Tim Gunn: The Fashion Industry Is Not Making It Work For Plus-Size Women

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Tim Gunn says the fashion industry needs to adjust itself to take advantage of the market for plus-size clothing.

Tim Gunn, Emmy-winning co-host of the show Project Runway, says the fashion industry is not making it work for plus-size women.

In an article for The Washington Post, he called it a disgrace.

Gunn, a fixture in the fashion world and a longtime design educator, is calling on designers to get over their disdain, lack of imagination or cowardice and make clothes for women who are above size 12.

He tells NPR's Kelly McEvers that the fashion industry needs to adjust itself to take advantage of the market for plus-size clothing.

"I mean, there are 100 million women in this country who are larger than a size 12," Gunn says. "If I were a retailer, gee, I would certainly like to help corner that market."


Interview Highlights

On the lack of plus-size models at New York Fashion Week

I didn't even have to see the shows to know that I would be correct. There were some plus-size models on the runway, and I'm happy to say that Christian Siriano led that cause. And what I loved about his show is that he fully integrated the models that were larger than a size 12 with all the little double and triple zeros. And it was all seamless.

On how the industry needs to market better to plus-size women

Well, the market does need to correct itself, and I blame, certainly, the fashion design industry, I blame the retail industry. When I was at Liz Claiborne, I was in a position to be face-to-face with major retailers, and I would ask the question about this, to which I would be told, "Well, she doesn't spend that much."

And I said, "Have you been in your own department for these women? The clothes are hideous. If I were she, I wouldn't shop either." Also, how do you find the departments? Usually stuck behind pots and pans. It's just so marginalized, it's insulting — and it needs to change.

On the fashion industry's reaction to his piece

Well, I'll tell you it has been very polarizing. There have been people who have rallied around this cause and said, "Yes, we need to do more." Then there have been other people who have basically said, "How dare you point a finger at this industry? And how dare you try to strip away all this glitz and glamour that we represent?" To which I said, "You mean, glitz and glamour can only go with a size double zero, eating-disorder person. Is that what you're saying? Because as far as I'm concerned, glitz and glamour knows no boundaries.

On recommending clothes to make people look taller and slimmer

I mean, I'm more of an advocate for having us look long and lean than I am an advocate for having us look short and squat because we simply look better. But my point is if you are short and squat, you can look long and lean.

On his advice to plus-size women

I would say that women should stay away from items that are one piece, meaning a dress or a jumpsuit. You can buy separates and have it still look like one piece. They're so much easier to fit. Colors are important, and jewel tones tend to be more flattering on most people than pastels, which are washed out and tend to make us look washed out. Prints are wonderful, but they can be dicey. I'm an advocate for medium-sized prints. Nothing too small — it looks infantile. Nothing too big ... we all end up looking like a couch.

The rules are very similar whether you're a size 2 or you're a size 22. And silhouette, proportion and fit are critical. And also on the topic of fit, our clothes need to skim us. They shouldn't hug us like a wet suit, and they shouldn't cascade away from us like a giant muumuu. ...

There are occasions when [a muumuu] is very appropriate, or if that's your style. I don't believe in making anyone into my dress-up doll. And any make-betters that I do are truly a collaboration. I pummel people with questions, ask them, "What do you do? With whom do you interact? How do you want to present yourself to the world?" And then let's do it the best that we possibly can.

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