Sure, you might say the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was entirely about “love” and “bringing the nation together”. NO. WRONG. It was entirely about who wore what (and which of Harry’s ex girlfriends would show up, and will anyone make a supreme, global embarrassment of themselves by sitting in the wrong seat).
One of the more cringe-worthy moments in the 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, about the struggles of aspiring-journalist Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, working for Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), editor of fictional Runway magazine, happens in the office cafeteria.
Andy observes to art director Nigel, played by the amazing Stanley Tucci, that all the other girls at the magazine don’t eat anything. He says, “Not since two became the new four and zero became the new two.” Andy answers that she is a size six, to which he quips, “Which is the new fourteen.”
Shame on the fat-shaming industry
That in a nutshell is all anyone needs to know about how the fashion industry views its plus-size customers: She simply doesn’t fit. The average American woman wears between a size 16-18, according to research from assistant professor Deborah Christel, at Washington State University’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. She has made it her mission to wake the industry up to its inherent fat biases by teaching a class to expose “weight discrimination as a social justice issue.”
Tim Gunn, long-time chair of fashion design at Parsons The New School of Design, who went on to Liz Claiborne as chief creative officer and then gained famed as mentor on Project Runway, took the industry to task back in 2016 in a Washington Post op-ed. “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace,” he wrote.
Demand for all-inclusive sizing
The industry has been slow to learn the lesson, but finally it is taking Gunn’s message to heart. Nordstrom is now expanding its plus-size selections to include 100 brands and integrating them in with its core size range, rather than segregating it into a separate “Woman’s” department, where the shopper is reminded that she doesn’t belong where the real fashion is.
The company, however, said it will still maintain a separate plus-size department for convenience, but its “size-inclusive” initiative will give size 14 shoppers access to the same styles as her size 2 shopping companion. “In our opinion, petite and plus sizes shouldn’t be considered special categories. They’re just sizes,” a company statement said. Now Nordstrom shoppers can select from extended size offerings from inclusive brands like Topshop, Rag & Bone, Theory and J. Crew’s Madewell on the same rack.
Specialty fashion retailer Express is also broadening its range of sizes from 00 to 18, but only in 130 stores out of its total base of 600 full-priced and factory stores. “What we hear constantly from consumers is the lack of fashion styles in the sizes they need. We are excited to make this first step in the journey toward a more inclusive shopping experience,” the company said in a statement.
And none too soon, with women’s fashion retail sales on a steady decline since 2012. From its zenith of $41.8 billion, it has dropped 5.6% to $39.4 billion in 2017, according to the Census Dept. Monthly Retail Trade Survey.
By contrast, the women’s plus size fashion market is on a roll: up 38% from two years ago, reports Katie Smith, retail analysis & insights director at EDITED, which provides real-time data analytics to the fashion industry. “The plus size market is the fastest-growing segment in the U.S., but it still accounts for 1.6% of the market, which is baffling when you consider 67% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 or larger,” she says.
Women know how they want to dress; they don’t need designers to tell them
It is sad that the fashion industry had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the revolutionary idea of size inclusiveness. But the overwhelming majority of women–plus size women–are demanding it. This is a kind of disruption that the industry can actually respond to proactively, if it only is willing to embrace the new image of the modern woman.
“For too long, the industry has been entirely blinded to the fact that a consumer can be plus size and passionate about high-quality clothing and have the money to shop for it,” Smith says. “Social media has helped fuel discussion around inclusivity, acceptance and is challenging old stereotypes. The Gen Y and Z consumers are far more open-minded and inclusive than any other consumer before them. And their impact on luxury, advertising and beauty has been, and will continue to be, enormous. The increased body-positivity these consumers are creating is finally hooking the fashion industry.”
The fashion industry is now in the unfamiliar, and for many the uncomfortable position of following rather than leading the consumer. “No longer is the fashion industry able to push its agenda onto consumers, instead consumers are pulling the industry forward.”
Plus puts new demands on designers
Besides the fact that plus-size women don’t look like the women many fashion designers want to dress, designing plus-sized clothing requires greater expertise and awareness of how to dress the real woman’s body, not designers’ favorite 6-foot-tall, size-00 model.
“This is a design failure and not a customer issue,” Gunn wrote in his 2016 op-ed. “There is no reason larger women
1can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape.”
Speaking to the design challenges, and opportunities, of dressing the plus-size woman, Kim Camarella-Khanbeigi, founder of Kiyonna and an early pioneer in plus-size fashion, says, “The fit is science,” she says. “You can’t just grade up and expect the style to flatter and fit the same.” She started Kiyonna in 1996 to serve the specialty retail market and moved online in 1999. Today her brand is carried by 250 stores nationwide, as well as being available on its own website, Amazon and Zappos. Kiyonna also operates a flagship store called the Upstairs Boutique in Anaheim.
“What’s ready for disruption is the stereotypes about the curvy customer. Styled right and wearing something that fits, she exudes attractiveness,” Camarella-Khanbeigi says, as she notes the business opportunity to dress the curvy woman is great and growing. “There is a beautiful, curvy customer counting on it.”
The look of luxury in plus size
To date, luxury brands and retailers have been the most resistant to embracing the plus-size woman. Smith reports EDITED data shows that only about 0.1% of the luxury and premium market is plus sized. “What luxury brands don’t seem to pay attention to is that plus-size shoppers are already their customers, be it of their beauty, perfume, footwear, accessories or leather goods lines, rather than apparel,” Smith says.
While it is true that affluent women are less likely than lower-income women to be plus sized, it is safe to assume that at least 25-33% or more of the nation’s affluent women don’t fit into the luxury industry’s standard 0-12 size range. The latest available data from the CDC on women’s obesity levels by income confirms this, with its finding that over one-fourth of the highest-income women (specifically women with household incomes 350% above poverty level) are classified as obese (BMI of 30 or higher) and that isn’t even counting women who are simply overweight.
Gucci for one has paid attention and offers an increasing range of styles in large and XL sizes. It will also help Nordstrom fill its racks as it broadens its plus-size offerings. Smith advises the rest of the luxury industry to wake up. The plus-size luxury fashion market is growing and these women have the means and desires to dress as fashionably as her size 0 counterpart.
“Plus-size celebrities and influencers now have very visible global platforms for voicing their frustrations with an industry that can’t dress them. With social attitudes towards inclusivity shifting rapidly, luxury brands don’t want to lag in this opportunity,” Smith declares.
Fortunately, 10 years have passed since the movie was first released, and things are looking up for style-starved maids. The bridal world now takes its cues from the runways, with fashion trends inspiring not only bridal designers but big brands and high-profile talents to create collections specifically for this lucrative market.
“The bridesmaid category has become a lot more exciting. When we started in 2011 bridesmaid dresses were very standardised and consisted of one fabric – usually chiffon – and a limited colour palette of pastels. Now designers and brides are borrowing trends from ready-to-wear and thinking outside the traditional box,” says Cecile Chen, founder of Trinity Bridal.
Take for example, Hong Kong bride Feiping Chang, whose storybook wedding in Capri was covered by high-profile publications such as Vogue. Instead of cookie-cutter bridesmaid gowns, she opted for various styles designed by friend and Self Portrait designer Han Chong.
“I knew I wanted my bridesmaids to wear white, which most people tend to shy away from. Together we chose a selection of styles that would fit each girl’s body as well as their personal style. So overall, the dresses looked consistent but each was something unique that they could also wear again,” says Chang.
While individuality is important for modern bridesmaids, so are trends. Many are experimenting with fun prints like the patchwork florals popularised by British designer Richard Quinn while silhouettes have transitioned from conservative Grecian styles to the more fashionable cold shoulder and off-the-shoulder looks. When it comes to colour, many brides tend to err on the side of caution and opt for pastels, but there is also a return to bold shades such as yellow and blue.
Location also plays a role in determining bridesmaid dresses. Traditional venues such as hotels are becoming less popular thanks to the emergence of destination weddings. Exotic, off-the-beaten track locales have allowed bridesmaids to do away with formal styles and opt for fun and fresh looks instead.
“I usually advise destination bridesmaids to mix and match dresses with varied and multi-dimensional aesthetics. Colour choices can also be more modern and include navy, dove grey or even black. Instead of a flowy dress, you can experiment with jumpsuits and more structured dresses which look more contemporary,” advises Jacqueline Au, founder and creative director of The Loft Bridal.
A demand for more modern styles has also meant that brides can explore beyond the usual stable of specialised brands and opt for creations by ready-to-wear fashion brands like Needle & Thread and Caroline Constans. While purchasing off-the-rack can be tricky when you have larger groups to dress, it still opens a whole new world of possibilities in terms of fashion choices.
“Popular brands include Self Portrait and Red Valentino for entry-level price point while Zimmerman is ideal for a summer garden party type wedding. Valentino, Rochas, Erdem all offer beautiful dresses that could work for a bridesmaid. For more traditional dresses, Elie Saab and Maria Lucia Hohan are great,” says Suzanne Pendlebury, buying manager at matchesfashion.com.
Another easy way to inject a modern touch to your bridesmaid look is through accessories such as jewellery, hair pieces and shoes, all of which add a touch of personality and an element of surprise.
“Sometimes when you follow runway trends the photos can look out of date after a few years. I would still keep the dress refined but play with jewellery, be it chunky bold pieces a la Celine or maximalist Gucci-style with layers of pearls and crystals. Even if you are stuck wearing a cookie-cutter dress, you are able to inject a bit of your own personality through accessories,” says Au.
A final note of caution to all bridesmaids. While looking good may be your top priority, it’s not necessarily the bride’s. Avoid a Pippa Middleton situation and keep your choices stylish yet discreet. Your big day will come eventually.
Spring/summer 2018 runway trends perfect for bridesmaids
Ruffles: Velvet dress (HK$3,500) by Self Portrait from Lane Crawford.
Vintage florals: Long patchwork dress (HK$499) from Zara.
Bold colours: Rope detail silk satin gown (HK$16,625) by Roksanda from matchesfashion.com.
Embellishments: Andromeda ruffled embellished tulle gown (HK$4,810) by Needle & Thread from Net-a-Porter.
Sheer: Rosetta lace dress (HK$5,500) from S.Nine by Susanna Soo.
From left: 18-carat white gold and diamond ring, £9,600, Chanel. White gold and diamond bracelet, £153,200, Van Cleef & Arpels. White gold and diamond ring, £34,700, Dior Joaillerie. White gold and diamond necklace, £66,600, Chaumet. Titanium, sapphire and diamond earrings, price on application, Adler. Muse morganite and 0.35-carat pave diamond earrings, £7,000, and snowflake 1.48-carat diamond cluster stud earrings, £6,500, both Birks, from Mappin & Webb. Pearl necklace, £2,190, Mikimoto. Snowflake crown diamond necklace, £108,000, Birks. White gold, black rhodium and diamond ring, £10,500, Annoushka. Rosee du matin double row flex diamond bracelet, £7,000, Birks, from Mappin & Webb. iamond and pearl bracelet, price on application, Mikimoto. Blouse, £350, Bella Freud, from Browns. Cards (part of set), £65, Thomas Lyte.
From top: snowflake diamond and akoya pearl necklace, £150,000, Birks. 18-carat rose gold and diamond interlocking bracelet and 18-carat yellow-gold and diamond interlocking, £4,950 each, both Shaun Leane. 18-carat white gold and diamond ring, £26,000, Messika. 18-carat white gold and diamond bracelet, £25,500, Chanel. 18-carat white gold and diamond ring, £32,728, Fabergé, from Harrods. Blazer, £720, Bella Freud. Champagne glass, £75, Lee Broom. Poker chips, price on application, Geoffrey Parker. Dice, £5, Aspinal of London.
From top: 18-carat white gold, diamond and tourmaline ring, price on application, David Morris, from Harrods. white gold and diamond, opal, sapphire and emerald necklace, price on application, Moussaieff. multi-strand diamond bracelet, £36,850, William & Son. 18-carat white gold and white diamond bangle, price on application, Stephen Webster. 18-carat white gold and diamond ring, price on application, Boucheron. Chess set, £690, Luke Honey. Dress, £580, MaxMara
Clockwise from top left: 18-carat white gold and diamond ring set, £12,600, Shaun Leane. White gold and diamond double row bracelet, £8,450, De Beers. White gold and diamond link bracelet, price on application, Pomellato. White gold and diamond fringe earrings, £16,000, Mappin & Webb. White gold, aquamarine and pave diamond ring, £8,400, Bulgari. White gold and diamond bow ring, £14,000, and white gold and diamond necklace, £66,600, both Chaumet
From left: platinum and diamond bracelet and platinum and diamond ring, both price on application, Harry Winston. Platinum and diamond collar, price on application, Boodles. Tourmaline and diamond ring, price on application, Garrard. 18-carat white gold, Mother of pearl, diamond and sapphire watch, £96,000, Breguet. Backgammon board, £4,250, Geoffrey Parker
Photographs Emma Thaler
Styling Bettina Vetter
Fashion assistant Stephanie Sofokleous
Make-up Amy Conley at Stella Creative Artists using Tom Ford Beauty
Nails Kimberley Nkosi using Chanel Le Vernis in Rouge Noir and La Crème Main
Models Dominique and Marta at Established
Producer Lucy Coghlan
2017 was a year of suprises, and the fashion world followed suit. Some trends, like the rise of “athleisurewear” and the return of ruffles, were welcome additions. But other fashions left us shuddering, especially after models began sporting them on the runway, or style-stars started embracing them with open arms.
Check out this year’s roundup of the absolute worst fashion fads of 2017, and cross your fingers that they won’t sneak into the New Year, either.
#1. Man rompers
Making their debut just in time for summer 2017, man rompers were the male fashion trend no one was expecting. Even still, more than a few brave souls sported them through the warmer months. There’s even a collection of Christmas and Hanukkah-inspired man rompers for the holiday party season.
#2. The $10,000 pizza bikini
For one day only, pizza chain Villa Italian Kitchen sold a two-piece swimsuit made entirely of real dough, cheese, sauce and pepperoni in what they dubbed “the world’s most mouthwatering bikini.” It was also probably one of the most expensive, too, at $10,000.
THE ONE THING MEGHAN MARKLE NEVER TRAVELS WITHOUT
Sure, this concept has been around for a bit, but the bold trend really picked up steam this year. Favored by starlets and models who dared to bare, the risque look arrived in late August and hasn’t left red carpets since.
#4. Pajamas as daywear
Cleverly repurposing loungewear as outerwear, the “pajamas as daywear” trend brazenly arrived in early 2017, wearing a smart, silken robe. The comfy-sleek look gained tractionwith celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Zendaya Coleman and Rachel Platten.
#5. One-piece President Trump swimsuits
This $50, head-turning swimsuit featuring a larger-than-life screen-print of POTUS is in fact manufactured by the same company that created the hairy-chest one piece swimsuit — no surprise there.
#6. The “dad bod” fanny pack
At the peak of “dad bod” hype, this versatile pouch showed up as a perfect place to store beer — and kinda gross us out.
MODELS STRIP DOWN IN TIMES SQUARE TO PROMOTE BODY-POSITIVITY
#7. Dry cleaning dresses
While most people tend to remove their dry cleaning bag from their garments before stepping out into the world, Moschino thought more “inside the bag” with this $730 see-through frock.
#8. Thanksgiving stuffing pants
Because Thanksgiving dinner is no time to wear jeans, Stove Top Stuffing served up a pair of stuffing printed pants just for the occasion.
#9. Dad sneakers
Seemingly overnight, thick soled, chunky, “Seinfeld”-esque kicks became the must-have footwear of fall.
#10. Double jeans, muddy jeans, detachable jeans, jeans with clear knees, but worst of all, thong jeans
After a highly publicized debut at Tokyo Fashion Week, the infamous thong-jean look spawned its own Halloween costume.
Celebrated Kenyan fashion designer and wedding connoisseur Wambui Mukenyi has unveiled her latest luxury bridal line, dubbed “Wambui Mukenyi Luxe”.
The event, unlike most others witnessed locally, happened on a “runway” 20,000 feet above sea level. The launch is apparently the first ever of its kind in Eastern, Western and Central Africa. The launch was an exclusive, invite-only affair and in partnership with Moët & Chandon.
Among invited guests were NTV‘s Kobi Kihara, model Pinky Ghelani, stylist Connie Aluoch, Couture‘s Olive Gachara, Kris Senanu and K24‘s Anjlee Gadhvi. They were served with free flowing champagne during the flight to Malindi and the experience extended to Diamonds Dream of Africa Beach Resort over an exquisite lunch.
“Well synchronised event, creative chic designs, great crowd and brilliant execution,” said Senanu, an entrepreneur and investor in the TV programme Lion’s Den.
16 BRIDAL GOWNS
According to Ms Mukenyi, Kenya is ready for luxury fashion. “Growing demand and support from our customers is the main reason we unveiled Wambui Mukenyi Luxe, ” she said, adding, “The miles-high launch was to signify the leaps that the brand is making. From Kenya to the world, by bringing the best of Kenya to the rest of the world. Making great strides together with partners who believe in us, like Moët & Chandon, and our consumers who trust us to take the journey together.”
Every collection showed the designer’s love for luxurious fabric, while at the same time instilling her African heritage to produce timeless, feminine pieces. The dresses, in particularly, stand out because of the statement they make. They have a contemporary and elegant edge perfect for today’s modern woman that needs to be unique without making too much effort.
During the unveiling, 16 bridal pieces were showcased. The first catwalk was in the plane, which saw the models display the four designs. The collection featured elegant and trendy pieces, each of them an easy fit with the power to make an ordinary woman feel and look stylish.
On landing in Malindi, the models took turns to showcase the rest of the designer’s work on the beach. Wambui admitted that it was not easy and that she wanted to do something that has not been done here before; to test unchartered waters. “This was a good experience. I showcased the new designs that are definitely going to take wedding gowns to the next level.”
SAMANTHA’S BRIDAL SHOW
“The feminine gowns are carefully made with every bride in mind. This is showcased by the daring, strapless necklines, complemented by delicately boned bodices that are reminiscent of Victorian corsetry,” she said.
The shy and soft-spoken mother of one has an eye for detail, perfect designs, fabric choices and silhouettes, while at the same time guaranteeing her clients’ style and confidence on their big day. She embraces both classic and new styles, which are effortlessly eye catching and capture many a bride’s fantasies.
Founded in 2009, the Wambui Mukenyi label is the brainchild of the self-taught designer. She joined fashion company JF Fashions as a finance intern, but her destiny twirled on the wheel of fortune, resting on fashion and design.
Ms Wambui began by making custom-made pieces for her clients in 2009, before she branched out to wedding gowns and ready-to-wear clothes full of creativity and style. Her big break came later in the year when her products were used by the cast of Shuga, a drama series themed on love, sex and money. Since then, demand for her label has been soaring. Her pieces have been featured in prestigious fashion magazines in Kenya.
In 2012, Wambui participated in Samantha’s Bridal Show and The Hub of Africa Fashion Week. She described the fashion week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as a learning experience. In the same year, she collaborated with media personality Janet Mbugua to launch the Janet Collection, which boasts 20 designs.
Together they came up with designs that Ms Mbugua would be able to wear while travelling and for other formal occasions. Ms Wambui helped bring the combined ideas to life. Asked what is next for her, she said: “All we can say is, this is just the beginning. Stay with us, grow with us, and you shall see what awaits”.