FASHION THERAPYAs seen on Adele – the dresses that may be the answer to every curvy girl’s prayers
09:07 GMT, 26 March 2012
Just who is fashion’s most discerning customer, do you think
A skinny Alexa Chung type The editor of French Vogue Given the letters that arrive in my inbox, you’d be wrong on both counts.
The most knowledgeable, forensic, well-researched customer is the size 16 or above woman. Why Because she’s so badly served by both high-end and High Street fashion — offered either nothing in her size or given scaled-up versions of existing designs — that she has had to become an expert merely to get dressed at all.
Big on style: Size 16 Adele wearing Clements Ribeiro
Ask any bigger woman where she shops and
she will tell you with an exhausted sigh where to get the right cut of
trouser, a dress with wider arm holes, a coat that not only does up but
gives you a waist and a pair of long boots you can actually pull on.
Shopping for the bigger woman has become an assault course as High Street brands, eager to cut costs, have compromised on fabric, structure (a dress with darts is more expensive than a shift) and design. Finding bigger pieces with an edgy fashion sensibility is nigh-on impossible. But this is about to change. Evans, which has tried in the past to escape its dowdy plus-size image by collaborating with singer Beth Ditto, has pulled off something of a coup.
It has hired the edgy, bohemian design duo Clements Ribeiro — husband and wife team Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro — to come up with a collection that is unapologetically sexy and very, very fashion.
Sexy and fashionable: An animal print maxi dress, 95, from the Evans collection
This is a collection that is bound to sell out, not least because of its most devoted fan: Adele. She wore a Clements Ribeiro dress for her live performance at the Albert Hall last year and snatched dresses from their not-yet-finished autumn/winter collection for Evans for both the Grammys and the Brits.
‘She is everything you’d imagine she’d be,’ says Inacio. ‘She’s such a great muse because she’s not a woman who wants to change herself. She’s a big, tall girl, but she carries herself so well.’
As the first journalist to get a glimpse of the collection, I rifle through the dresses, skirts and blouses, which go on sale on Saturday, and can see Clements Ribeiro have broken just about every rule in the book when it comes to plus-size clothes: horizontal stripes; print; colour blocking; box pleats; sheer; shiny, look-at-me fabrics.
‘We considered the rules, and then we bent them,’ says Suzanne. ‘The stripes are not blocky, they’re delicate.’
The couple met while studying at Central Saint Martins college. They graduated during the last recession, in the early Nineties, so decided to pool their resources.
Their use of colour and print was a breath of fresh air in that monochrome era and has always had its fans, such as Kate Moss. After seven years at Cacharel in Paris, the duo made a triumphant return to the London catwalk last year. But in all those years, they admit they’d never designed with a bigger girl in mind.
Husband and wife team Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro
‘It would be better PR for us to say we had always been concerned about designing for bigger women but the truth is we’d never really thought about it,’ says Suzanne. ‘Most of the women who bought our label were an 8 or a 10.’
Are they worried their credibility will suffer After all, Adele might have been on the cover of Vogue, but the magazine still managed to conceal everything below her neck. ‘We don’t care, we really don’t,’ says Suzanne.
‘We were the first designers to ever go into Topshop. Our PR at the time was like: “Hmm, maybe you shouldn’t, it could be damaging for your image”. And look at how those collaborations have turned out.’
Who do they blame for the status quo of using very young, thin girls as the only template While Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman and model agency boss Carole White blame the designers, these two say the designers are powerless.
‘I think they’re too skinny, but it’s impossible to break away as a designer because you go to a model agency asking for a bigger girl, as we’ve just done for Evans, and you are sent a large 10.’
‘We’ve learned so much,’ says Inacio. ‘As well as fitting clothes on Adele, we used a size 22 model in our studio. For example, the most important factor is the breasts: we want to display them to their best advantage. We discovered that every big girl is big in a different way but, generally, their waists are much higher.
‘Bar one dress, which I think young girls will love, we have made sure upper arms are covered. And even that one dress comes with a little cardigan.’
Any mistakes ‘We tried to come up with a shirt dress, but we just couldn’t make it work. We wanted to use quite a lot of fabric in the skirt of the dress but found the last thing you want to do is to swamp the bigger customer.’
The collection — which they hope is a permanent arrangement and will later include shoes, belts and lingerie — is called Swan. It looks effortless, but an awful lot of structure, clever cutting and top-notch fabrics are paddling away beneath the surface. Most dresses hover at 95, but as Inacio says: ‘Cheap fabric is far too unforgiving.’
I love the fact all the pieces are unapologetic: vibrant prints and really special occasion dresses.Inacio explains they wanted to increase Evans customers’ confidence and show them they can wear things that perhaps at first they would be intimidated by.
Suzanne adds: ‘We didn’t want a range that apologises for the voluptuousness of our customer, we wanted to celebrate it and that’s why the ad campaign is so racy, because we want to show that big girls are curvaceous, vivacious and delicious.
‘Big girls love fashion. That’s something we’re never going to forget.’
Swan goes on sale at evans.co.uk from March 31 and from April 2 at selected stores.