Ashley Graham had one hell of a February: She wasn't just the first plus-size model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue's editorial pages, but she was on the cover. Then, she kicked off March by walking in a Paris Fashion Week show, for H&M's fall '16 studio collection. Days later, the size-16 model rolled out her capsule collection for Dressbarn's more upscale Dressbar offerings, called Beyond by Ashley Graham.
Priced at just $48 to $68 and available in sizes 4 to 24, there are 11 styles in total (four of which are available now), in a primarily black and white palette. It's a savvy pair-up for the retailer, which went through an ambitiously chic brand revamp in September (replete with Patrick Demarchelier-lensed imagery) without trying to ditch its core fortysomething customer and her need for cubicle-ready getups.
“It wasn’t really creating something completely different,” Graham told Refinery29 of the roster of wearable, mostly work-apropos dresses. "If it wasn’t something that already lived in my closet, I didn’t want to make it."
Just a few short hours after touching down on the tarmac after her Paris catwalk debut, Graham hosted a dinner in NYC to toast her Dressbarn collection, and spoke with Refinery29 about her tremendous past couple of weeks — and her excellent career to-do list in the fashion industry and, well, beyond.
You just walked in H&M’s awesomely inclusive Paris Fashion Week show — how was that?
“H&M was so honest about including so much diversity, and letting people know that there’s really not only one kind of beauty. It was one of those moments where I gave myself a big pat on the back. I was in a show with Pat Cleveland, Jourdan Dunn, Natasha Vodianova, Amber Valetta — iconic girls. To be among those women, and to have them pull me aside backstage and say, ‘I’m so proud of you’ — it was amazing. Amber and I are BFFs now; we met at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, then saw each other a few days later in Paris.”
Now that you’ve walked in a PFW show, what sorts of gigs do you want to do next?
“Givenchy! Riccardo [Tisci], I’m here for you, baby! (laughs) Also, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Carolina Herrera, and Narciso Rodriguez. Imagine a curvy girl in all five of those designers — it would be perfect.”
What other sorts of opportunities are you gunning for?
“I would also love to shoot for American Vogue. I’d love a hair and makeup campaign — no plus-size model has ever done it. I’m always told, ‘Oh, from the shoulders up, you don’t look plus-size, so you should actually do beauty.’ But what if I did actually look plus-size from the shoulders up? I should still be doing beauty. I should still be having hair campaigns — it shouldn’t matter.”
Do you expect to see more non-sample-sized models on the runway come spring 2017?
"Designers are really reluctant to cast girls my size. They’re making each dress custom, and they’re making them so quickly, using sample-sizes. It’s a cookie-cutter thing. All of a sudden, if you put a size-14 girl in a show, it’s like, ‘Oh crap, we have to really, really make something custom.’ It’s a logistical thing, and a time thing.”
Has your Sports Illustrated cover changed your life at all?
“Oh my god. People are like, ‘What do you want?!’ I can have anything I want — models know the power of being on Sports Illustrated. I’m still pinching myself. That was a milestone. But the only pressure I feel is to continue to change the lives of young girls, and to do it in a respectful way.”
“I don’t show ‘nip’ and ‘bush,’ I don’t do drugs, and I waited until I was married to have sex. For me, the pressure lies in making young women understand, ‘You don’t have to be perfect! There is no such thing as perfect!’ There’s much pressure — so many young girls are cutting their wrists, they’re bulimic, they’re anorexic. I wanted to kill myself when I was in school because I thought I was too fat or too stupid; I was diagnosed with dyslexia! If there were more people talking about having dyslexia, or things like having cellulite; having your thighs rub, jiggle, and chafe, feeling fat your whole lives — that’s what would change young America.
“If I’m the frontrunner of what size diversity is, that means I really need to go into the lives and the homes of these young girls and change their minds. That’s why I really want a TV show; The Ashley Graham Show.”
You’ll be releasing additional collections of your Beyond by Ashley Graham line through 2017. What can we expect?
“I want to be a little bit more adventurous: I want to do more see-through lace, for example. A lot of designers think that girls my size don’t want to wear that stuff, because we don’t want to show our bodies off. My desire is to go up to larger sizes — there’s a huge gap between size 26 to 34. I have friends that are those sizes and they’re like, ‘Please dress me!’”
Do you think we’ll see more inclusive brands — spanning the gamut of straight through plus sizes — crop up?
“Yes, there are a few people coming out with lines like that, slowly, but it’s still a huge gap. I would also love to see fast-fashion brands to go up in size.”
Any brands you’re particularly eager to see expand into plus sizes?
“Zara! The plus-size industry is an $18-billion industry — Zara, c’mon! It would be fantastic for them. Maybe they’re waiting for the opportune time, but if you ask me, that time is now. I think 2016 is going to be a year of a lot of diversity.”