Early this November, the televised competition “Project Runway” announced 24 year old Ashley Nell Tipton as the show’s season finale winner. For 14 years and counting the reality contest has pitted accomplished fashion designers against each other for the grand prize of money, sponsorships and promotion of their personal brand. Aside from the glory and innumerable fortunes associated with the title, Tipton was also able to present a complete individual collection for New York Fashion Week, along with four other “Project Runway” semifinalists.
And she certainly put on a show.
Inspired by the styles of 1950s Mexico City, Tipton’s ensemble embodied a bolder side of femininity; each model balanced a foliage crown atop her waves of thick hair, while sauntering down the runway in muted frocks and vivid lace. Many notable pieces included a quilted skirt and crop-top, a closely-fitted violet dress, and an intricately-crafted women’s button up.
But sheer fashion isn’t all that makes Tipton’s collection so utterly breathtaking.
It’s the fact that her entire collection was designed for, and modeled by, plus size women. None of the individuals displaying her clothes are below a size 12.
As the female models made their final strut down the black runway during their display at New York Fashion Week, the entire room broke out in standing ovation.
Let’s just say that the members of the audience could tell that they were witnessing something previously unheard of in the clothing industry.
Tipton’s work marks numerous “firsts” in the world of fashion. Not only is she displaying–and winning with–the first plus size collection ever to be shown on “Project Runway,” but Tipton herself is also the first plus sized female winner of the reality show. Her entirely plus size collection is the only one that has ever been presented at the prestigious New York Fashion Week.
But Tipton’s collection represents more than a step forward in isolated reality competitions or luxury runway events.
It signifies a complete revolution in the fashion industry’s treatment of plus size women.
Despite composing 60 percent of the purchasing population, women considered to be plus size are frequently disregarded in both the high fashion and commercial industry. The words “plus size” in themselves have obtained a negative persona over their constant years of being brushed under the rug and overlooked. Tipton herself recalls her early passion for sewing emerging as a solution for the difficulties she encountered when shopping for clothing as a larger girl.
“Skinny privilege” is an unfortunate term referring to social benefits gained by individuals who are seen as thin or who wear smaller sizes of clothing. Larger people, especially women, are often less likely to be hired for jobs, are scarcely marketed to (just try to find plus size women in the majority of modern advertisements or commercials), and above all, are seemingly nonexistent customers in the world of commercialized clothing.
It her collection this November, Tipton projects a clear message to clothing companies, marketers and luxury brands alike:
“We are here, we are big, we are beautiful, and we refuse to be ignored any further.”
It’s a bold and brave statement for her to make, particularly when surrounding by an entire industry that survives off of selling skinny.