Between modeling for the 2014 Isabel Toledo x Lane Bryant collection (#throwback!) and overseeing 2017's Glamour x Lane Bryant campaigns, I've been on my share of sets for the plus-size retailer. So you can imagine my surprise when I was invited to visit the Prabal Gurung x Lane Bryant photo shoot this January, only to be held outside the doors, facing a sign that read “CLOSED SET. DO NOT ENTER.” While I waited, I heard whispers that the tight security was because Inez and Vinoodh were shooting the campaign—a shock, TBH, since photographers on that level have traditionally steered clear of plus-size, well, anything.
“Prabal set a new standard,” said Ashley Graham, Gurung's model for the day. “He said we weren't doing this without [Inez and Vinoodh]—and it takes someone like him who knows what he wants and is respected in the industry to get them." According to Graham, it's good for the bigger picture of size inclusion in fashion. "Having a shoot like this means that other people of their caliber—the Anna Wintours, Steven Meisels, and Miuccia Pradas of the world—will see it and say, ‘Oh! That’s not cheesy,'" she said. "That’s what it’s going to take to change the industry."
Another thing Gurung brought to the table: clothes that are better than those currently offered on the plus-size market. “It’s a quality that was missing,” Graham said. “He’s upped the ante from their core collections, and that’s what women want. I’m a curvy woman who wants designer clothes, and I have friends that want to spend the money too, but its not there.” The collection—which you can see below on models Barbie Ferreira and Iman McDonnaugh—does feel more "designer" than the usual fare; it's made up of workwear and evening wear in classic silhouettes with chic colorways, hand-painted prints, and just enough attention to detail (those lace-ups!). So how exactly did Gurung bring luxury to plus-size clothing? Why is he hellbent on changing the space? And what does he have to say to other designers? Hear it from the man himself.
GLAMOUR: What do you think was missing from the plus-size market that you brought with this collaboration?
PRABAL GURUNG: With this collection, we really wanted to bring a breadth of offerings—from everyday knits to a great layering trench to a sexy evening jumpsuit. Many collaborations of the past focus on one niche—cocktail, lingerie—so with our collaboration, we took the approach that we take with our ready-to-wear collections and designed to offer our woman something for every element of her busy life.
GLAMOUR: Were there any major differences between designing for this and your main line?
PG: There aren’t any, to be completely honest. I didn't want to do this collection for ‘this segment of market’; I wanted to approach it as I do for my main line, and I didn’t want to compromise at all. I’m celebrating the essence of who she is—I don’t really care about her size.
GLAMOUR: Is there something you learned that you didn’t know about design before making this Lane Bryant collection?
PG: We worked very closely with the Lane Bryant team on the technicality.
The real learning was through having conversations with real women and being moved by their stories. To listen to them and really hear them, to understand how they feel and what their experience is like at other retailers, to take that and bring them what they want—that was the learning for us.
GLAMOUR: What were your biggest challenges? What surprised you?
PG: What I found more astonishing than challenging was the fact that our industry is so closed-minded about plus sizes. In fashion, the majority of people have a herd mentality, an inability to take risks and stand for their convictions. But I’ll do it. I don’t care what anyone else says. Here we are complaining about a challenging retail landscape that everyone’s facing—all the stores are closing—and this is a billion dollar industry that is absolutely underserved. There’s a solution right in front of us and nobody is addressing it! Businesswise, I just didn’t understand that.
GLAMOUR: A number of designers say they will make plus sizes, but if retailers won’t stock them, what can they do?
PG: As a brand, we’ve offered up to size 22 since 2009, but we don’t have a retail outlet that buys above a size 14. When I go to Saks, Barneys, Bergdorf, and Neiman stores—which I do often—to meet with the salespeople, they always tell me they need bigger sizes. I can’t answer the logistical reasons they don’t have bigger sizes, but it seems to me that it’s a lack of communication. My advice to other designers who want to get into the space is to just do it. There are ways to reach that clientele without the retailers, and it’s important for fashion brands to be inclusive in all ways. My goal is to open my own store—which is part of the growth plan—where I’m definitely going to have a room for her.
GLAMOUR: What else do you think will move the plus-size market forward?
PG: An elevated conversation about this woman, who has felt slighted for a long time. Compromising is not the way to do this. That’s why, with this campaign, I insisted on Inez and Vinoodh and Ashley Graham. I no longer wanted to treat [plus sizes] like a second thought. I pretty much sat down with Lane Bryant and said, ‘If I’m going to do it, that’s all-important to me.’
On a personal level, I know what it feels like to grow up and not find someone who looks like you, who you can identify with, in pop culture. It takes a lot of courage, conviction, integrity, knowledge, and experience to be finally comfortable with yourself, and I want to shorten that process for people, like my young nieces.
GLAMOUR: So how did this collaboration actually come about?
PG: It’s been almost three years in the making. I was at a diversity panel, and there was a woman who said, ‘You’re all talking so much about Asian models and black models, what about plus-size women?’ And everyone’s response was, ‘Oh, we’ll get to you.’ And I kept seeing incidents like this happen. Another time, I had a trunk show in Palm Beach, and there was a bigger woman there who was touching everything, and I said, ‘See it, feel it, and we can make up to certain sizes.’ But she was looking only from afar. And a year ago I was in a taxi on 6th Avenue and West 4th Street at a red light, and this big bus came by that said #ImNoAngel. I got home, sent myself an email, and came to work the next day and said I’m ready to do this.
GLAMOUR: And why get involved now?
PG: We're moving in the right direction: diversity. The most exciting thing about the time we live in is the celebration of different kinds of people. Young people are shifting the needle in that direction, and we—the establishment—better catch up with that. I’m talking about designers, magazines, retailers, modeling agencies—everyone needs to come together to redefine the idea of beauty. We’re so accustomed to this one viewpoint of what is beautiful. We’re barraged with the idea that you have to be tall, size 2, and white to be considered beautiful. For me, I need to be able to set an example. If I can be part of this change—even if I am able to shift things a little bit—that’s a job well done.
GLAMOUR: How do you want to contribute to the change?
PG: I consider myself a big-time feminist. I want to live in a world where women have options to choose whatever they want to wear. That’s what I want.
Prabal Gurung x Lane Bryant will be available in sizes 14 to 28 on February 27 at lanebryant.com and select stores.
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