Designer Mark Fast Causes a Stir By Using Plus Sized Models at Fashion Week

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Canadian designer Mark Fast showed his spring collection in London over the weekend, and set tongues wagging in the fashion world. Not with the clothes though -- with his models. Fast included three plus-sized models in his runway show: Hayley Morley, 21, a size 12, Laura Catterall, 20, a size 14, and Gwyneth Harrison, 25, a size 12-14.

Fantastic, right? It appears that Erika Kurihara, Fast's stylist, didn't think so. She and the show's creative director reportedly quit three days before the show. Fast has claimed that Kuihara disagreed with his decision to use the larger models, but Kuihara claims that's not true: “Two of the bigger girls, although their faces were beautiful and their bodies beautiful, did not have the right walk for the catwalk,” she said. “The walk is very important and I wasn't happy. Mark was very upset that I didn't share his vision, as he saw it, so he asked me to leave.”

She added that Fast's claims that he was embracing diversity with the larger models were undermined by the fact that his show featured only white women. “I find that strange if you are celebrating diversity."

Amanda May, Fast's creative director, defended the designer from claims that the choice of the larger models was merely a publicity stunt. “The decision to use the fuller girls is something we have been talking about. There’s this idea that only thin and slender women are able to wear Mark’s dresses and he wanted to combat that," May told the media. She added: “We wanted women to know they don’t have to be a size zero to wear a Mark Fast dress -- curvier women can look even better in one.”

Fast's show, by all accounts, was a success. "Fast's attraction is more in his technique," wrote Style.com's Sarah Mower, "and the way he thinks of his knitting as a close cousin of hosiery rather than sweater dressing. (Twinsets have never been his thing.)" Fast's artfully shredded dresses actually looked far better on the larger models, who had some curves to hold the knits in place, than they did on the conventional size 0 models. And in a year when fashion's last hope seems to be to convince women that what they see on the runway really can work for them at home, Fast's choice to use models who look more like his customers is logical, if nothing else.

Mark Fast show at London Fashion Week

Last year, the European fashion weeks were overshadowed by discussions about underage, underweight models. Spain banned skinny models from their catwalks in a move that was widely applauded as a healthy step forward for the fashion industry. Fast's inclusion of the larger models is a logical next step.

But will it take? The Guardian's Alice Fisher had this to say about Fast's show:

When Hayley Morley first strode down the catwalk at Mark Fast's fashion show, I admit I blinked. It was a chastening reminder of my own prejudices, how much I expected to see a certain size of model on the catwalk.

Fast's casting decision was a great one. We do need to see more women who reflect the weight and shape of the rest of us on the catwalk. Their presence genuinely altered my appraisal of the clothes on show, making me consider how I would look in these designs rather than viewing them purely as a reporter. Fast has previously been criticised for producing super-short, super-tight dresses that only the super-thin would feel comfortable in. It was interesting to be shown how wrong that is.

Fast's casting wasn't a total success though. One side-effect of having average-sized women on the catwalk was to emphasise just how thin some of the other models were. The other problem? Purely practical. The tightness and shortness of the dresses was fine. The lack of undergarments was not. Morley's modelling agency, 12+UK, lists her chest size as 34D and that's a bosom that needs support. I doubt Morley would strut down to the shops without a bra – it's a shame she had to walk the catwalk without one.

Cast normal size women again, Fast, it was great. But next time, knit them a bra as well as a dress.

Will we see more plus-sized models on the runway? I wouldn't hold my breath. The whole structure of the runway show is imagined for these wee waiflike girls, not for actual people -- everything from the lack of undergarments to the very precise walk. There's nothing about a runway show, particularly in the pressure cooker of Fashion Week, that is designed for "real" people. Fast and his peers are creating a fantasy, and hoping that we buy into that fantasy.

Of course, we're more likely to buy in -- with our heads and our hearts and our wallets -- when the fantasy includes someone who looks like us. Perhaps Mark Fast's show is a baby step in the right direction.

We can only hope.

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