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
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