Tricia Campbell via The Fount Group
When Frances Cordova walked down the runway at New York Fashion Week on September 6, 2013, someone backstage whispered, “you know you’re making history?” She looked around at the other models in an “Oh My God” moment. Cordova and five other women modeled for Cabiria, the first ever plus size brand to show at Fashion Week.
Liz Black, a writer for Refinery29, called the show a “revolutionary moment” and said that outfits like Cordova’s graphic black and white printed dress “threw out antiquated notions of what plus size women can and can’t wear.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” says Cordova, “To be one of the first six plus size girls to walk the runway at Fashion Week, it was exciting.”
Walking the runway at Fashion Week is a rare opportunity for any model, but for plus size models, who spend most of their time working for department stores or as live mannequins for designers, known as fit modeling, the chance is once in a lifetime. More and more plus size models like Cordova are finding success, but only a few lucky women get high fashion jobs in magazines or ad campaigns with top designers.
Tricia Campbell, a plus size model who has been featured in Glamour, said: “Plus size models are normally more accepted in commercial, everyday work. But I feel like that is changing because the plus size models who are working now, and the art directors of magazines, want to show that women with curves can be mainstream and fashionable.”
Frances Cordova via Wilhelmina
Despite the triumph of models like Campbell, there are many difficulties in the plus size industry. Chauncea Carothers, a fashion publicist who represents Campbell, commented: “There are always limitations as far as what size they allow to be on the runway, on the cover of magazines, especially with an American audience. Those limitations are always present. Why are they present? I think it’s just the history of the fashion industry.”
The lack of diversity is especially noticeable on the runway during Fashion Week, when designers often choose the tiniest models for economic reasons. Cordova explains, “during Fashion Week, many designers have their clothes done in smaller sizes because it’s cheaper that way. Why spend more money on more fabric when you can have smaller girls wearing the same stuff?”
In New York Fashion Week’s 70 year history, Cabiria was the first plus size brand to stage a fashion show at the event, and Cordova was one of only six models. A typical fashion show would include 15 or more models who walk the runway multiple times each.
Even though change is slow in North America, Campbell believes plus size models are becoming more successful abroad. She says, “I notice the change mostly in Europe. Elle France did Tara Lynn. Vogue Australia did Robyn Lawley.”
Lynn and Lawley are plus size supermodels. Lynn starred in global H&M swimwear campaigns, has been featured in high fashion glossies like Vogue Italia, and was on the cover of Elle Spain. Lawley was the first plus size model in Ralph Lauren’s ad campaigns. She graced the pages of GQ Australia, and is the face of Chantelle Lingerie, a brand found in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Macy’s.
Campbell is starting to experience international success herself. “Tricia was just asked to be part of a conference in Paris,” said Carothers, “for the most part international markets are intrigued by curvier women.”
In the US, it is rare for plus size models to move beyond mainstream clients like department stores, and into high fashion magazines. According to Artemis Theocharis, a beauty editor at Plus Model Magazine, an online plus size fashion magazine, “The reason plus size girls are more commercial is that designers are not embracing plus size fashion. The industry is not fitting plus size models into the avant garde.”
Plus size models can achieve success by working for mass market companies, even if they are not welcome in the high fashion world. Cordova has modeled for big names including Macy’s and Target. Campbell regularly works with O, The Oprah Magazine, “I’m the creative director Adam Glassman’s muse,” she said.
Both Campbell and Cordova have been modeling for years, but getting big jobs like magazine photo shoots and ad campaigns is tough. Cordova often works in fashion showrooms, where models stand around for hours so industry experts can see how clothing looks on a real body. “I’ve done lingerie shows where you basically show people a bra and underwear on your body, and people ask if they can touch the material,” said Cordova. Campbell also models in showrooms but she says, “my day to day is fit, my first gig was fit modeling coats for Burlington Coat Factory.”
According to Carothers, “Tricia’s been working in the industry for quite some time. She’s had a lot of great opportunities. She’s done a lot, but it hasn’t been highlighted as heavily as it should be.”
One of Campbell’s most exciting opportunities was a shoot with Terry Richardson, a famous high fashion photographer, for Vice magazine. Campbell describes the shoot as “a very big boost” for her career. “I was shot in my swimsuit. I felt great the day he was shooting me. The plus size industry was not very happy with me when I did it, because he’s very controversial. I got backlash from it, but I was like ‘you know what? Hey, at least they’re talking about me.’”
Campbell was also shot in a swimsuit for Essence. “It was a swim issue,” she says, “It was two of us plus size models. The flew us to Miami and shot us on the beach, which I live for. I grew up on the beach and I’m most comfortable in a swimsuit.”
Swimwear and lingerie are two areas of the fashion industry that embrace plus size models, while the beauty industry remains dominated by skinny models. Campbell hopes to change that; “The thing I would love to see, and hopefully I’ll break this barrier down, is more plus size models in beauty campaigns,” she says.
Cordova’s ultimate goal is to work with a beauty company like Revlon or MAC. According to Cordova, “plus size models should have opportunities with all the different campaigns, whatever they may be.”
Cordova and Campbell may be in luck, because Robyn Lawley starred in a video and beauty campaign for Barneys New York’s holiday makeup collection, appropriately named “Face Time.”
Robyn Lawley via Barney's
This post was originally published on HerCampus.com.