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I’m at a VIP opening night party for the CurvyCon, where colorful hair, loud prints, and general cool-girl attitudes announce the event as a fashion party. But it’s unlike any Fashion Week event I’ve ever been to, mainly because it’s so damn fun — and inclusive. Women of all colors and sizes sip rosé and tiki cocktails while dancing to top 40 hits. Friends pose for photo booth pics with flower crowns and oversized glasses against a shimmering, sequin backdrop. Despite feeling awkwardly underdressed in jeans and a T-shirt, I receive three compliments as soon as I walk in the door.
Someone hits the lights and the whole room lines up with cell phones ready for the main event: a fashion show of Rachel Antonoff’s new collection for Gywnnie Bee, an all-you-can-borrow clothing rental membership service akin to Rent the Runway, but exclusively for women who wear sizes 10–32. As each look walks down the runway — flouncy pink floral dresses, fruit-print tops with shoulder cutouts — the crowd goes absolutely wild.
Founded by Christine Hunsicker in 2011, Gwynnie Bee came onto the plus-size scene with the idea that fashion should, above all else, be fun. Customers pay a flat monthly fee for a shipment of one to three items at a time, wear them as many times as they want, and send the pieces back when they're ready for something new.
The company has set itself apart from other subscription rental models by serving a community that rarely gets asked: What other brands do you want to see? What cuts and styles do you want to wear? Turns out what curvy women want is pretty far from what most stores are trying to sell them.
"The more statement we can get it, the better it does," Hunsicker tells me. And Rachel Antonoff’s exclusive collection for the brand, which launched online on Sunday, is pretty much "statement" in a nutshell.
"This is a market we’ve been really wanting to break into but we didn’t really know how."
Known for flattering cuts in off-kilter patterns, the New York designer’s eponymous label is favored by the quirky girl elite, including celebs like Lena Dunham and Zoey Deschanel. Some of her most popular pieces are a dissected frog print dress and a uterus sweatshirt. (While the uterus shirt isn't part of the Gwynnie Bee line up, the frog print made it in.) "Not a lot of people do what Rachel does," says Hunsicker. "And certainly not a lot of people pull it off in a non-kitschy way. Her collection in particular takes the statement piece for plus size women and amplifies it to a new level."
Speaking to Antonoff about her first foray into extended sizing, it’s clear the designer cares deeply about making fashion accessible to everybody, no matter the size on the tag. "When they first approached us we were so psyched," she explains. "Because this is a market we’ve been really wanting to break into but we didn’t really know how. I think a lot of people are under the misconception that you just grade up, and that’s not what it is. It’s a nuanced thing."
To take some of the pressure off designers who typically work with straight sizing, Gwynnie Bee completely takes over fit — something that, according to Hunsicker and Antonoff, can be a big point of angst.
And judging from what I can see, Hunsicker’s team certainly made good on their promise. From the models strutting down the runway to Gywnnie Bee sporting tops and dresses after the runway show, Antonoff's collection looks great in all sizes.
So why are high fashion designers so afraid to go there? While brands like Asos Curve and H&M plus have made strides in offering fun, trendy pieces in curvy sizes, Rachel Antonoff is one of the first cool-girl designers to make the leap.
Both Antonoff and Hunsicker feel we’re getting close, but the industry still has miles to go in terms of inclusivity. "When you look at Fashion Week, it’s so embarrassing how uni-size it is," says Antonoff. "I mean, why are we not having more diversity in the shows? From a cost perspective I know the answer to that, which is just that it’s cheaper to make one size pattern across the board, and then grading is costly, but how is that not a cost that’s worthwhile?"
"When you look at fashion week, it’s so embarrassing how uni-size it is."
Though fashion and business media have been buzzing for years about the opportunity to serve a market that encompasses most adult American women, we’ve yet to see much change. The past year has seen Christian Siriano team up with Lane Bryant and Rachel Roy offer extended sizing, but those are small drops in a big bucket. "I think we’ve kind of been on the edge of it totally blowing up for like 5 years," Hunsicker says. "It always feels like this is the moment. Because how ridiculous is it that this hasn’t already happened? But I think we have a better shot of it actually happening this time."
We may have longer yet to wait before we see plus-size options from the big heritage fashion brands, but in the meantime Antonoff is running full steam ahead. The designer says she’d like to incorporate curvy sizing into her regular collection, but the next step is another exclusive collection with Gwynnie Bee for fall — which might include some version of her famous uterus sweater. "Maybe we’ll even make an exclusive uterus dress."
Check out some of the key pieces below, or shop the full collection at Gwynnie Bee.