Bigger and Better
May 5, 2006
Liis, for Laura Plus
"Actually it started at the Eaton Center about 12 or 13 years ago - I was walking through with my sister, and back then plus-size modelling wasn't part of the norm like it is now. I didn't even know of it." Liis Windischmann couldn't have guessed that within years there would be internet fan sites not just praising the plus-size industry, but Windischmann herself.
"You've got to understand, if it happened today it would be a different story. Back then I worked as a receptionist at a photographer's studio. I knew the industry and how it worked and what size you had to be. I hadn't heard of plus-size modelling back then. My immediate reaction was 'You're trying to snow me here.'"
The 5'10" brunette signed with Plus Figures, a now-defunct agency that dominated Toronto's very limited plus-size market in the 1990s. Around the time it shuts its doors Ford Models started its own plus division, and Windischmann has been there since.
For Ford and Windischmann the timing couldn't have been better. Only a couple years earlier Mode magazine began publishing in the U.S. Although it only lasted a few years, the magazine's impact was great and its message was clear: women with curves are beautiful.
Almost immediately U.S. retailer Lane Bryant, which caters to sizes 14-28, started planning high profile lingerie shows. Top photographers were publishing stories with plus-size models in well-known fashion mags and even the most occasional of industry followers were aware of "The world's first plus-size supermodel, Emme."
For Windischmann, who can claim a Mode cover and an appearance in a Lane Bryant lingerie show, the industry was taking a turn for the better "It used to be that if I told people I was a model they would look at me like 'Whatever!' I told one guy I was a knee model, and made up all these stories that they were insured for a million dollars. Today though, everybody knows about it. Now if I say I'm a plus model people think that's amazing. Five years ago nobody knew what that was."
That's not to say plus-size models get the same opportunities as what the industry calls "straight-size" models - the ones that dominate fashion campaigns. A browse through the portfolios of most working plus-size models reveals an assortment of cute, safe, "commercial" photos, because clients aren't ready yet to see dark, edgy images.
Thanks to designers like Jean Paul Gaultier however, that too may change. His use of Crystal Renn in his Spring 2006 Prêt-à-Porter show was a rare opportunity to see a plus-size model on a Paris runway. Only months earlier Renn was the first plus-size model to get the feature story on Models.com. Clearly there is a shift in the way the industry is looking at itself.