The fashion expert has a strong message for the industry

By Colleen Kratofil
September 13, 2016 09:16 AM
Craig Sjodin/ABC

Tim Gunn is not afraid to speak his mind. Last year the Project Runway co-host and design educator dared to say what most don’t — that the Kardashians’ style is “distasteful” and Kanye West’s fashion line is “dumb.” And on Thursday he penned an article for The Washington Post slamming American designers for their refusal to make clothes that fit the average size woman.

He explains that when he was on the road hosting fashion shows for Liz Claiborne Inc., he always faced the same type of question from audience members over a size 12: “How can I look good, and why do designers ignore me?”

“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women,” he writes. “It’s a puzzling conundrum.”

He cites statistics from Washington State University that average woman wears between a size 16 and 18, and the 100 million plus-size women in America are dramatically increasing their spending on clothes. “But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

He’s tried to seek out answers, asking designers why they refuse to change their sizing habits. “The overwhelming response is, ‘I’m not interested in her.’ Why? ‘I don’t want her wearing my clothes.’ Why? ‘She won’t look the way that I want her to look.'”

And the excuses keep coming: “They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike,” Gunn explains. “Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt.”

Gunn goes on to call out Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld’s infamous “curvy women should stay off the catwalk” comment as one example.

Even on his own show, Project Runway, he sees designers moan over the “real women” challenge that occurs every season “The designers audibly groan, though I’m not sure why; in the real world, they won’t be dressing a seven-foot-tall glamazon.”

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And having been a longtime teacher at Parsons New School for Design, he finds the design excuses baffling. “This a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’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. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.”

The designers who he says are at least embracing this market include Eloquii, ModCloth, Christian Siriano and Lane Bryant. “When helping women who are size 14 and up, my go-to retailer is Lane Bryant. While the items aren’t fashion with a capital F, they are stylish (but please avoid the cropped pants — always a no-no for any woman).”

He believes every woman has the potential to look great, she just needs to be given great options. “I profoundly believe that women of every size can look good. But they must be given choices. Separates — tops, bottoms — rather than single items like dresses or jumpsuits always work best for the purpose of fit. Larger women look great in clothes skimming the body, rather than hugging or cascading. There’s an art to doing this.”

And naturally, he’s urging change with his famous sendoff: “Designers, make it work.”

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