What Christian Siriano’s bold, brilliant clothes tell us about designing for plus-size women


 


Christian Siriano, spring 2017. (Kate Warren for The Washington Post)

By: Robin Givhan/Washington Post

NEW YORK — Folks in the audience at the Christian Siriano show Saturday afternoon cheered his models. They were delighted by the diversity in both race and body shape. The designer has become one of Seventh Avenue’s most vocal advocates for plus-size women, and he made sure that they were represented on his runway.

As a cultural statement about inclusivity, Siriano’s show was quietly eloquent. As a nod to the buying power of plus-size women, he made a smart business decision.

Now to the clothes. Siriano has made a host of striking one-of-a-kind gowns for the red carpet. But the gowns that he showed as part of his spring 2017 collection did not have the same sophistication and elegance as those he has made for actresses such as Christina Hendricks or Leslie Jones. His runway clothes often overwhelmed the models — except, notably, the plus-size women.

More often than not, they were the models on the runway who looked best. Because of their size and stature, they could wear the sweeping jacket, the exuberant bell sleeves and the bright teal, and not simply fade away.

 

Designers have all sorts of reason for not creating clothes larger than a size 12. Some of those reason are stoked by prejudice. Sometimes, it’s ignorance. The difference between making a dress for a size 2 versus making one for a size 18 is not just a matter of grading the pattern up. The proportions change. So does the construction. A designer might need to reconsider the fabric.

[Tim Gunn: Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace.]

So here the situation is somewhat flipped: Siriano understands how to work in larger sizes. And his collection is especially adept at showing plus-size women at their best. But his smaller models often look cowed by their clothes. A palette of orange and teal, ruffles and floppy hats are high hurdles.

 

Siriano speaks the truth when he says that designers should be in the business of helping all women look their best. Doing so, however, is a challenge. Not because it is extraordinarily difficult but because it simply requires a different way of thinking, organizing and, perhaps, manufacturing. It means expanding one’s breadth of knowledge to become a fully literate designer.

[How a plus-size clothing label dug out of bankruptcy: Body pride, diversity and Instagram]

 

Siriano is adept at the part of fashion that so often stymies other designers. He understands that inclusiveness isn’t hard. The challenge for him is in making those size twos look good, too.

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