OK, I have a beef with the luxury apparel industry that grows ever more urgent with each passing birthday: why are designer brands and retailers so focused on clothes for skinny people? What hope is there for the standard-sized and zaftig among us?
For the record, I’m average in size – neither petite nor plump (it takes more work and focus with each passing year to hold that position, but so far so good) — yet I cannot tell you how plus-sized the luxury apparel industry has sometimes made me feel. Seared into my brain is a trip to Paris ten years ago, when I tried to buy a sweater at Bon Marche. I asked the sales woman if she had the item in my size. She looked me over, and shaking her head emphatically, said “we do not have your size in this store.” And I was a size smaller then than I am now! This is why we like shopping for shoes. Shoes are always our friends.
The same thing happened to me at Barney’s in New York just last week. I asked two different salespeople for two different items – a Rick Owens leather jacket and a Thom Browne wool skirt – and both times I was told “we didn’t buy this item in sizes bigger than 4.” The second time it happened, I asked whether the designer had even made it in my size, and I was told “yes, he did, but we didn’t buy it.” I guess business is so good that the store doesn’t need my money? Is there going to be irreparable harm to the store’s image if – gasp – people who are a size 6 or more are seen actually purchasing something there? Quelle horror.
It took me a couple of years working in the apparel business before I fully understood that in fashion, “fat” means anyone who is larger than the person using the word, even if that person is a size double-zero (yes, that is an actual size, even smaller than zero). A friend of mine jokes that the minute we get off the plane to visit relatives anywhere in the country other than LA or New York, we immediately feel 10 pounds lighter, and are transformed into people who family members urge to eat more because “you’re just skin and bones.” It’s all relative, literally.
At practically every luxury apparel retailer, it is standard practice that the only sizes you will find on the sales floor are the zeros and the twos. Everything else is “in the back.” I understand the desire to not have six of every item on the sales floor – remember, luxury is about scarcity and elegant presentation – still, I always feel like a circus elephant, warily approaching a sales person to whisper “do you have this in a larger size?” Is shame-selling a thing? If so, it was invented in Paris and exported to New York.
The real elephant in the room is the disdain that certain brands and retailers have for women who don’t adhere to a certain set of norms about body type. And despite seeing Lena Dunham on the cover of Vogue, and viewing countless images of Amy Schumer, the message doesn’t seem to be translating through the business.
The good news? Some designer brands have actually figured this out, and they’re there for us through thick and thin. For example, you can get a gorgeous Chanel jacket in any size you need, no problems and no humiliation. Grand dames the world over know this, and I suspect that the house can maintain its gasp-inducing prices in part because they don’t make you feel unworthy of wearing their clothes.
The Marina Rinaldi brand was established many years ago to service the “plus-size” luxury consumer. But I genuinely don’t understand why more luxury brands don’t get the point that wealthy women of a certain size don’t want to be shunted off to the side, nor do they want to beg to get their needs met. If top-line growth is a challenge, isn’t this a really easy way to move more product? As a practical matter, designers could simply make a larger size range as standard practice. And vendors could stock them. If that involves too much inventory risk, brands or luxury department stores could easily hold trunk shows before each season (most of them do this anyway), with a specific focus on consumers who want larger sizes. Make them to order. We don’t mind committing in advance. Win-win, no?
Being creative in the pursuit of making the consumer feel valued. Basic sales technique 101, n’est ce pas? The smart luxury brands would say mais, bien sur! My aunties and uncles would just say “Amen!”