Fashion schools adapting by designing for bodies of all shapes, sizes
When a group of girls walk into a department store, “divide and conquer” is the usual strategy. But when women come in all different shapes and sizes, why should they have to “divide”? Why can’t all of their clothing be found in a single section?
That’s what supermodel and entrepreneur Emme believes, and why she is on a mission to educate students so that they can graduate and bring their rare skills into the marketplace.
“If over half of the population is above a size 12, for them to not be included in the fashion conversation is just ludicrous,” says Emme. “It’s time to let go of all the stereotypes and fat-isms out there and include women in the conversation.”
With the help of Emme and other body diversity advocates, universities across the country are beginning to implement full figure dress forms into their fashion school curriculum so that they can graduate and bring their knowledge of how to dress a full figured woman into the workforce and eventually onto the clothing racks.
Cornell was one of the first schools to initiate the movement when three sophomore apparel design students decided to design an entirely plus size clothing line for women as part of their product development class in the spring of 2013. This required students to design and build a their own size 24 mannequin since few were available for purchase.
This semester, Syracuse University fashion design department partnered with Emme, a ‘85 grad, to create Fashion Without Limits, a design initiative that was created out of the need for greater availability of sizes 12+ in clothing stores nationwide.
Students in their junior year draping class will be working on dress forms sizes 12 and above, compliments of Wolf Form Co. They will learn not just how to adjust measurements to fit the larger forms, but to design patterns, fabrics and fits that will be flattering on a range of bodies. According to Emme, the full figured market is cluttered with matronly apparel or athletic fits.
“We are in the moment of a major tipping point largely because of social media and online access to the consumer,” says Emme. “She is no longer silent — she is so mad and so angry! Like a fur vest for the season: just make the arms holes and back a little bigger would, ya! It’s just silly.”
The classes are also working on writing their own textbooks about how to dress plus-size dress forms, as there aren’t any out there at the moment.
The sophomore fashion illustration classes are also being introduced to drawing full-figured models for the first time, in order to prepare them for their junior year challenge. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at SU also offers a course titled, “Body Diversity in Media,” which aims to educate up and comers on the importance of embracing all types of figures — both men and women — on all media frontiers.
“We need to infuse within the educational system how to design on a variety of women’s bodies aside from sizes 2-8 that are constantly given to these schools,” says Emme.
Emme has been working closely with the students and has already visited them twice this semester. The curriculum also includes a competition, where the student with the best design will get to have their garment worn by Emme at a red carpet event and win a $500 prize. The winner will be announced at the end of the 2015 semester.
“It is not so much about the result or the product or end of the class, but about building this shift about body image and ideals of beauty and developing a curriculum engaging that shift,” says Todd Conover, fashion design program coordinator and assistant professor in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. “Right now it’s driven by pop culture instead of fashion. It’s a cosmetic issue.”
SU students typically work on a size 6, but this semester they have dressed sizes 16, 20 and 22 mannequins. Conover hopes to see students take what they’ve learned their sophomore and junior years and focus their senior collections on full figured fashion. That way, they will have that work to show employers and can bring their knowledge to that label.
Emme’s ultimate goal is to have fashion lines range from a size 2-22 and not have to be referred to a different department if a person wears anything above a size 12.
“But first, we need to teach students and designers about the body shape above a size 12,” says Emme. “When students are freshly graduated with that kind of experience, they will look great to employers who don’t know much about that. Right now it’s a barrier to a lot of companies.”
“If you look around you there’s usually not someone who fits the measurements of the dress forms we use,” says Alex Summers, a junior fashion design major. “We just make clothes meant to fit smaller people than bigger people. What we’re doing now is an entirely different way to go in fashion, but someone has got to do it.”
Other universities with renowned fashion schools like Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York city and Kent State University in Kent, Ohio have embraced this emerging market and are teaching students how to dress full figured women in a way that fits into their curriculum.
Many fashion labels have tried integrating plus sizes into their collections, but few have been successful. Just ask Calvin Klein, who was scrutinized last week for featuring a size 10 model in their plus size line.
“In the future, I would like to see women be able to go out shopping and to find what they are looking for,” says Emme. “Together.”