first 'real' season doing NYFW, besides a few castings in the past. A lot more designers are up for some game-changing business, and that was definitely reflected in the amount of castings this season. It was thrilling to be able to go to more castings — getting out there with your fellow models. I feel like in past seasons, people would still give some weird look if you showed up at a casting not being a size 0, but now everyone knows that this is the deal.
I think it's super-important that runway and high fashion catches up, because we can be just as interesting and inspiring as the other models are. We do our job; we make clothing look beautiful and can create just as much of an inspiring story or a persuading image as our peers do. We're good at what we do, and by using us the designer can actually address a whole new range of customers out there — customers that have been excluded in fashion, in representation on the runway, in magazines and in store sizes. Seeing models of all different shapes and sizes helps people visualize themselves in the garment, and it also makes us aware that our beauty is in our differences. Your size doesn't define you, whether that's a size 0 or a size 20, and it's important for fashion to showcase that.
I used to be a 'regular size' model when I was 14-17 years old, but I couldn't meet the high-fashion requirements in a healthy way. Looking back, I know how important it would have been for me to see models that weren't as thin on the runway and in magazines. I paid a high price during those years as a teenager, and I want to prevent other girls from going through that.
All I ever want is to feel just as worthy as my fellow models, which shouldn't be so hard, but the past has shown me it is. At Tracy Reese I noticed a feeling that I haven't felt regularly: equality. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but I've felt a little heartbroken ever since I left the industry for not being thin enough, and now I feel like that same industry is starting to let me back in. The little flame inside of me transformed into a powerful fire, and I'm so ready for this!
My personal goal is to inspire other people and show that you should always believe in your own capabilities and talents. I think no one should hold you back in doing what you love. So for the future, I've definitely set my mind on walking for designers like Alexander Wang, Jil Sander and Alberta Ferretti, because that's what I would love to do."
Iskra Lawrence (JAG Models)
"This was not my first season doing NYFW week. I always love being a part of it and every season is different. This season was great; we got to see a lot of models with different body types walking.
My job as a model, whether I am on the runway or in a photo shoot, is the same — I want to show that fashion is not just for one body type, but can be made to fit and look great on anyone. High fashion should make you feel beautiful and confident, which I feel the most when I am in something that fits me well and complements my shape. Fashion shouldn't just be about looking good, though; it should be about feeling good. We need to teach everyone the importance of taking care of yourself and your body, which starts by accepting your own shape. If the industry embraces individuality and different sizes and shapes, it will be a lot easier for everyone else to embrace their own.
When I was walking in Chromat and Christian Siriano this season, I felt supported and celebrated by the designers and the other models. For the most part, the people I work with want to be more inclusive and want to showcase all different women. I work with people who want to work with me for who I am and what I represent — those are the types of people that are going to really push to change the industry.
In the coming seasons I want to see more strong, confident women of all body types showcased. I had an amazing time working with Chromat and Christian Siriano, and I hope more models have the same opportunity to work with great designers like I did. My personal goal is to continue to push the envelope for body positivity and self-care. I want to show how taking care of yourself and teaching yourself to love your body for all it is, will make not only fashion, but your life, better and more enjoyable."
Sabina Karlsson (JAG Models)
"I've done NYFW before and I always enjoy it. As a curve and mixed model I've been wanting to see more diversity on the runways, which I have this season. I'm happy to see that that more designers are casting a broader range of models. We're not all the way there yet, but with time we will be.
It's important for all bodies to be included when it comes to fashion. This is how our society looks — diverse — so we have to showcase that in the fashion industry, too. Represent everyone. When I was younger I would've loved to have seen someone my size and complexion. That's why inclusivity is so important — send the message out that beauty comes in all different ways.
I'd love to keep going in the direction I am and do even bigger things — like more high fashion campaigns and editorial jobs — and keep inspiring girls and women to love themselves just as they are."
Interviews as told to Hilary George-Parkin have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage photo: Candice Huffine walks the runway at Prabal Gurung show during New York Fashion Week at Gallery I at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Pietro D'aprano/FilmMagic)