Orange Is The New Black star Danielle Brooks may wear a prison jumpsuit in her best-known role, but offscreen, she’s become known for her killer sense of style — I know she’s all over my Pinterest and Tumblr pages. And along with being a fashion inspiration and a TV, movie, and theater star, Brooks has become an advocate for inclusivity in the fashion and beauty industries. She’s spoken out about the difficulty of finding plus-size designs she can wear on the red carpet, called out America’s Next Top Model for not including plus-size contestants, and, most recently, written a powerful essay about the viral, racist Dove advertisement in which a black woman takes off her shirt and turns into a white woman.
Now, Brooks is adding “designer” to her lengthy resume, thanks to a new collaboration with e-commerce brand Universal Standard. Brooks’ three-piece capsule collection is part of Universal Standard’s Tria project, in which the brand teams up with plus-size influencers to create three pieces that answer the question, “If you could design three pieces that you always wished you had in your closet, but could never find, what would they be?” For Brooks, that’s a pair of black overalls (which I’m definitely coveting), "The Brooks Overalls" ($120), a multi-way sweater dress available in black or aubergine, "The Dani Sweater Dress Dress" ($190), and an asymmetrical shirt dress available in teal, rose, black, "The Danielle Shirt Dress" ($110).
Participating in the Tria project, Brooks tells BUST, “just made sense.” She adds that she is “a person who wants to be able to express herself through her clothes, and not having those options is really what sparked this.”
Now, she says, “I get to pull something off my rack that not only I designed, but that I love. And I get to see so many other women who have different forms and shapes than I do rock it and make it their own.”
Brooks adds that she wants to see more straight-size designers make clothes for women above a size 12: “I don’t want to make it an us/them thing, but it really is a matter of these brands who aren’t branching out and designing for every and all women. Those designers need to catch up and get it together, because it’s a million-dollar, billion-dollar business, and the market is being ignored. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t design for plus size.”
As Universal Standard cofounder Alex Waldman points out, “67% of American women are size 14 and above. That’s 100 million women in the US alone who don’t have the choices that they should.”
Both Brooks and Waldman name Christian Siriano (who attended their launch party) and Premme designers Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason as designers who are “doing amazing things” for plus-size women. Brooks adds that there’s no competition between the plus-size designers she follows: “I think it’s dope that we’re all supporting each other. Nicolette just posted a photo wearing Universal Standard, and I’ve done the same with her clothing line. There’s enough to go around!”
Of the debate over the word “plus-size” — some celebrities, like Ashley Graham and Melissa McCarthy, have said they don’t like and don’t use the term — both Brooks and Waldman say there are no easy answers. Waldman says that, for an e-commerce company like Universal Standard, the term is important to make their brand visible: “No one is going to sit down and google ‘modern, elevated, size-inclusive women’s clothing.’ They’re going to put in ‘plus-size’ and see what’s out there. In terms of reality and of being heard and seen, it’s still the term that resonates the most.” Brooks adds, “I think the word is overused, but I still use it. I think ‘plus-size’ is overused, I think ‘curvy’ is overused. Maybe the point is we just need to be seen as women who wear clothes.”
Brooks does have one specific woman in mind who she wants to see in her clothes — Oprah.
“Gayle King came and did a panel with myself and Alex, and she said she really liked the overalls,” Brooks says. “I think it would be cool to see her and Oprah rocking them. That would be dope.”
Brooks is balancing the launch of the collection with a busy shooting schedule for Orange Is The New Black, which she’ll continue filming through February. “I’m a busy bee,” she says. “Yesterday I was at work at 5am til about 10pm, and then this morning I was in hair and makeup at 7am, and then interviews, and I’ll be going late tonight, and doing it all over again tomorrow. The schedule is demanding, but I love it, I thrive on it.” Several of her OITNB co-stars turned up to support her at her launch party: Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, and Adrienne C. Moore.
But although her schedule is busy, Brooks says she’s glad that she is able to be visible for women who are yearning to see themselves represented in media.
“I always wanted to see myself represented, and I think God has a funny way of saying, ‘Okay, you want to see yourself? You want to be that girl?’” Brooks says. “I wanted to see people who look like me on the red carpet and on runways and in magazines, and all that stuff. So I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be that person. I’m grateful that women can seen themselves in me and they can relate to me. That’s a really good feeling.”
New Yorkers can shop Danielle Brooks X Universal Standard collection in person at a pop-up shop now through Sunday, November 19 at 107 Grand St. in Soho, 11am-7pm daily. The collection is available online here.
Images via Universal Standard
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