After the Fall/Winter 2023 catwalks were disassembled, one trend stood out more than pleated skirts, ruffles or tailored coats.
There was a noticeable lack of plus-size models on the runways in New York City, London, Milan, and Paris. It is a controversial topic, as there are currently five prescription-only injectables that can be used to suppress appetite in the US. A sixth, Rybelsus oral pills, has also been a hot topic. Two of these medications are approved by the UK, marking the biggest influx in weight loss drugs in nearly a decade.
In recent months, Hollywood's worst kept weight loss secret has been reported to be injectables like Wegovy or Ozempic, which contain the same active ingredient semaglutide. (Ozempic's primary use is to treat Type 2 Diabetes.) Chelsea Handler, a comedian who appeared on a podcast back in January, claimed that her "antiaging doctor" just gave (Ozempic), to anyone. Elon Musk even tweeted about his experience on Wegovy last year.
The Fall-Winter runways of 2023 were a stark contrast for many fashion commentators, and advocates of diversity. They saw them as a sharp contrast with the (although limited) progress made and the heady promises of recent seasons. The style media has slammed this rollback. Its potential impact is also being evaluated more broadly. With the rise in popularity of weight loss panaceas and the pursuit of a size zero, it is no longer difficult to get a prescription.
The Fall-Winter Failings
Jill Kortleve, Paloma Esser and others became the first models to walk the runway for Fendi in 2020. A sample size is traditionally between US sizes 0-4. In 2021, Erdem expanded its plus-size range to include UK sizes 22 and 18 (or US sizes). In January 2022, Valentino's haute couture show included a wide range of body types. This season, however, the runways were devoid of curves or other body types.
CNN contacted Fendi, Valentino and Erdem. Both did not respond.
Tagwalk, a fashion search engine, reports that the number of plus-size and mid-size models has dropped by 24 percent compared to Spring-Summer. Vogue Business' size inclusivity study found that 95.6% all looks for Fall-Winter 2020 were size US 0-4. Plunkett Research, a market research firm in the industry, estimated that 68% of American woman wear sizes US 14 and above.
Mina White of IMG, the model agent who represents Elsesser as well as Ashley Graham and other plus-size models and curves, said that it was "a clear backslide". It was disappointing to see that some designers did not use curved bodies as they used to in the past. CNN contacted Fendi, Valentino and Erdem. Both did not respond.
White said that it was frustrating to see Ashley Graham in full outfits (provided by designers) sitting front row at so many major houses. They wanted to use her image and social following to command certain space in the marketplace, but didn't want her to reflect on their runways.
Even the term "backslide", for some, is too generous. "Slipping away from...what? "A glorious time when an average American woman of size 16 was just as visible on the runways and in daily life?" "A time when fashion ads featured as many plus-size and mid-size women as straight-size women?" In her Substack Newsletter, fashion journalist Amy Odell described the runways of this season. No one needed data to know that the fashion industry does not prioritize a diverse range of body types and sizes on runways or in images.
A few -- mainly smaller -- brands have dominated this season. Di Petsa and Karoline Vitto, two emerging brands in London, showcased a range of models with a variety of sizes. In New York, Christian Siriano stood out for its inclusivity, as did Coach, Kim Shui and Collina Strada. Bach Mai, Collina, Collina Strada, and Kim Shui also showed their inclusiveness.
Other designers also featured models in this size: Off-White, Michael Kors and others. Precious opened the Harris Reed debut for Nina Ricci. The show also featured three plus-size and mid-size models.
Start with the sample size
Fashion samples are unique garments that are made before an item goes into mass production. They're usually worn at runway shows. By prioritizing the same type of body in sample sizes, runway models can be interchangeable. This saves fashion houses money and time if someone drops out or gets sick during the casting process.
White says that casting curve models remains a difficult task. She claims to introduce brands to new faces several months before the runway season. Her correspondence includes their measurements at the top and is easy to read. White said, "I want that to be in front of me." "I'm not told, 'We wanted to make it happen, but we didn’t have her sizes' or any other conversation that might take place."
She says that despite her efforts she is often told by brands, even legacy ones, that it would be too expensive to produce larger samples. White says she gets upset when brands tell her that. White said: "I don't think it's that, I think that people aren't being properly educated about how to do it right."
White says that beyond the lack of representation for plus-size customers, it is painful to watch brands use resources to create customized, made-to fit pieces for celebrities, while simultaneously claiming there are no runway samples for plus-size women.
Francesca Burns, a London-based editor and stylist, agrees that sample sizes are a problem. In 2020, Burns became a viral sensation after posting on Instagram a story about a fashion project that went wrong. She claims she received five Celine looks to style, but none fit the model who was booked for the shoot. The 18-year old girl on her first fashion job. Burns, who spoke to CNN about the experience, said that it left her "horrified" and she was unable to look at the model because of their shame. Burns told CNN that "looking into this girl’s eyes", "she shouldn't feel like that."
Burns' article, in which he called the current system unacceptable, was widely picked up by the fashion media. Celine refused to comment when contacted by CNN about the incident. Burns stated that "the desire for change must be present." "And I wonder if luxury has that desire?"
Change is needed
The progress has been slow but not non-existent. There is an increasing enthusiasm for inclusivity in fashion campaigns, magazine cover shoots and editorials. White said, "I'm seeing the great options for plus-sized talent. White said, "Great editorials, covers and campaigns. It's true that without clothes we will see more naked curvy stories, or lingerie stories, or curve girls in trench coats. "That's what I'm not interested in."
Elsesser Lee and Jill Kortleve have been dubbed the "New Supers" for British Vogue's March 16 issue. Edward Enninful, editor-in chief of British Vogue's April issue, wrote a letter that preceded the cover story. He praised the models for being "leaders" in their industry and "holding a powerful space."
The caption on Instagram for the magazine revealed the cover: "Catwalks have once again been criticized due to a lack of diversity in the body." This cover was not intended to be a statement. This is the crowning of a supermodel trio for a new age.
Many online pointed out that the dresses are not available in plus sizes.
Enninful expressed his disappointment in a social media post. "I thought I was in a time-machine. "I thought I had gotten into a time machine."
White believes that the power lies within the industry as a whole, not with brands alone. She continued, "I do think there should be a standard industry between (Council of Fashion Designers of America), British Fashion Council, and key editors of some of these mass market magazines." If these figures made a statement that moving forward, samples should be available for different body types, there would be a significant impact.
Burns is in agreement that there should be a trickle down effect. She said, "I believe that young designers are given a great deal of responsibility to resolve all these issues regarding sustainability or body inclusivity." It's crucial that big companies, who have the power to change things, take responsibility.
There is no such thing as free lunch
Wegovy, a medication developed to treat obesity and other weight-related problems, was approved by the UK on March 8. After almost a decade, the National Health Service in the UK has approved the injection weight management medication Wegovy. The last weight loss medicine approved in the UK before 2020 was in 2010.
In the US, three injections for weight loss have been approved: Wegovy Saxenda IMCIVREE. FDA has not approved the use of type-2 diabetes medications like Mounjaro or Ozempic for weight loss. However, some doctors prescribe them on their own.
These medicines can be abused, even though they are revolutionary for people who have a hard time losing weight due to genetics or medical conditions.
Semaglutide was developed to treat type-2 diabetes. It mimics the hormone glucagon like peptide-1 to quell hunger signals sent to the brain. It can help you feel more satisfied by slowing down the rate at which your stomach empties. Dr. Robert Lash is an endocrinologist in Washington D.C. and Chief Medical Officer for the Endocrine Society. According to Novo Nordisk, in clinical trials over a 68-week period, participants using the medication along with reducing calories and increasing physical activity lost an average of 15% of their weight, compared to those taking a placebo.
The European Medicines Agency released a statement on March 13 warning that an Ozempic supply shortage could last throughout the year and urging doctors not to give prescriptions for diabetics before others. The release stated that "any other use, such as weight management, is off-label and puts the availability of Ozempic to the indicated population in danger."
To be prescribed an appetite suppressant by their doctor, patients need to have a BMI greater than 27 (alongside another weight-related disorder like diabetes or high blood pressure) or a genetic predisposition toward obesity. Westerners have been talking about these injectables. The New York Times published an article in January about the "Ozempic Face," a term coined by New York dermatologists who treated patients with hollowed out appearances that could be caused by rapid weight loss. The medication was featured on the cover of New York Magazine's "Life After Food?" feature by the end of the month. Even New York City subways have been covered in ads for GLP-1 injections.
Some people who want to lose weight primarily for aesthetic reasons are looking for ways to get around the rules. They do this on social media, in online forums, and in private group chats.
In a telephone interview, a 30-year-old American who wanted to remain anonymous said, "I just wanted to lose a few kilos, maybe 10 or 15 at the most." She searched social media for advice on how to get a weight-loss drug. She said, "I have a normal BMI and am about to go to Mexico. I want to be in great shape."
She claims to have found a way of obtaining Wegovy but decided not to purchase it after weighing the costs (which can be more than $1,000 per month without insurance). She told CNN that she has always fit into the social norm, but recently was like "f*ck off! I want to look skinny!"
Dr. Lash stressed the importance of only taking weight loss medications under medical supervision with a valid prescription. He warned that if someone was normal weight but took the drug thinking they could get thinner, it could cause complications. These include nausea, vomiting diarrhea, and gallbladder issues. These drugs have GI side effects. "There's no free lunch."
Everyone is invited
Fashion has promoted size 0 for years as the ultimate beauty, regardless of whether it is feasible for most people or if there are any health risks. With the availability of weight loss medications that accelerate the process, the stakes have never been higher. Burns and White believes that the beauty industry has a responsibility to promote a more inclusive view of beauty.
There's an archaic way to look at women who are over a 16-inch waist and assume that they're unfit, uneducated or not stylish. White said that some women don't have enough money to purchase luxury items. White said that the women who are being alienated by these brands in the fashion world are also the women who are buying their handbags and shoes, as well as perfumes, cosmetics, and skincare.
White says that designers must not only create clothing with the consumer in mind but also show them on the runway.
It shouldn't even be a discussion. Burns echoed that it should be normalized to not only look at one view of beauty.
Ester Manas & Balthazar delepierre's bridal-inspired Fall/Winter 2023 collection, which was among the most diverse runways of this season, summarised it well in their show notes. "The body isn't the subject." Everyone is welcome at a wedding. All to the party. "That is where Ester and Balthazar, the designer duo, take their stand."