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Model Clémentine Desseaux: Brands Should Realize Diversity Is Good for Their Bottom Line

Model Clémentine Desseaux poses on a rooftop
Clémentine Desseaux
Photo: @bonjourclem

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“Plus-size model” wasn’t even a popular term a few years ago. Now a push for inclusion — fueled largely by social media — is making it the phrase on everyone’s lips. Models above the typical size 2 are finding their way to fashion’s biggest stages, posing in magazines and ads and raising their voices on tough issues — about inclusion, body image, the sorry state of plus-size clothing — along the way.

Clémentine Desseaux is one of those voices. As one of France’s only “curvy” models, the 28-year-old got noticed when Christian Louboutin posted a video of her on Instagram in December 2015. The clip, in which Desseaux showed off the brand’s lipstick, earned Louboutin heaps of praise for casting its first-ever plus-size model. In reality, Desseaux wasn’t cast for anything (the video was simply a brand regramming an influencer promoting its product). But the reaction was an undeniably positive sign of where things are headed.

This week, Desseaux struck another pose on Instagram, as one of the five models featured in Instagram's #RunwayForAll campaign. Racked spoke to her about luxury fashion’s standards, diversity in modeling, and how crappy plus-size clothing still is.

It was back in 2014 when you shot a video for StyleLikeU about body positivity. Has the conversation about body acceptance and diversity changed since then?

There’s been a huge change. When I did the StyleLikeU video, I was the first curvy girl in there. [The conversation about size and body acceptance] was something new. I feel like since then, it’s been a lot — it’s been way more. People realize that it’s actually something that the public wants; they love to hear about the stories, they love to feel like they’re not the only ones who have troubles.

It’s not all about beauty; it’s also about personalities and journeys and life stories — it’s just about diversity. I think blogs and brands are focusing on it now because that’s what people want to see, and they have started using people who aren’t models, just real people with real stories. I think that’s really awesome.

Do you think this enthusiastic embrace of diversity is just an industry trend, or will we actually see change from major fashion companies?

I think the small changes that developed over the past few years are starting to hit the big companies. The ones that are leading the way are actually starting to impact the industry as a whole.

I’m sometimes afraid that it’s only a trend because everything is [a trend], and everything is about money, so I’m a little worried that all this diversity and positivity is going to go away at some point. But at the same time, the way that people reacted to those campaigns and videos was so wholeheartedly happy, and it actually brought more sales and more positive remarks about campaigns. I don’t know if it’s going to last because it’s really organic and real and the companies really want to do that for the good of the people, or if it’s going to last because it actually really makes money. But I’m quite sure it’s going to last.

Speaking of campaigns, you had a moment with Christian Louboutin that was a great example of that!

Yeah, it was kind of insane actually! That video moment became amazingly big because people thought it was a big step [for Louboutin]. Everybody, from regular people and press, were so excited to think that such an amazing big brand, a luxury French brand that is usually quite narrow-minded, decided to go with such a different face — and people were so excited and happy about it, and the reaction was only positive.

So the press ended up not being accurate — they didn’t hire me to do that campaign, it just happened — but both the brand and I were so happy with the result. It’s definitely opened some minds over there, and now people are actually thinking, “OK, maybe that’s not our image for now, but that’s something we should think about.”

A natural beauty in #LouboutinCharme. @bonjourclem @lesmijotes @mvonthron

A video posted by Christian Louboutin (@louboutinworld) on

Maybe they’re realizing that body diversity and inclusivity doesn’t have to impact a brand’s “image.”

Exactly. That’s really hard, especially in France, where brands are supposed to be so exclusive, [with] the skinny French girl. They really have this old-school image that they think they have to keep, and they think that using a diverse type of model doesn’t fit their image. I think more and more brands are understanding that that’s not harming them at all, that it's just full of positivity and opening new markets for them. But the French luxury market is definitely behind.

It’s already happening here in America with really big brands; like, CoverGirl uses all types of beauty. In America, if it makes money and people love it, they’re just going to go for it. In France, we have this image and old-school mentality that everything has to stay the way it is and not evolve with what’s going on around us. So it’s going to take more time. The plus industry there is really small; I might be the only plus model there.

But I think it’s coming. The fact that we got such amazing press from this Louboutin thing definitely opened their minds and probably pushed others to consider it.

Do you think the buzz actually extends to the clothing being made? Is plus-size clothing getting better?

It does to a certain extent, because we’re seeing some more collections and collaborations with plus-size designers or personalities. But is [plus-size clothing] more accessible on a daily basis? I’m not sure, because we still don’t see anything in stores. Everything is online; you can’t really go to, say, Herald’s Square downtown in New York and find your size anywhere. Even right now, you’ll only have size 14. For me, it’s literally hell to find pants. I just can’t, which is crazy. The [options] are still very limited, and not close to what a skinnier girl could have access to.

The consideration of our status as “curvier women” is so different; you go into a store, like Macy’s, the curvy section is the last floor, at the bottom, after the men’s, after everything. Nobody cleans the floors, there are no ads on the walls — it’s a terrible place. Nobody wants to shop there. We’re not as considered like the skinnier girls. It’s like [the stores’] thought is, "Well, it’s not a necessity to put clothes in stores for them, even though they’re the majority of this country." There’s more stuff now for us to look for, but on a daily basis, it’s still an issue and a real challenge to actually find clothing.

So does having diversity and representation really make a difference?

The more we put diversity in front of so many eyes, the more people will think that it’s normal to have all types of beauty and all types of people, and it’s going to make the level of judgment that people have towards each other less and less, which I think ultimately will make a better world. I’m an optimist, but that’s how I see it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.