NEW YORK – Eden Miller didn't set out to make history last week when models walked the runway in her designs for New York Fashion Week.
But in a fashion world where thin has always been in, the models wearing Miller's work did exactly that, marking the first time in the international showcase's 70-year history that plus-size fashions were featured.
Miller hopes her show will legitimize plus-size fashions – and the women who wear them – to the notoriously curve-averse world of couture and style critics.
"I need to do this right,'' she said, "I want to be one of the designers at Fashion Week so that I can open the door for other designers who are valid choices to be there.''
Her collection was presented in the "Box," the smallest of the venues at Lincoln Center, where Fashion Week is happening. The space was crowded with stylists, journalists, specialized buyers, and, of course, plus-size fashionistas.
“It’s a big deal to have representation on the official New York Fashion Week schedule, and it’s not just on the runways,” said Nicollette Mason, who writes the "Big Girl in a Skinny World'' column for Marie Claire magazine.
Nikki Muffoletto, a plus-size model working on a documentary about the treatment of women in the modeling industry, applauded the decision by Fordham University's Fashion Law Institute to feature full-figured styles in their annual show.
"It's about time,'' she said. "I know what it's like to be pressured into a specific image and size in my 12 years as a plus-size model. People don't realize the kind of internal and external damage women go through just to fit in."
According to the Center for Disease Control, the average weight for adult women in the U.S. is 166 pounds, with roughly a 37-inch waist. More than 60 percent of American women wear a size 12 or 14, the beginning of the plus-size range. Yet with most designers catering to smaller sizes, your average American female can feel left out of the fashion loop.
The exclusion worsens for black women and Latinas.More than 80 percent of African-Americans and 75 percent of Hispanic women are considered plus size (14 and up), compared to 60 percent of white women.
Miller, who wears an 18 or 20 herself, can empathize.
"My whole life, I had seen beautiful clothing, I had touched beautiful clothing but I couldn’t wear it,” she said. “In design school, all of our dress forms were a size 8 and all of my classmates got to wear all the projects that they made, and I still had to make a size 8 and then it would be essentially, garbage.”
Marketing research group NPD found that 62 percent of plus-size women report having troublefinding plus-sized clothing styles and 79 percent would like to be offered the same styles as their smaller sized friends.
Miller's line is called Cabiria, named after director Federico Fellini’s 1957 film “Nights of Cabiria,” and was launched through a crowd-funding campaign using Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform. While her clothes are a first for Fashion Week, others in the plus-size demographic are also raising the profile; New York hosted the industry event "The Full Figure Fashion Week'' in June.
"When women wear my clothes, I want them to feel gorgeous,'' Miller said."Like they’re the most luxurious women walking down the street and so empowered that they can have anything they want."
Newport International Group: Fashion plus-size styles