It’s no surprise that New York Fashion Week is trending on social media. But this time, some of the buzz is being generated by the plentiful number of plus-size models strutting the runways — not hidden underneath oversized knits or head-to-toe layers, but adorned in stylish harnesses and architectural cages.
With celebrated designers calling much-needed attention to the plus-size fashion industry, it might just be the moment to shine for someone like 29-year-old Susan Jean, a recent Ryerson fashion design graduate. The designer behind the clothing line Warwick & Warble wants to take advantage of the current enthusiasm for plus-size fashion.
“I think it’s the right timing, and I’m just willing to do the work,” Jean says. “There’s an unrest in the industry that something needs to be done. More plus-size women are standing up to say we want more options, and I think I’ve just come at a good time and that’s why I’ve decided to keep going.”
Since showcasing her posh plus-size collection at Mass Exodus 2014, Jean secured funding this month for her upcoming fall/winter 2015 collection from Starter Company, a program that invests in young people and their business ventures.
While creating a plus-size line is hard work, the positive reaction she received after the show was just the kind of support she needed.
“Many loved the cropped tops because they never thought a plus woman could wear that and look so good,” Jean says. “They liked the things that aren’t really done so much for plus size. Even slimmer girls were asking if I could make those pieces for them, which is what I was going for. I don’t want to do plus-size fashion, I want to do fashion, that happens to be on the plus-size girl.”
Understanding the frustration that comes with looking for quality clothes beyond size 12, Jean says she is set on creating a line with key pieces for the professional woman’s closet.
“It’s always a struggle between playing it safe, deciding how much of a risk am I willing to take and wondering whether my designs will catch on and if women will want to wear these clothes,” Jean says.
“When I was working in retail, I realized it was hard to convince women to try new things and make them believe that they can look stylish too.”
Having interned with celebrated designer Erdem Moralioglu, a fellow Ryerson graduate, Jean’s designs are influenced by his clean lines and precise tailoring. Although she hasn’t decided what her inspiration will be for her next collection, she’s off to England in search of fabrics. Working on adding to her fall/winter 2014 collection, Jean says she is treating it as the foundation of a long narrative of key pieces.
The name of her label was taken from the street names on which she’s lived. She grew up on Warwick Road in London and then moved to Warbler Lane in Toronto.
Jean’s take on plus-size fashion is shaped by her experience in both cities. She attributes her work ethic and technical skills to her four years at Ryerson, and appreciates England’s open-mindedness to full-figured women.
“Shops in England offer more sizes, so there’s definitely more access there than there is here. The women there are more confident in any size,” says Jean.
“I think Canada is very body-health focused, so it’s a good thing to be slim and very athletic, and to not be that body type is not a good thing. I think we’re also a little more conservative here, so we’re not going to try new things right away; we stick with what we know.”
Although Jean believes that plus-size women have every right to look and feel just as fashionable, she says it’s difficult to put out such a positive message without sparking a health debate.
“Health is big right now, and of course it’s important, but does that mean we should shame someone for not looking like what we believe to be the ideal figure right now? I think body shaming people increases negative behaviour,” Jean says.
“Let’s just integrate. We’re all women.”
View items from the Warwick & Warbler line in the photo gallery below.