In Milan, plus-size label Elena Miro goes it alone, in style

It was standing room only Wednesday at plus-size fashion designer Elena Miro's show after her house was excluded from the official programme of Milan Fashion Week.

The designer, whose real name is Elena Miroglio, said she was "still wondering" why the organisers terminated a five-year-old tradition of scheduling her show as the Fashion Week opener.

Mario Boselli, head of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, justified the move by saying: "Some labels just weren't in line with what ready-to-wear week should be. We wanted to champion the values of creativity to reaffirm Milan's role in the world."

Miroglio fought back Wednesday with an independent show harking to the 1950s "when the beauty of women, the round shapes and soft bodies" were de rigueur, she told AFP backstage before the show.

Her voluptuous models took to the catwalk flaunting their full figures, ample breasts and thighs, as well as their coquettish smiles, against the backdrop of a romantic black-and-white cafe scene decorated with real flowers.

"Every kind of woman should be represented on the catwalk," Miroglio said. "This kind of soft woman likes to dress like everyone else."

Her collection for spring/summer 2011, rich in solid light greys, beiges and whites - normally shunned by heavier women - was one of unabashed femininity, "positive and sunny," in Miroglio's words.

Miroglio, who herself is diminutive and quite thin, recognises that designing for larger women is more challenging than for the more linear, but said that through her 25 years of experience she had developed the "knowhow about proportions and shapes."

As hairdressers and makeup artists prepared the models backstage, they could help themselves to sugary pastries weighing down a table in the back.

Australian model Penelope Benson, 23, who carries 76 kilos (167 pounds) on her frame of five foot ten (1.78 metres), said fashion should get with the times and was making a mistake by ignoring larger women.

"Real women are the ones with the money," she mused, dismissing styles designed for the thin, saying: "We can't relate to it."

A move towards more generously sized models has gained momentum since the death from anorexia in 2006 of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, which shocked the fashion world.

Spain and Italy banned models below a certain body mass index after her death, while Britain stopped short, banning only those aged under 16 from the catwalk.

Leading fashion magazine Elle, in a reflection of the expanding market for women who defy the super-slender ideals of the catwalk, put out a special issue in March featuring larger than normal models - and sales jumped.

Tegan Stum, a 19-year-old model from Texas, called the fashion world's standard thin model "a bit unhealthy."

Stum, who also models for plus size labels Evans and Simply Be, said she had decided to accept her shape because she had never succeeded in losing weight. The plus side of being a plus size? "I eat whatever I want!"