Ahead of the curve

M&S’S new plus-size range tar­gets a mod­ern woman who wants more fash­ion, not just big­ger clothes. By Jess Cart­ner-mor­ley

The Guardian - G2 - - Style -

Danielle Vanier is a fash­ion blog­ger. A re­cent post sees her in a key­hole-front leather-look jump­suit teamed with red lip­stick and match­ing an­kle boots; on her In­sta­gram feed she is cap­tured in mod­ern faux-can­did selfie style, gaz­ing out of a win­dow in black lin­gerie. Vanier is 30 years old, beau­ti­ful, an am­bas­sador for Nike and a dig­i­tal in­flu­encer with 100,000 fol­low­ers.

She is also – to use her pre­ferred de­scrip­tor – fat. The afore­men­tioned lin­gerie selfie is cap­tioned “Three Cheers For Back Fat”. “I have al­ways felt that I could have belly rolls, I could have chubby legs, and I could still look great,” she says. Vanier is a con­sul­tant to Curve, a new Marks & Spencer range avail­able in sizes 18-32, the first pieces from which went on sale yes­ter­day. That M&S, which is al­ready the big­gest re­tailer in the UK plus-size mar­ket with wom­enswear avail­able up to size 28, has cre­ated a sep­a­rate plus-size col­lec­tion is a re­flec­tion of how plus-size women are de­mand­ing the in­dus­try serve their needs with the same de­gree of de­tail as women shop­ping for a size 10.

Take sleeves. One £59 faux-leather jacket from the Curve col­lec­tion has been a hit in pre-launch re­search, partly due to hid­den stretch jer­sey in­serts that make com­fort­able but shapely sleeves. “Arm cir­cum­fer­ence is one of those lit­tle de­tails that make a dif­fer­ence in plus fash­ion,” says Bri­tish plus-size blog­ger Lot­tie L’amour. “We want clothes that ac­com­mo­date our curves, and flat­ter our curves.” (Vanier, who is “ob­sessed” with the jacket, loves “not be­ing sausaged into a sleeve.”)

Curve rep­re­sents a shift in the emo­tional tone of plus-size fash­ion. “When I walk into a shop, I want to feel like the brand is proud of me. I want to feel that they want me in their store, they want me to look great in their clothes,” says Vanier. The size 20 man­nequins on which Curve will be dis­played in store had to be spe­cially com­mis­sioned, as man­nequins are only pro­duced in size 6-8 as a “reg­u­lar” size and a size 12 as a “plus” size.

They may be a sign­post of how stores will look in the fu­ture, as body size di­ver­si­fies. Cur­rently, the best­selling sizes at M&S are 14 and 16, with sizes 12 and 18 com­ing next, but the trend is for a broad­en­ing spread of sizes: as well as in­creased de­mand for the largest sizes, the store is see­ing strong sales of size 6, par­tic­u­larly in its Au­to­graph range.

“Body pos­i­tiv­ity” is a buzz phrase in plus fash­ion. L’amour be­lieves that the “curve” la­bel is catch­ing on be­cause it re­flects a more up­beat self-per­cep­tion. “I don’t re­ally mind what the clothes are called, as long as I can find them,” she says, “but some women don’t like be­ing called ‘plus’. Curve sounds more flat­ter­ing.” Pre-launch re­search at M&S pointed to Curve as the best name for the new range be­cause “there is no fear of the term ‘curve’ – it has pos­i­tive con­no­ta­tions”, says the store’s head buyer, Jo Hales. “I my­self use the word ‘fat’ be­cause I don’t see it as neg­a­tive,” says Vanier, who trained as a tex­tile de­signer.

Re­tail is tak­ing its time to catch up with the pos­i­tive at­ti­tude of Vanier and L’amour. “Some­times I ask for a plus-size dress to wear in a shoot, and the big­gest press sam­ple is a size 16,” says Vanier with an eye-roll. She is frus­trated, also, by the un­am­bi­tious aes­thetic of much plus-size fash­ion. “One of my favourite pieces in Curve is a sleeve­less khaki trench­coat – you can layer it over jeans and a white T-shirt and it looks re­ally mod­ern. We need more of that sort of fash­ion.”

The at­ten­tion be­ing newly paid to the plus-size shop­per is mo­ti­vated by a clear busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. While the

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