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Christian Siriano. Photo: Laura Massa/Michael Priest Photography

Christian Siriano launched his eponymous line in 2008 at the young age of 22, and in the years since, he’s become known for his whimsical designs, as well as his accessible and inclusive approach to fashion. Tim Gunn famously called the spritely designer “this generation’s Marc Jacobs” a decade ago, and he’s proved to be much more than a sartorial genius with a knack for extravagant eveningwear. Not only did he build his business designing decadent gowns for celebrities to wear on the red carpet, but he’s also dabbled in accessible collaborations — including shoes with Payless ShoeSource — because he believes everyone deserves to own something beautiful.

On a similar note, Siriano’s become a highlight on the New York Fashion Week schedule, thanks to his enthusiastic front row guests and his championing of diversity on the runway. Furthermore, he knows how to create a fantasy through clothes and has done an impeccable job at making sure everyone — regardless of gender, race or size — feels like a welcome part of this fantasy.

On Tuesday night, Siriano joined Fern Mallis for a discussion at 92Y about everything from why he’d like to separate himself from “Project Runway” to working with Payless and casting plus-size models. Read on for highlights from their conversation.

On getting rejected from FIT

Upon completing a summer program at FIT during high school, an instructor saw potential in Siriano and encouraged him to apply for college. (He ultimately got rejected.) After the personal defeat, Siriano did as any other confused 18-year-old would do and moved to Europe. A quick Google search landed him at the American Intercontinental University in London, where he ultimately chose to study. Despite having no knowledge of British fashion, Siriano’s decision to stay in London gave him the opportunity to work with some of the country’s most brilliant designers, such as Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen.

“The teachers were unbelievable and all worked in the industry,” he explained. “The head pattern maker at Vivienne Westwood was my teacher, so she was like, ‘you need to go work for Vivienne,’ and I did.” Following the internship with Westwood, Siriano moved on to a small brand, before getting a coveted internship with McQueen. “McQueen was a very inspiring place, and it was a very creative place,” he noted. “I still try to run my studio like that because it was very hands on.”

When asked if Siriano is bitter about the rejection, the 32-year-old designer flashed a sassy smile and said, “I have two pieces in their museum, so I think it worked out, and they did ask me to speak at their commencement this year. My opening line would have been: ‘I didn’t get in, but congratulations to you all.'”

On moving to New York and ‘Project Runway’

It didn’t take long for Siriano to move past his London phase and take up residence in New York City’s Lower East Side. He was 20 at this point and was working as both a freelance makeup artist and at the Stila makeup counter in Bloomingdales — while still making garments on the side.

In 2007, the year of his graduation, a friend told him about the auditions for “Project Runway.” Siriano had never watched the show and had a day to prepare, but he brought a rack of clothes, his portfolio and his bold personality to the tryouts and clearly won over the judges.

Siriano went on to win Season Four of “Project Runway,” and remains one of the only contestants on the reality competition who’s built a continuously successful brand. Despite this, he prefers to keep the show buried in the past. “You’ve seen it. You sit there, you make a dress, Heidi doesn’t know what it is, then you’re done.” Nevertheless, he admits that the show “is a wonderful idea,” because it “was a place to show your creative work.” But, at the same time, it was far from real: “We kill ourselves everyday in this business, so I wish I was on that show everyday, because someone paid for my fabric, and I could make whatever I wanted.”

Now, he prefers to leave the reality stint off his bio and let his other accomplishments take center stage. “We all make those interesting decisions that shouldn’t shape your life or your career,” he explained. “It’s like an actress: if he or she did one movie, that shouldn’t shape their entire history of film.”

Christian Siriano and Fern Mallis. Photo: Laura Massa/Michael Priest Photography

On mass collaborations

Even though Siriano would like to forget about “Project Runway,” the show helped thrust him into our fashion consciousness and gave him a celebrity following before he even had product. The show essentially made him a brand without having a brand, and as such, he had to go “backwards and figure it out very quickly.”

Luckily, winning came with a nice little check, which helped Siriano finance his early collections. He also supplemented his rapidly growing label and love for fabrics by collaborating with brands like Puma, LG, Starbucks and Payless ShoeSource. Back then, doing mass collaborations was something that was seen as lowbrow and looked down upon by luxury designers — it wasn’t glamorous.

Members of the fashion community couldn’t understand Siriano’s reasoning for hooking up with Payless, but for him it was a simple: He needed the money and wanted the challenge. The partnership is now going 10 years strong and has sold hundreds of millions of shoes.

“What’s great about fashion now, is that it’s about celebrating people, whatever price point you are — if you have $20 to buy a pair of shoes, that shouldn’t hinder what you’re getting,” Siriano said. “I was 22 years old and this company was like, ‘would you like to be a shoe designer for the next four years? And I was like, ‘yes I would.'”

On his commitment to embracing all shapes and sizes

“We’ve always had customers of different sizes since day one,” Siriano said when Mallis asked about his recent runway shows, which have featured a cast of beautiful, full-figured women. “At the beginning of my career, I was doing things that other people would accept more, but as I went on, I was over it,” he continued. “It was very frustrating to hear a woman say to us, ‘you don’t have my size or you don’t have something that I can wear.'”

Instead of hiding his plus-size garments behind racks of standard, sample-size pieces and ubiquitously slender models, Siriano decided to put the work he was doing for all types of women on display. “We live in a visual world … you have to put it in people’s faces,” he said. He was vocal on social media about dressing everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Leslie Jones, and recruited models like Ashley Graham to walk in his shows.

Clothes made in extended sizes now make up roughly 50 percent of Siriano’s collection and have helped to nearly triple his business — especially now that retailers have slowly started hopping on board. In fact, Siriano is responsible for getting Moda Operandi to carrying his line up to a size 26, a first for the retailer. “The whole point of being a designer is making people feel good,” Siriano said. “We’re not here to cure cancer; we’re here to make people look cute in a dress. You want to look cute in a dress and you’re a size 26, why not?”

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After 16 Seasons, Project Runway Is Finally Getting Better at Plus-Size Fashion


Since it’s premiere on Bravo in 2004, Project Runway hasn’t been what you’d call a trailblazer in plus-size or inclusive fashion. Over the years, designers have been tasked with a challenge to create an ensemble for a plus-size or “real woman” — just once a season, usually — that required them to go outside of their comfort zones. Usually, they failed. They’d look at their client, the way Ven did in 2012, and think that they couldn’t possibly design something chic for someone with that type of body.

Even former mentor Tim Gunn didn’t defend the show’s handling of fashion inclusivity. In a guest piece for The Washington Post in 2016, he said PR was “not a leader on this issue. Every season we have the ‘real women’ challenge (a title I hate), in which the designers create looks for non-models. The designers audibly groan, though I’m not sure why; in the real world, they won’t be dressing a seven-foot-tall glamazon.” Three years later, and without Gunn in its ranks, the show seems to have figured out how to, as he might’ve said, make it work.

This season has seen Project Runway move from its second home on Lifetime back to its original home on Bravo with a few other notable changes. Karlie Kloss replaced Heidi Klum, Brandon Maxwell took Michael Kors’ place, former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth joined the panel in Nina Garcia’s seat, and Christian Siriano brought a breath of fresh air to the work room as the new Tim Gunn. Each of these people brings something important to the table: strong opinions on fashion inclusivity.

RELATED: How Christian Siriano Dressed 17 People at the 2018 Oscars

Instead of focusing one challenge per season on creating for a plus-size or “normal sized” woman, this season the model casting includes the series’ first transgender model, Mimi, as well as plus-size models Kate and Asia. The group altogether reflects a range in terms of body type, height, gender identity and race, allowing for the designers to be challenged to design inclusively all season long, rather than as a one-off or token plus moment. As Kloss told The New York Times, “I’m really proud we have women of all shapes and sizes and the first transgender model in Project Runway history. Fashion should serve everyone.”

While our social consciousness has been shifting toward inclusivity for quite some time now, the concept isn’t sitting well with some of the designers this season — and the judges are not having it. In episode 3, where the designers are tasked with creating a look with only one print, Nadine Ralliford is immediately miffed at having to work with a plus-size model. After a fitting she says she loves her design, just not on her model. She finds herself on the bottom and, sure enough, places blame on the model, not her own handiwork.

Many contestants in the show’s history have sighed and grumbled, resistant to creating a look for a plus-size model because they just don’t know how. Mentor Christian Siriano addressed this in June of 2018, challenging those around him to do better. “Do we not think these women should wear our clothes? Do we not want these women to have beautiful things because we’re afraid they’re not beautiful? What is going on here? Of course it’s a process to make things in bigger sizes. The patterns are different. There’s more fabric involved.”

One designer, Tessa Clark, who specializes in minimalist clothing in black, white and gray, has been vocal about her distaste for the bigger models. In the April 25th episode “Elegance is the New Black,” designers were picked at random to choose a clear lucite handbag from Brandon Maxwell’s Spring 2019 collection that contained an item inside to inspire their look. When they chose their bag, they could also choose their model.

RELATED: Brandon Maxwell’s Spring 2019 Collection Left Show-Goers in Tears

As it comes down to the last two, Tessa starts to look distressed. She notices that the last two models are both plus-size, and worries about designing for them, an excuse Maxwell rightfully doesn’t accept. He says being able to design for all shapes and sizes is a part of being a designer. “In life and in your businesses, when any woman comes to you, your job as a designer is to make her feel good.” When her black top and pants and gray sweater look hit the runway, it was blocky, loose, and ill-fitting.

Jamall Osterholm, too, has spent much of the season doing no favors for his plus-size models. In episode 2, “Backless to the Future,” he creates a shapeless puffer jacket for Kate that looks a lot like a duvet wrapped around her shoulders. In episode 6, instead of turning her into a superhero, he sends her down the runway in a suit, but without the intended blouse or bra on; a look that left the model feeling exposed and unsupported, and Maxwell inquiring as to whether a bra was available to him to use.

In Thursday’s episode, “New York City of Dreams,” Jamall flubs yet again. The remaining six designers are tasked with creating dream dresses for the “real women” of New York City: an EMT, a teacher, a waste collector, a policewoman, a mail deliverer and in Jamall’s case, a ferry deckhand. The 19-year-old explains to her designer that her dream dress would be a gown fit for a gala, and that she prefers to have her arms covered.

Cut to a poorly constructed gown that neither fit his client’s vision nor her body. His model was uncomfortable and it showed. As Elaine Welteroth points out, “Your execution on curvy women tends to fall short.” Guest judge Danielle Brooks, a noted voice in the plus-size fashion conversation these days, and model for PR mentor Christian Siriano, added, “It’s important for this next generation to feel included in the fashion conversation.” Importantly, it is she — and the other judges on the show — continuing to make that push for inclusion felt. Even when the designers whine. Even when they say they don’t know how.

RELATED: Danielle Brooks & Dascha Polanco Want Better Plus-Size Options

Jamall is eliminated for this failure, and says it’s been eye-opening being on the show and learning the importance of designing for different body types. Brooks, speaking as a woman who has struggled to find plus-size gowns in the past, encourages him to keep on learning. And that’s the glorious difference in this season.

Designers being taken to task over their refusal to design for the client before them has been one of the most refreshing aspects of a less than exciting season. It’s taken this long for the series to devote the screen time, and the dialogue, and the workroom hours that plus-size fashion deserves. And as viewers and consumers — we’d much rather see more of this new Project Runway than keep getting sent back to reruns.

Project Runway’s Tessa Clark Reflects on the Highs and Lows of an Emotional Season

Opening yourself up on a national stage is never easy, and that’s one thing Bravo’s Project Runway Season 17 contestant Tessa Clark knows for sure. “It takes a lot of bravery from all of the designers to put ourselves out there,” the self-described minimalist designer shared as she sat down exclusively with The Lookbook. “It’s daunting, but rewarding.”

After a challenging season filled with plenty of high and low moments, Tessa says, “I definitely grew as a designer.” Read on to hear more about her Project Runway journey.

How would you describe your aesthetic and vision as a designer?
I definitely refer to myself as a ready-to-wear designer. I’m not an evening-wear or red carpet designer by any means. And in general, I am a minimalist as a designer. I really value high-quality textiles and small details. I want to make clothing that is timeless, and that women feel confident in.
Tell us about the woman you’re designing for.
I like to think of her as a feminist. She loves to travel, she appreciates art, she is educated, and she appreciates quality clothing.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced this season?
Oh my gosh. So many of the challenges were out of my comfort zone, which I’m sure for many of the designers. I would say just the the pressure of having to come up with a design so quickly and then shop for fabric. At first with the Elton John menswear challenge, I was really nervous because I have never designed anything for a male body before. And performance wear and sparkly things are not something I typically go for. So, you know, that’s daunting, but I feel like I definitely grew as a designer and felt like I really was able to figure it out. I’m able to make something much faster than I originally thought I could, even though I feel like I was one of the slower sewers on the show.
Was it difficult to open yourself and your designs up on a national stage?
Definitely, yes. I feel like it takes a lot of bravery from all of the designers to put ourselves out there for the chance to use the platform as a way to jump off or to continue with our businesses and to hear all the feedback. When designing at home, it’s so easy to focus on patterning one day, and then finding fabrics the next day, and then figuring out finishes. On Project Runway, of course, that’s all in one day or two days. It’s daunting, but rewarding.
Do you feel like your comments about working with plus-size models were misunderstood?
I do feel like my comments were misunderstood. I was primarily worried about my own abilities in creating a garment and delivering for a woman that is curvier and busty. It takes more time to create something with structure and support. I feel like a lot of people might have taken that as showing disdain for my model. And of course I loved working with Asia and I love women of all shapes and sizes.

Like Brandon said, I think it’s important to be able to work with women of all sizes because someone can come to us and have any sort of body shape or be any size and we should be able to create for them. So I definitely agree with Brandon in that sense. And I’ve since talked with Asia and Kate, both of the models, and neither of them took offense to it. They understand that it’s a show, and that it’s high pressure situations.
How do you embrace and celebrate diversity of all kinds in your designs?
Working retail and buying for a store has really given me the opportunity to understand what women want and desire in clothing. It has really shown me face to face what women like in my designs, and what I could be doing better with my designs. I have a great opportunity with selling direct-to-consumer physically to really get a sense of what women want.

At my boutique in Cincinnati, it’s been my goal for the past year to continue stocking larger sizes and expanding all of our size offerings. So that’s something I’ve been working on for over a year. As an emerging designer I feel like it takes so much more money to offer every size range, so as I’m making money from my stock and sales, I’m slowly adding and extending sizes. Cincinnati is a diverse city and I sell to women of all ages and sizes and ethnicities. I sell tops to 20-year-olds and I sell the same tops to 60-year-olds, and to me that’s inclusive.
In episode 10, every contestant designed for a cause they were passionate about. Tell us about yours.
My cause was women’s rights, piggybacking off of the Me Too movement. I designed a dress that was pretty in your face because Karlie and Elaine said, “This can be in your face or it can be more subdued, it’s totally whatever you guys want to do.” Mine was definitely more obvious and out there. I feel very strongly that a woman should have the rights to her own body. I feel very strongly about speaking out against sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, so really it was just about taking a stance with that. I’ve never worked with or donated to RAINN before but I’m excited to have the T-shirts from Nineteenth Amendment. The proceeds go to that organization.

It was emotional. It was right after Lela left and Lela was like my best friend on the show and I was like bawling from that, and then Christian walks in and was like “OK, your next challenge!” I was like, oh god!

‘Project Runway’ is breaking barriers in body inclusivity with new season, thanks to Tim Gunn

Cara Kelly USA TODAY Published 4:30 PM EDT Aug 16, 2017

“Where are these clothes that women can buy?”

Tim Gunn has been asking this semi-rhetorical question about plus-size fashion for years. The longtime Project Runway mentor and former Liz Claiborne chief creative officer is on a mini-crusade to remedy the lack of body inclusivity in the industry — the lingering disparity of designer garments in sizes above a 12.

Tim Gunn critiques designs on the premiere of ‘Project Runway’ Season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

“That’s my challenge to the industry,” he says. “Women want choices, they want to be able to just decide for themselves what they want to wear instead of having a limited number of items they can choose.”

Gunn won a major victory with Season 16 of the Lifetime designer competition series (premiering Thursday, 8 ET/PT), which includes models who range from sizes 0 to 22 for the first time in its 13 -year history. Models are assigned to contestants by judges and the production staff, and they’re rotated frequently, so all are met with a variety of body types through weekly challenges.

Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn and models welcome the designers on the premiere of ‘Project Runway’ Season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

“I’ve been wanting to do this for quite a number of seasons,” Gunn says. “To be blunt, the network has been quite nervous about it. The whole fashion industry is nervous, despite the fact that people are now talking about size inclusivity.”

What, exactly, are they nervous about, when according to a study from the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, the average American woman is a size 16?

It’s hard to pinpoint.

For designers on the show, it’s thinking about fit and not just a sample-size mannequin, a skill that’s not easily mastered with 24 to 48 hours on the clock.

“I think the designers wanted to flee,” Gunn says. “We didn’t tell them in advance.”

Some struggled, including contestant Brandon Kee, who has a background in menswear and was visibly nervous as the model assignments were made. But Kee and his fellow designers largely succeed in their first assignment, creating a red carpet-ready look.

And, the dreaded “real women” episode, a perennial challenge that tasks designers with creating pieces for non-models, took on a different tone.

“The work was the best it had ever been,” Gunn says. “They learned something that is so beneficial to their future, and that’s invaluable.”

Brandon Kee works on a design on the premiere of ‘Project Runway’ Season 16. Photo by Barbara Nitke / Lifetime

That’s certainly the case with Runway’s most notable alum, Christian Siriano, who has seamlessly included models of various sizes in his recent runway shows, and answered a call from Leslie Jones for a red-carpet gown after the Ghostbusters actress said no designers would dress her 6-foot frame.

But Jones’ plight didn’t shock Gunn, who recalls plus-size women asking him at Liz Claiborne why the industry was turning its back on them.

But he hopes that as designers such asSiriano show greater body diversity on runways and in fashion spreads, a sea change will come.

On Project Runway, the variety in models is, for now, a one-time deal.

“I believe that this step is very profound, and it’s rather revolutionary,” Gunn says. “And I believe we just have to keep doing it. I think one season only, and it’ll be forgotten pretty quickly and beg the question why aren’t you still doing it? And we need just to keep at it.”

Published 4:30 PM EDT Aug 16, 2017

Though Ashley Nell Tipton won season 14 of Project Runway back in 2015 and later designed a plus-size line in partnership with JCPenney, today marks the first time she’s putting out clothing into the world that she 100 percent believes in.

“With the other collections, I was designing for other people’s customers,” Nell Tipton tells Glamour. “This time around I really wanted to design for my audience—and for myself—with no limits.” The result is a collection of black and floral bodysuits, sweeping skirts, biker shorts, and sheer dusters. The designer says it’s the first time she’s been able to make “a line of items that I see in ‘regular sizes’ and dreamt of wearing myself.”

Nell Tipton and model Margie Ashcroft wear the April bodysuit, available for $39 at

Trevon James

Nell Tipton originally debuted on the retail landscape through a collaboration with JCPenney in 2016, shortly after her Project Runway win. Ashley Nell Tipton for Boutique+ consisted of four collections, dropping over 18 months. The retailer’s demographic wasn’t as fashion-forward as the designer would have liked. Now she’s able to take “risks” she wasn’t able to there—in place of leather jackets, jeans, and tees that say “Love You,” there’s sheer and mesh. The big difference, in her opinion: The customer is less conservative.

The launch of her eponymous brand is a huge feat, and it didn’t come easily. Nell Tipton had to get a refresher on how to build a line and navigate building a business for the first time. “The past couple of years working with JCPenney, I had lots of resources and worked with huge teams,” she explains. ” was an exercise in playing roles I wasn’t used to. I had to be the designer, the pattern maker, the sewer, and the fit model.” She also had to source her own production: “Finding the right manufacturers and teams to work with is key. I had limited means and really had to work within them. I didn’t want to let the costs affect my designs, so I had to be very resourceful.” Another challenge, says Nell Tipton, was her age: At just 26 years old the designer says some industry folk questioned her knowledge as a result of her youth.

Throughout the entire process, Nell Tipton says she “was going through a lot personally.” This year the size-22 designer had weight-loss surgery and was dealing with an ever-changing body. “I was at my heaviest when I started designing this collection, and my weight has obviously changed since then,” she says. That change did, in fact, affect the way she designed these pieces. “Because of the fluctuation, I was really paying attention to fabrics that had stretch,” she says. “I was focused on how the pieces move and how they’d work for different body types. I wanted to be able to accommodate everyone, and I wanted everyone to be comfortable. Beauty and fashion is not pain!”

“I invited Margie over to see the collection and we just started playing dress-up,” says Nell Tipton. “She put on her music and we just went for it.”

Trevon James

But that’s not the full story behind the collection’s basic theme. The designer believes that while the plus-size industry has come a long way, it’s currently focused on giving shoppers above a size 14 as much trend as possible. “There aren’t many that do basic wardrobe staples well,” she says, then nodding to the fact that a lot of plus-size apparel is made from cheap fabric. “Because I had full control, I was able to really find fabrics that worked .”

When the site,, launches today, this inaugural 15-piece collection will be available in sizes 14 to 30, with prices ranging from $24 to $99. There will also wide-fit jewelry and eyewear up for sale. Next, Nell Tipton says she’d like to “venture out into men’s and children’s lines to fill the gaps of the plus-size industry—it shouldn’t just stop at women’s.” Somebody get this girl an investor!

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‘Project Runway’ is finally getting ‘plus-size’ models — but the designers don’t want to dress them

According to the supermodel, if a designer wants to become successful in the fashion industry, they have to be not just willing, but excited to dress all types of bodies. With the average size woman at a size 16, there’s no excuse for stopping at a size eight.

“This is the real world. Not everyone is, you know, runway figure or what the runway figure used to be,” said Klum. “You have to dress real people, and real people come in different sizes: short, tall, more voluptuous, skinny … A real designer needs to know how to do that. So get with it.”

Klum isn’t the only one demanding better representation.

Every garment needs a fierce model to work it down the runway! Meet the faces of our Sweet 16 models. ❤️👠(1/2) 📸: Greg Endries

A post shared by Project Runway (@projectrunway) on Aug 17, 2017 at 2:29pm PDTAug 17, 2017 at 2:29pm PDT

Last September, co-host Tim Gunn slammed sizeist designers in a Washington Post op-ed. He put the industry’s ugly attitude toward plus-size women on blast. “I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this,” said Gunn. “The overwhelming response is, ‘I’m not interested in her.’ Why? ‘I don’t want her wearing my clothes.’ Why? ‘She won’t look the way that I want her to look.'”

Further, the show’s most famous winners, Christian Siriano and Ashley Nell Tipton, are both heavily invested in designing for the forgotten size 16+ customer. Siriano shows at New York Fashion Week and dresses the likes of Leslie Jones, Christina Hendricks, and Melissa McCarthy on the red carpet.

Tell us again why it’s bad for your career to dress curvy women?

Bottom line: These models look A+++++++.

Every garment needs a fierce model to work it down the runway! Meet the faces of our Sweet 16 models. ❤️👠(2/2) 📸: Greg Endries

A post shared by Project Runway (@projectrunway) on Aug 17, 2017 at 2:34pm PDTAug 17, 2017 at 2:34pm PDT

Any designer would be lucky to dress them!

Ashley Nell Tipton’s first retail job introduced her to a community of plus-size women underserved by the fashion industry. It was a sales role that morphed into that of an ersatz therapist, she says—she helped talk customers out of their insecurities and into clothes that made them feel confident. The experience would drive her to a career as a designer and spokesperson for a plus-size community that’s anything but niche: over 65 percent of women in the U.S. are at least a size 14.

Ashley was just 7 when her grandmother taught her how to paint and sew, and she found comfort in designing as a means of expressing herself. “It felt so good to have control over something that I could create,” she says. By high school, she had already crafted her first collection. She recruited her friends as models, staged a photo shoot, and uploaded the images to Tumblr for feedback.

Ashley Nell Tipton was just 7 when her grandmother taught her how to paint and sew.

Overnight, the images garnered thousands of likes. The comments were flooded with requests to buy the pieces. “I felt like I had something that I needed to run with,” Ashley says. The newfound confidence inspired her to pursue fashion design in college and consider applying for Project Runway, a celebrity-hosted TV series that has launched the careers of designers such as Christian Siriano. When her grandmother passed away that same year, in 2015, she thought to herself, I’m going to do this for her.

Ashley was not only chosen as a contestant on Project Runway; she also became the first plus designer to win the competition. And, for the first time in the show’s 14-year history, its judges created space for a plus collection to see the runway at the Fashion Week finale. Project Runway finally gave plus fashion its overdue moment in the spotlight.

The positive response to Ashley’s triumph inspired the show’s further commitment to diverse representation. Before the premiere of Season 16, judge Heidi Klum told Entertainment Tonight, “I believe we should have done already years and years and years ago.”

She asked the brand to increase their top size to a 32 (from a 24) as a condition of accepting the offer. They agreed.

After her win, Ashley says she was left wondering if she earned it because she was the best choice or because the show was trying to be inclusive. The opportunity, however, led to multiple offers from the likes of Disney, Torrid, and Lane Bryant, and it helped to change her internal narrative. She won, Ashley says, because “I deserved to, because of talent and the collection that I created.”

Ultimately she started her formal design career with JCPenney, attracted by the chain’s reach in the U.S. “I wanted women to feel that they could go into any mall and find a department for them,” she says. She asked the brand to increase their top size to a 32 (from a 24) as a condition of accepting the offer. They agreed. Ashley’s influence helped bring a new customer base through JCPenney’s doors by shifting their approach to plus clothing—from comfort-only to style. “ so excited to wear horizontal stripes or a bomber jacket with sequins,” she says.

Ashley became the first plus designer to win Project Runway.

In November 2017, Ashley launched her first solo collection, sold via her online store. Without ties to another brand, she was able to design for herself and outside of the “safe” confines of the JCPenney customer. Her collection launched with bodysuits and mesh—shapes and fabrics not traditionally seen in plus. “A lot of plus-size women use the excuse that there’s not enough fashion stuff for us in our size,” she says. “I want to put that excuse to rest.” Her customer, she says, is a woman who is unapologetic and “not afraid to dress up.”

Due in part to influencers like Ashley and other emerging designers in the space, plus is getting the attention it deserves. The average woman in the U.S. is, after all, a size 16–18. “We’re our own customers,” say Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason, plus fashion bloggers and founders of Premme. Premme was also created out of a frustration with the lack of fashion options for plus women, and is a reaction to major brands that they say are treating plus as a trend. “This isn’t a trend for us,” they say. “This is who we are.”

Some still interpret the word “plus” as pejorative. The solution, they say, is not to drop familiar language but to change perceptions about it.

While Ashley is finding success in designing outside of traditional plus-size confines and helping to redefine the industry, she says the biggest challenges to overcome are language and attitudes. The 2016 #droptheplus movement argued that there should be no size distinction between plus and straight sizes, but Ashley disagrees. The plus shopper has different needs, and the fit and construction of plus garments require unique considerations.

Ashley is finding success in designing outside the traditional plus-size confines.

It’s important to use the word “plus,” says Ashley’s manager, Andrew Bisaha, because it’s the term potential customers are using to search. “Ashley’s in the business of selling clothing,” he says, “and we have a website where we have to put a size on things.”

But some still interpret the word “plus” as pejorative. The solution, they say, is not to drop familiar language but to change perceptions about it. That’s why, as Ashley grows her personal brand, she’s also throwing her energy into creating online videos.

With many brands still using size-10 models in plus ads, healthy body attitudes aren’t yet coming from the top. The plus community, she says, needs more than just great fashion; it needs a voice. Ashley hopes to use her influence to help women see themselves in a new light and then get them into great clothes. “I want people to feel like themselves and know who they are is perfect,” she says.

Photographs by Michelle Groskopf

Another plus designer, Tamara Malas, was living the dream working in high-end fashion. But the industry’s body shaming was too much to bear. Listen, below, to how Tamara recovered and launched her own luxury brand for the truly plus:


“Project Runway” host Tim Gunn slammed season 14 winner Ashley Nell Tipton’s clothes as “hideous,” and he wouldn’t “dream of letting any woman wear them.”

“I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout ‘prom,’” he wrote in a column for the Washington Post.

Gunn wrote the column chastising American designers for focusing too much attention on skinny women, while noting that his own show’s first winner won as the result of what he called tokenism.

Also Read: Amy Schumer Calls Out Glamour Magazine for Putting Her in a ‘Plus-Size’ Issue

“Her victory reeked of tokenism,” he added. “One judge told me that she was ‘voting for the symbol’ and that these were clothes for a ‘certain population.’ I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn’t dream of letting any woman, whether she’s a size 6 or a 16, wear them.”

In the past, Gunn has criticized the contestants of season 14, saying he “hated” the previous season because he felt that some of the designers weren’t pushing themselves. Tipton responded, “I don’t think I’m one of those designers he was talking about. I just kind of have to let that be, and just focus on that what I did is groundbreaking and I won ‘Project Runway.’”

In terms of criticism on social media that Tipton only won because her collection was for plus-size models, she had said, “It doesn’t sit right with me that people are saying that. It hurts because it shows that they’re not accepting to plus-size. That’s basically what it is. They don’t approve of it.”

Also Read: ‘Project Runway’ Winner Ashley Nell Tipton on Plus-Size Online Attacks: ‘It Hurts’

In Gunn’s article, he mentioned that there are 100 million plus-size women in America, yet designers “dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.” Designers he had spoken to about the issue told him that they don’t want plus-size women wearing their clothes.

And Gunn acknowledged his own shortcomings: “‘Project Runway,’ the design competition show on which I’m a mentor, has not been a leader on this issue. Every season we have the ‘real women’ challenge (a title I hate), in which the designers create looks for non-models. The designers audibly groan, though I’m not sure why; in the real world, they won’t be dressing a seven-foot-tall glamazon.”

Gunn is a fashion consultant, TV personality and producer of the reality hit “Project Runway,” whose popularity led to two spin-off shows, “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” and “Under the Gunn.”

In response, Tipson said, “I am a firm believer in allowing people to think what they want. Their opinion of me is ‘none of my business.’ I don’t need his approval — my message is one of self acceptance and it has taking me a while to love me, after a lifetime of being bullied it’s nice to live ‘here.’”

Ronda Rousey, Ashley Graham ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue Sneak Peek (Photos)

  • This year’s edition of “Sports Illustrated’s” swimsuit issue features three covers, including UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

  • Plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

  • UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

    Sports Illustrated

  • Plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

  • UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

    Sports Illustrated

  • Plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

  • UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

    Sports Illustrated

  • Plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

  • UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

    Sports Illustrated

  • UFC fighter Ronda Rousey.

    Sports Illustrated

  • Plus-size model Ashley Graham.

    Sports Illustrated

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Plus-size model, three different covers lead a parade of firsts for the models and magazine

This year’s edition of “Sports Illustrated’s” swimsuit issue features three covers, including UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and plus-size model Ashley Graham.

Project Runway Guest Judge Ashley Longshore Explains What It’s Like to Be on Set

Ashley Longshore is best known for her bold, colorful artwork and fearless attitude. The New Orleans-based artist paints everything from sassy sayings to iconic people — and based on the pieces she showcases on Instagram, she’s an icon in her own right. Some even refer to her as the “modern-day Andy Warhol.” Ashley is a favorite among many celebrity and Bravoleb clients, including Vanderpump Rules’ Stassi Schroeder.

Given her authentic style, it’s no surprise she was invited to be a guest judge on Project Runway. Ashley’s appearance on Season 18, episode 7 gave us an inside look at her inspirational artwork and challenged the designers to be creative with her prints. Now, Ashley is revealing all to The Daily Dish, from her experience on set to some very solid advice.

What was your most memorable moment as a guest judge on Project Runway?

Ashley Longshore: You know, for me, I have watched this show for every single season — I think it’s like, 18 or 19 seasons — and I’ve always loved it because it’s not mean-spirited. It’s a celebration of creativity and it was just really exciting for me to be there, to see what the designers did with fabric, with my artwork. Just to feel that energy, man! It was just really great, as a creative person, and to be in the creative environment. It’s just inspiring and thrilling.

Were you worried about any of the designers’ plans for your prints at first?

Hell no! I can’t worry about that! I was excited to see how they were inspired and what they would do with my work. There was not one moment of worry ever, ever, ever.

Did anyone’s final look surprise you in the end, in a good or bad way?

I mean, I don’t want to be completely neutral here, but I was just blown away by their creativity. I think mainly too, for me, the idea of sewing a garment, cutting fabric, makes me a nervous wreck. It’s just, the precision of all that is not the way that my mind works. So, every single one of them — they’re just wonderful, they’re brilliant, and I was just blown away.

Marquise Foster used your bee eater print, but his darts resulted in him being sent home. Were you surprised by that decision?

I mean, listen. At the end of the day, you know, I’m sitting here with Brandon Maxwell, Nina Garcia, and Elaine , and Karlie Kloss. You know, these are people that know fashion. I love fashion, but when it comes down to choosing a designer in the end that is not only marketable, but somebody that is really at the top of their craft, those little details are really, ah! Important. So, it wasn’t that I was surprised by it, it was just a matter of eliminating the contestants that weren’t necessarily the strongest players.

What was the hardest part about being a guest judge?

There was nothing really hard about it. I think at the end, when we had to make the decision about you know, Marquise leaving… that sucks, you know? I adored all of them and I was telling them that I love them and was so proud of them, so that sucked. It was also very hot in there. We were filming in the summer in Brooklyn and it was like 100 degrees that day — and it was really hot. I don’t like to be hot.

If you could only wear one of the final designs from the runway to a very important event, which one would it be and why?

I mean, the pants that (Nancy Volpe-Beringer) made were absolutely incredible, but you know, Brittany ’s design was amazing. I have a different body type than the majority of the models. If I could wear all of them, I would! I was so proud of what they did with my art. For me, I’ve never created fabric for fashion with my artwork on it, so it was intoxicating all the way around.

Your prints showed off your eclectic, colorful style during this episode. Where do you find inspiration when you create your art?

First of all, color makes me feel alive. Lately, I’ve really been about pattern on pattern. I love maximalism. I feel like right now in our society, with how crazy things are and the news is so depressing, it’s fun for me to see outrageousness in fashion. So, as far as inspiration goes, I love things that make me feel alive. I love color, I love over the top, I love inspiring people. You know, inspiration is all around us. You just have to be still for a minute and pick up on it.

Which of the many pieces you’ve created is your absolute favorite?

Oh my god! That’s like saying what my favorite child is! I just completed a new collection that I posted on social media yesterday, with all of these very powerful, iconic people. On all the females, I put makeup on them like young girls put makeup on each other — you know, where it just looks messy and outrageous. I wanted to capture that joy and carefreeness of being a child and not being worried about imperfections and that sort of thing. It’s been very interesting to see the debates because I actually even painted Donald Trump and Melania, Barack and Michelle, and it’s been very interesting to see how people reacted to it. So, I think that collection is my favorite right now.

What advice would you give to people who want to apply your bold, unapologetic energy to their lives, whether it be through fashion, art, etc.?

You’ve just got to be yourself. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur — if you’re going to make it in the world — the first, best relationship you have to have is with yourself, so that you go, ‘You know what? I know who I am, I f–king love me. And it doesn’t matter if somebody rejects me or says something nasty about me’… if they don’t like my artwork, if they don’t like what I say, because I know who I am and I can always stand by that. That is the most important foundation to build your pyramid, to build your skyscraper, to build whatever you’re f–king building in your life. It’s that!

To see Ashley introduce her challenge as a Project Runway guest judge, check out the video below.

Preview Ashley Longshore Has a Very Special Challenge for the Designers

Project runway plus size

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