Anna Wintour opened Vogue’s annual Forces of Fashion summit with a message of positivity. Describing the recent US election result as “inspiring,” she went on to praise designers who have fearlessly pushed on despite the challenges faced during the ongoing pandemic, reassuring virtual attendees that this is “a moment of change and of hope” – an appropriate prelude to the first discussion of the day: “Whose Positivity?,” moderated by Gabriella Karena-Johnson and featuring models Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee, Tess McMillan and Jill Kortleve.
“We have to acknowledge the fact that there was a time, not long ago, where this entire panel wouldn’t exist,” said Karefa-Johnson, referencing the shifts in the industry over the past decade and increasing diversity now shown on the runway. Recalling her first entry into the world of fashion, Kortleve described a painful two-year period of simply trying to lose weight in order to fit with the zeitgeist, while McMillan found herself pigeon-holed by agencies who wanted to place her in their ‘Curve’ sections – something she described as “very offensive.”
Critiquing the vocabulary used to describe models’ bodies, Lee talked of the divisive implications of using such terms as ‘plus-size,’ a categorization she feels is antiquated given the fact that the average size of women in the US is a 14.
“I’m more than capable of creating a beautiful moment in a picture,” she said, as the discussion dug deeper into their thoughts on tokenism. “I think of my work as art,” said McMillan. “I’m not just a body that sells clothes.” Elsesser supported this, referring to a time when she would only be styled in “lingerie and a jacket,” for high fashion editorials because there were no runway samples created to fit her shape.
Describing her appearances on the Alexander McQueen and Fendi runways as “amazing moments,” former Vogue Arabia cover star, Elsesser explained the importance of such castings in relation to the resulting trickle-down effect: samples are created for the runway show and later shot for editorials before ultimately making it into stores.
Collectively and throughout the discussion, topics linked back to notions of ‘labelling’ and ‘limitation’. These are beautiful women who don’t want to be dictated to by the fashion industry, society, or anyone else for that matter. Describing her experience of walking the Versace SS21 runway as “a win for so many women…an exhale almost,” Lee was grateful that her chosen look – a short, vibrant fitted dress with towering neon green platforms – celebrated (and not covered), her body. “Don’t allow my extra 12 inches to scare you away!” she said, laughing.