Catwalk catastrophe

A designer's staff abandons him over the decision to include plus-size models in a fashion show

Published September 21, 2009 5:22PM (EDT)

It's the kind of headline that can make your blood boil ... or at least vigorously simmer: "Stylist at London Fashion Week resigns over designer Mark Fast's decision to use size 14 models." As the Daily Mail reports, both the aforementioned stylist and a creative designer walked out on knitwear designer Mark Fast a mere three days before his Fashion Week show. And, yes, it was the addition of three models from the plus-size agency 12+ UK that caused their departure. According to Amanda May, Fast's creative director, the designer and his team parted ways due to "creative differences" over the decision. But, May affirms, "we are glad we stuck to our vision."

This wasn't Fast's first attempt to get larger (that is, average-size) women involved in fashion. The Guardian describes his work with size-12 model Hayley Morley (one of the three 12+ UK models featured in his show) on a photography exhibition called "All Walks Beyond the Catwalk," which features women ages 18-65, sizes 8-16, wearing clothing by young British designers.

So, this is a simple one, right? Fast is a hero for championing "real women," and his stylist and creative designer are villains for refusing to uphold his egalitarian vision. Perhaps. But the situation may not be as black and white as the British press has made it out to be. Of course Fast should be celebrated for widening (no pun intended) the range of body types on the runway. What gives me pause is that his decision sounds like it was made at the last minute. After all, why else would the stylist and creative designer have stuck with a project they didn't agree with for so long, only to drop out on principle three days before the show? Is it possible that Fast's staff was merely reacting to a development that would cost them countless hours of extra, unplanned work? Fashion Week is a stressful time, and I can imagine such news -- regardless of the laudable intentions -- causing some major "creative differences." And that's why I'm wary of labeling anyone a fat-hating harpy without hearing the other side of the story.

For me, the story is more notable for bringing to light the possible limitations of the emerging fashion-world vogue for incorporating larger female bodies. It's wonderful to see magazine editors showcasing Crystal Renn and Lizzi Miller, as designers fall all over themselves to create garments for Beth Ditto. Yet making real, lasting changes to the industry won't be as easy as sewing a few larger dresses and hiring some plus-size models, at the last minute, to walk them down the runway. As Guardian fashion reporter Alice Fisher noticed, Fast may have done a good job matching Morley and Co. with flattering dresses (and, in so doing, shattered the received wisdom that only skinny women can wear his clothing), but it didn't occur to him that models with ample bosoms needed supportive bras. Fisher's verdict? "Cast normal size women again, Fast, it was great. But next time, knit them a bra as well as a dress."

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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