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Plus Size Models Take New York Fashion Week: Interview With Ashley Graham And ALDA

You’ve seen it before: the heralded “plus-size fashion editorial,” featuring gorgeous, talented, curvy models...and zero clothes.

Now, meet “Real Love.” The photography exhibition — perfectly timed for New York Fashion Week — features portraits of the beautiful and BUST-approved ALDA models Ashley Graham (who you may recognize from Sports Illustrated), Marquita Pring, Danielle Redman, Julie Henderson and Inga Eiriksdottir.

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The 26 photos (plus one video) are unlike typical plus-size photography because they focus on the women’s faces, not their bodies. There are elegant black-and-white, vintage-style portraits; ‘60s pop-art-style shots; and playful, pin-up style looks — and not a nude photo in sight.

Marquita Pring at Real Love. Credit: Sean Zanni at Patrick McMullan

“As a curvy model, it’s usually so focused on our bodies, so it was great to have the opportunity to really zoom in on our faces,” Marquita Pring told BUST at the opening night of the exhibition. “It was so creative and so exciting and so different for all of us.”

The decision to hold the exhibition during New York Fashion Week was deliberate. Although plus-size models are busy with parties and press during NYFW, they’re rarely seen on the runways.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Do you do runway?’ And I never really have. I’ve done it, yes, but I’ve never had the opportunity to do it during New York Fashion Week because girls my size just aren’t included,” said Ashley Graham.

 Ashley Graham at Real Love. Credit: Sean Zanni at Patrick McMullan

The photo series was over a decade in the works for creative director Paul Warren, who told BUST he was inspired by his own experiences with “objectification and marginalization” as a black man in the predominantly white gay community.

“Typically, I’m being told, ‘This is how far you can go,’” he said. “I wanted to say something about that, so I thought, I work in the fashion industry, who understands this? Plus models are considered less. When they’re labeled ‘plus,’ they tell them, ‘You can only go this far.’”

“We only throw these girls in magazines when they’re naked or in lingerie. That’s not a bad thing, but it can’t be the only thing,” he added.

Other guests pointed out that the photos’ diversity expands beyond size — two of the five ALDA models are women of color.

ALDA model Danielle Redman said of the fashion industry, “I’d love to see more diversity in every way. We need to see how clothes work on other people besides the stick-thin people. And we need to see different races on the runway.”

Danielle Redman at Real Love. Credit: Sean Zanni at Patrick McMullan

Speaking of that runway, Ashley Graham will finally take the catwalk during New York Fashion Week as a designer when she presents her lingerie collection with Addition Elle. She's also part of Lane Bryant's #PlusIsEqual event.

“I think we’re the only plus size retailer showing at New York Fashion Week,” Ashley said of Addition Elle. “We're in the same pavilion as the Kardashian Kollection and Adam Levine.”

Ashley said that she's excited to see that the industry is finally beginning to embrace plus-size models. 

“It’s so exciting that it’s beginning to happen," she said. "We’re not being looked at for the number in our pants but for our beautiful forms and our faces, like all models.”

Want to check out “Real Love”? The exhibit will be displayed at 555 West 25th Street from September 10th - 25th.

More on BUST.com

These 5 Plus Models Are Changing The Face Of The Fashion Industry

Sports Illustrated Features A Plus Size Model (But Buries Her In An Ad)

A Plus Size Model Is On The Cover Of Women's Running. Here's Why It Matters.

Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at erikawsmith@bust.com.

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