Fashion: Big girls, don't cry

Are anorexic models at last giving way to big, beautiful, real women? Tamsin Blanchard talks to a designer whose shamelessly large sizes are selling like sweet, hot cakes. Photographs by Sheridan Morley
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Why are models so thin?" demands the March issue of Vogue, which features yet another debate on this topic. The panellists include Alexandra Shulman, Susie Orbach, Betty Jackson, and Rebecca and Miranda, two 16- year-olds with eating disorders. Susie Orbach defines the ideal body image as both sensual and angular, a contradiction in terms. "Most of us can't be long and languorous and have big breasts," she says, commenting that the problem lies not so much in the angularity of models, but in the fact that in magazines, the shape of all models is generally the same.

For Betty Jackson, a designer known for real clothes for real women, the majority of the models she books for her catwalk shows measure 34- 24.5-34. "If I suddenly showed all my samples in size 14-16, I wouldn't get any press at the end of the season

The debate is one that will run and run. i-D have joined in with their "Mis-shapes" feature in March's "special beauty issue". Across a double- page spread, the magazine has printed a photograph by Nick Knight of Sophie Dahl, the voluptuous granddaughter of Roald, "naked so you could see the flesh, without clothes getting in the way". Knight says that photographing the 19-year-old size 14 model "felt like breaking fashion's last taboo ... it's disappointing that fashion only takes into account one body shape. Sophie is a gorgeous, powerful extreme; what we need is an acceptance of the whole range of sizes."

The fact remains, however, that most models are thin. They are paid to be coat-hangers. Hollywood actresses also come under scrutiny. The young star of Clueless, Alicia Silverstone, was criticised by bitchy commentators last year for looking plump at the Oscars ceremony in Hollywood. But it is not just magazine editors and film stars who perpetuate the thin ideal. The Duchess of York put her eight-year-old "chunky" daughter on a low- calorie diet; mothers who are obsessed with their own weight or body shape will inevitably pass their anxieties on to their daughters.

One fashion designer, Anna Scholz, is trying to change the way women are stereotyped in the fashion industry as a "perfect" size 10. At the age of 13, Scholz was a size 18. She had little choice but to wear clothes designed for women who have lost all interest in dressing even remotely stylishly, or to make her own. At the age of 16, German-born Scholz was making clothes for her own private clients, friends who had latched on to the teenager's style and found salvation in her designs, which offered both fashion and fit.

By the time she had grown to 6ft 1in and a voluptuous size 22, Anna Scholz found herself in the most unlikely profession of modelling. "I hated the clothes they put me in," she recalls. "Larger size fashion shows can be so naff." The clothes she was paid to wear would usually be big and blowzy - tent dresses with oversized polka dots and lots of frills. "With bigger sizes, they always think 'hide' and 'tent'. They don't think modern," says Scholz.

One pink suede monstrosity too many, and Anna Scholz felt the urge to apply to St Martin's in London for a fashion degree.

"At St Martin's, all the pattern blocks were a size 12, so I had to make all of my own in a size 18," she says. Scholz has a focused, commercial view of fashion. From the beginning she wanted to make clothes that don't make a statement about size.

"Look at Vogue, Marie Claire or Elle and you find bigger size girls aren't featured," says Scholz. "It's really frustrating." She would like to see other ranges apart from her own in sizes 8 to 28. She has invented her own size system that runs from 0 to 4. "Women are frightened if a label reads size 26."

Scholz's collection for this spring includes the simple long dresses and separates, with lots of stretch, that have become her staple sellers. There is also eveningwear in luxurious Chinese brocade. Her own philosophy on dressing doesn't hide the fact that she is big. She makes a feature of her sensual cleavage, and thinks nothing of going out in a semi-sheer top with the sexiest 38DD bra she can find showing underneath.

Getting dressed isn't always easy, though: Scholz has resorted to sewing up the crotches on bodies because toilet cubicles are often just too small to be fiddling around with poppers. She has problems finding shoes with wider fittings. And even jewellery is a problem. She often can't find rings or bracelets that are in proportion with her fingers and wrists. She would love to wear a Wonderbra, but they are not made in her size. And swimwear for larger sizes usually means industrial foam bra cups and built-in corsets. "I'd like to do a whole larger size concept, with bath towels that are big enough to wrap around, jewellery, shoes, swimwear, the lot," she says.

Unsurprisingly, her style is getting her orders. The American label The Limited has bought the exclusive right to her designs for a year, at pounds 60,000 per season. "I test everything I design," she says. She makes just one cut of trousers, having found them to be the perfect shape: "They have to have stretch."

All it takes is a few more designers like Scholz, a few more models like Sophie Dahl, more photographers with the attitude of Nick Knight - and size may stop being an issuen


Gold Chinese brocade jacket, pounds 300; red embroidered skirt, pounds 188


Red satin brocade short-sleeved top, pounds 188


Black-and-gold brocade Chinese dress, pounds 338

All clothes made to order by Anna Scholz in sizes 10-28 (inquiries 0181-964 3040) or available at Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1; Emma Plus, 16 Church Street, Brighton; Big Ideas, 96 West Bow, Edinburgh

Stylist: Sophia Neophitou

Hair and make-up: Hina Dohi

Model: Melanie Bowler