The average size of an Australian woman is 14-16, yet the fashion industry, and Fashion Week in particular, has long struggled to accurately reflect this. It was only last year that the event featured two major firsts — a curve edit runway dedicated to plus-size fashion, and an adaptive fashion runway to represent people with disabilities. Both shows were a curation of several designers' work, and sparked celebration amongst communities that have felt underrepresented for so long.
In 2023, neither of these specific shows were part of the Australian Afterpay Fashion Week (AAFW) schedule. The absence of diversity-focused shows has been met with a mix of reactions. Some people have been outraged or curious about why these shows aren't on the schedule this year. Others have argued that representation shouldn't be confined to dedicated diverse shows only. They've been more hopeful that we'll just naturally see more body diversity across the board in shows across AAFW.
AAFW organiser IMG takes this stance. "Even though we are not having a dedicated curve edit show this year, a lot of the designers that had inclusive casting last year, like Erik Yvon, Indigenous Fashion Projects and Nicol & Ford, will be showing again," Natalie Xenita, vice president IMG fashion events Asia Pacific, told the Sydney Morning Herald back in March. Speaking two months ahead of AAFW, she emphasised at the time that it was up to each designer to do the casting for their shows.
This AAFW, we've seen brands such as Youkhana, Erik Yvon, Iordanes Spyridon Gogos, Gary Bigeni, Ngali and Nicol & Ford embrace this, with larger-sized models walking the runway. Curve model Bell Chief Campbell opened the Youkhana show on Tuesday, and Mia Dennis opened for Nicol & Ford on Thursday — a refreshing change from the usual size 8 leading the charge. Both models are signed with Bella Management in Australia, a modelling agency that has pushed for greater size diversity at AAFW.
"We have 14 curve models walking throughout this week, who were all brilliant, and I have seen about six others who would be considered curve," Bella Management CEO Chelsea Bonner tells Refinery29 Australia.
"So, actually for 20-odd curve models to be booked for AAFW, it is quite a leap forward."
Bonner organised the curve edit last year, which featured more than 80 runway looks from six Aussie labels that design clothes for women sized 12 to 26. Putting on the show was Bonner's "love letter to the curve fashion community" and a celebration of her 20 years in the business representing models of various sizes.
"I had hoped that by doing it myself and choosing designers who have supported size diversity from their beginnings, it would encourage others to apply for their own shows and also encourage other designers to be more inclusive when casting."
There is a significant time commitment and financial cost involved in participating in Fashion Week, and it's one of the reasons Bonner herself didn't curate another group show.
"I would love to be able to afford to hold the curve edit every single year, but it's an incredibly expensive undertaking and we would need some major sponsors to be able to do it," she says.
With the vast majority of curve brands being smaller businesses, one could assume that forking out huge sums of money for a standalone Fashion Week show may not necessarily be a viable option — and it could be one of many reasons why they aren't showing at AAFW. But the question remains: Why put the onus on plus-size brands alone to represent our diverse population? Why can't all brands at AAFW cater for all of us, regardless of whether there's a specific curve edit?
Plus-size activist Demon Derriere agrees, saying the value of a show like the curve edit is to get noticed in the first place. It's a reminder to the industry that plus-size and disabled people exist, and representation of them should be normalised.
"I don't think we should have a dedicated plus-size runway, but I think we need to go to these extremes of having disabled runways and fat runways to then take it down a notch and normalise it," they say.
Derriere, an Egyptian Australian, HoH (hard of hearing) performer and photographer, walked the runway at Nicol & Ford's AAFW show in 2022. She recalls a positive reaction from people about her own involvement, as well as the curve edit show and the adaptive fashion runway. She'd hoped that would encourage all designers to get on board with greater diversity in 2023.
"I got nothing but positive feedback from people in the community," she says. "And when I talk about community, I mean from the fat community, from the queer community, and from the disabled community."
"I don't think we should have a dedicated plus-size runway, but I think we need to go to these extremes of having disabled runways and fat runways to then take it down a notch and normalise it.
However, some brands have still failed to show larger bodies on the catwalks this year. It's also not just a casting issue, but a problem with the vision behind the collections to begin with. In many cases, the clothes aren't even made in anything larger than size 16 to begin with, and this needs to be addressed first. It's an issue that curve model Kate Wasley has found in the past. In a piece she wrote for Refinery29 Australia last year, she referred to the "disappointment you feel when you’re browsing an online store that claims to be inclusive, only to discover that the separate ‘curve’ section doesn’t stock any of the same styles you saw in the straight size section".
Bonner acknowledges that seeing some larger sized models at AAFW is "micro progress at least", but is "not far enough".
"The issue is that one or maybe two models over a size 10 in a show with 20 to 40 models is not at all representative of our society and the women (and men) who wear and buy fashion," she says.
According to the report, of the 9,137 looks across 219 shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, only 0.6% were plus-size (US 14+) and 3.8% were mid-size (US 6-12). This means that 95.6% of looks presented for AW23 were in a size US 0-4.
The issue is that one or maybe two models over a size 10 in a show with 20 to 40 models is not at all representative of our society and the women (and men) who wear and buy fashion.
chelsea bonner, bella management
AAFW 2023 is coming to a close today, and the chatter about Fashion Week may naturally die down in a week or two. But people like Derriere won't be stopping their advocacy for greater representation in the fashion industry. She insists that while some brands may believe that expanding their size range or including larger models could be "too much fucking hard work", it's important to remember that it's even harder for the plus-size community to access the same variety of luxury clothing that's comfortable and stylish.
It's time the fashion industry listens and lets that reality sink in. And please, don't wait until the next Fashion Week to make these well-overdue changes.