Victoria Secret campaigns, the covers of Vogue, catwalks of Balmain. Plus-sized models have become a huge part of fashion in recent years.
Some, including Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday, have become huge stars in their own right – with podcasts, brand deals and dozen of magazine covers.
But it seems the tide may be turning on plus-sized models, with brands backing away from using bigger stars in favour of the more traditional skinny model.
One London-based fashion consultant told recently said a high-street brand she worked with ditched size 16 models because they didn’t drive as many sales as size 8 women.
Speaking anonymously, she told the Telegraph: ‘People might say they want to see more size inclusivity, but fashion is a business. If the plus-size models aren’t shifting stock, they’re unlikely to be used again’.
Felicity Hayward, a successful plus-size model, author and body positivity activist, told FEMAIL: ‘We want to be seen, we want to see clothes on people who look like us, and we want to see brands including the curve – not as a gimmick but as a normality.
‘Often we can see a brand using one or two plus-size models and assume that they are now inclusive, but it’s usually far from the truth.’
It comes after Victoria’s Secret claimed its recent marketing campaign, promoting curvier figures, is to blame for a decline in sales – and it’s set to ditch its feminist makeover in favour of ‘sexiness’ once again.
The US giant dropped its traditional catwalk shows, showcasing the brand’s ‘Angels’, in 2018, and vowed to become ‘the world’s leading advocate for women’.
But while the move to become a more inclusive retailer gained ‘favourable reviews online, [it] never translated into sales,’ according to Business of Fashion reporter Cathleen Chen.
The brand’s revenue is projected to reach $6.2 billion for 2023, a five per cent drop from last year and even lower than 2020 when the brand made $7.5 billion.
Nevertheless, for other companies, plus-size models have proven to boost lingerie sales.
Take Kim Kardashian’s label, SKIMS, for example – it’s flourished into a $4 billion business in under four years.
Meanwhile, Rihanna’s brand, Savage x Fenty, is currently valued at $270 million. The singer is renowned for incorporating models of varying sizes and races in her marketing campaigns, as well as the runway shows.
At the peak of the body inclusivity movement in 2018, the fashion industry promoted the belief that ‘all bodies are beautiful’.
Plus-size models Ashley Graham, Tess Holliday, Precious Lee and Jill Kortleve were leading the way – with the backing of luxury brands Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Fendi.
But during the last catwalk season – Spring/Summer 2024 – only 0.9 per cent of models were plus-size (UK 18).
A report by Vogue Business, which analysed 9,584 looks across 230 presentations in New York, London, Milan and Paris, also found that 3.9 per cent of models were mid-size (UK 10-14). Therefore, 95.2 per cent of women were size 4-8.
In comparison, Vogue Business reported that in Autumn/Winter 2023, just 0.6 per cent of models were plus-size and 3.8 per cent were mid-size – leaving 95.6 per cent between sizes 4 and 8.
‘Thankfully numbers [of plus-size models] were higher by September 2023, possibly due to the amount of pressure and online commentary saying horrendous it was,’ Felicity said.
‘The fashion industry listened to the “heroin chic” and Ozempic narrative that was being pushed.’
Speculation has been rife over whether dozens of models and celebrities are taking Ozempic, a diabetes drug that promotes weight loss by suppressing appetite.
Many fans believed Kim Kardashian took the injectable drug in order to squeeze into a dress belonging to Marilyn Monroe for the 2022 Met Gala, but she denies these rumours.
On TikTok, searches for Ozempic have attracted over 537 million views.
Felicity runs her own report, called #IncludingTheCurve, which she has been working on since 2019.
She said: ‘Although we might see a change in numbers each season, we need to remember that having less than 1 per cent of plus-size models on the catwalks isn’t something to be proud of.’
‘A catwalk should represent the world,’ she continued.
‘There is so much power in representation and I’m hoping some of the bigger designers are finally starting to realise we don’t want the nineties anymore.’
The April 2023 issue of British Vogue – entitled ‘The New Supers’ – featured plus-size models Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee and Jill Kortleve on the cover, branding them ‘a new kind of supermodel’ – so perhaps a resurgence is on the cards.
‘I always think about the 15-year-old girl sitting in her bedroom in Milwaukee who needs to see someone with boobs or a belly represented,’ Paloma Elsesser told Vogue.
‘It’s about more than just a picture – what we’re doing is creating a reference.’
A small number of high street brands are also on side, including ASOS, who sells over 3,000 plus-size products as part of its Curve range.
And it seems as though business is blooming for the online retailer, who told The Telegraph: ‘Skirts in particular are performing exceptionally well, at almost double the sell-through rate of last Autumn/Winter.’
H&M is another advocate for body inclusivity. It’s website states: ‘Making great fashion available to everyone has always been our thing.
‘Through our collections we want to embrace the diversity of being human. We want you to be who you are and feel good about yourself!
‘That’s why we support and collaborate with organisations and initiatives across the globe that take a stand for things we believe in. Like gender equality, women’s rights and body positivity.’