US & Canada

Plus-size models champion 'real' women on catwalk

Lizzie Miller tosses back her mane of blonde hair, smiles for the camera, and strikes a pose.

This tall, striking, curvy 21-year-old is preparing to take part in what will be the first ever catwalk show during New York fashion week that only features plus-size models - that is US size 12 (UK size 16) and above.

After eight years in the modelling business, Lizzie is celebrating her moment in the limelight.

She will be on the catwalk as what she calls the "superbowl" of fashion is taking place around her, in the Lincoln Centre on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Lizzie has been waiting a long time for fashion to embrace the fuller figure.

No longer relegated to the catalogues, plus-size models like Lizzie are now in demand.

Lizzie relates with delight how on a shoot in Spain recently, she was encouraged to express herself creatively.

Nancy Le Winter, editorial director of OneStopPlus.com, an online retailer for plus-size women, is one of the plus-size show's organisers.

"This show is a validation of the 62% of American women who are plus size," says Nancy.

"It's about empowerment. There has been a mistaken notion as to what inspires women - a size two woman may be inspired by a size zero model, but a size 12, 14, 18 woman won't be. We would like to see something we can identify with on the runway."

Healthy curves

As Lizzie Miller is fitted for the fashion show, one of the designers cuts into the neckline of her dress, and pins it even lower so it flatters her neckline - and bust.

Image caption Plus-size models have proportions that larger women can relate to

Nancy Le Winter says plus-size models have legs, breasts and hips that larger women can relate to - and they want to be trendy too.

After years in which the ultra skinny model has dominated the catwalk, now there is a shift towards the fuller figure.

At the luxury fashion house Luca Luca, they are looking for curvier models to cast in their runway show during fashion week.

The photographs of models pinned to a board in the Luca Luca studio may look ultra slim to the untrained eye - but in a world where models are routinely a US size zero (UK size 4), these young women are considered curvy.

"Fashion is cyclical, but this is a trend that is going to stay," says Yildiz Blackstone, the president of Luca Luca. "It is healthy to have curves."

Older women, she points out, tend to be less skinny than younger ones, but still want to be glamorous.

Ambiguous relationship

Robin Givhan, the influential fashion editor of the Washington Post, finds fashion's relationship with the plus-size customer complicated.

"While I think it's wonderful to celebrate the plus size, I think you also have to balance the fact that there's a - pardon the pun - epidemic of obesity. So celebrate it, yet recognise that at some point those larger sizes are not healthy."

Twenty-eight per cent of Americans are now obese - and there is money to be made in catering for the nearly two-thirds of American women who are plus size (over US size 12, UK size 16).

"Retailers want these women's business," says Nancy Le Winter. She feels the larger woman has been ignored for too long.

High fashion is also beginning to cater to this customer - Saks Department store will now make couture clothing to order for plus-size women.

Lizzie Miller is watching all these developments with great satisfaction. She has always felt there are women watching the fashion shows who just are not represented on the catwalk, and now she hopes to inspire them.

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