Fashion for the masses

17th July 2008

Fashion for the masses

posted in Personal |

Past contestants on Project Runway haven’t been very successful with the few challenges involving designing clothes for women who wear above a size 4, let alone those who wear double digits. So, it’s refreshing to see a contestant in the new season five whose specialty niche are clothes for “full-figured women.”

Thirty-three year old Korto hails from Liberia and attended fashion school in Canada. Here’s her bio, according to the show’s website:
Korto Project Runway

After school, she moved outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, where she now resides with her husband and daughter. Drawing from her African roots, Korto infuses tribal details into her classic designs. She is inspired by rich fabrics and textures and says her designs are intended for real, full-figured women. In her spare time, Korto works as a freelance fashion photographer, dances in an African dance troupe and does African hair braiding and makeup. She says her family considers her to be fun and easygoing.

Warning! Minor spoiler ahead if you missed last night’s premiere.


After just the first challenge, Korto has already shown herself to be a designing force worth reckoning with. She placed in the judges’ top three for her creative re-imagination of ordinary grocery store items. I tend to dislike the application of the term “real” to full-figured women — all women are “real” women — but full-figured isn’t always a euphemism for fat, either. A friend of mine recently went to a posh and pricey boutique and lamented over the fact that the only items on clearance and in her price range were in sizes 2 and 4. She is at a healthy weight for her frame and is clearly thin by societal standards — and she wears a size 8-10. “Real” is a poor word choice; I think we would be best served if used the term “average” instead. And the average American woman? Isn’t a size 2 or even 4. In fact, she’s a size 14. Realistically, how many women do you see walking around today who can fit into the double-negative sizes of the models on Project Runway? As the Body Shop said in its “Love Your Body” campaign, “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only eight who do.”

The carrot dangling before contestants on Project Runway is the opportunity and financial means to create their own fashion line. If we go by current estimates, some 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to continuously shifting government guidelines. Wouldn’t then the designer who designs clothes for a larger subset of the demographic thus have the best chance of success with their line? Here’s hoping Korto goes far in the competition. There are three billion women who could use some fashionable clothes.

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There are currently 13 responses to “Fashion for the masses”

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  1. 1 On July 17th, 2008, KM said:

    Oh, thank you for your reminder that all women are real women. I enjoy reading FA blogs because they resonate with me, as a very thin person who has always been TOO thin and has been insulted and criticized for it her whole life. I actually wish it were called the ‘size acceptance’ movement more often, because I think the issue of body acceptance applies to all women (though I heartily agree that fat women are the most discriminated against). It is hurtful to see my body disregarded as ‘not real’ when I can’t exactly help the way it looks. I’m a real woman too!

  2. 2 On July 17th, 2008, Rachel said:

    KM – This is exactly why I identify both as a fat rights activist and a body-size acceptance activist. Fat people are discriminated against in ways thin people are not, but all women are made to feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough, regardless of what they weigh. For me, fat rights is more about the political and body size acceptance is more about the personal.

  3. 3 On July 17th, 2008, Cindy said:

    Her first dress was ravishing, and she was really lucky to get a model who just “went with” the dress so perfectly!

    For probably unreasonable reasons (ha!) I’m ready for a black woman to win PR.

  4. 4 On July 17th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Cindy – I wondered when the judges said that the model was “just right” for the dress if they meant it because she appears to be of a non-Caucasian origin. Why would a blonde-haired, blue-eyed model not be “right” for that dress, while a darker-skinned, brunette is?

  5. 5 On July 17th, 2008, dragonfly said:

    KM, your point is well taken. As an overweight woman, I certainly know what it is like to be insulted or criticized because of how I look. However, my sister (who is about the same height and weight as a runway model), also experiences problems. All through high school she was constantly accused of being anorexic (she’s not–she eats a ton of food–she just has an amazing metabolism) by both teachers(!!!)and other students. Now, as an adult, she is subjected to similar rude comments from co-workers and even complete strangers. It seems that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  6. 6 On July 17th, 2008, Godless Heathen said:

    Good luck to her! I used to watch Runway, but I got fed up with it sometime in the middle of season 2. It seemed to me that truly talented people were edged off of the show early so that the one guy who dressed people in rags could hoover up camera time to annoy me with his “vision”. Forget it. Also, I kept having this urge to reach into my tv and beat Tim senseless, which I think had a lot to do with his tone of voice more than anything he did. Anyone who sounds that snotty needs to be taken down a peg, or fifty.

    I will ask though, because bias in these types of shows is not invisible, how many previous seasons have had women of color in the final 3?

    Also “real” women in this context: designers will often sketch out plans and then throw massive hissy fits when their designs don’t work on any woman. A lot of fashion designers seem to be perpetually peeved that there has to be a woman involved in the process of presenting their “inspiration” to the world. I think this has lead to the coat hanger thin ideal more than any other cultural force. Designers actively seek out models that will take up the least space, so as not to disturb a design that was created with no real, living women in mind. I know that quite a few have been quoted saying almost exactly that. (Frigg me if I can remember who they are, I don’t give to hoots about the fashion world.)

  7. 7 On July 17th, 2008, Godless Heathen said:

    Two hoots even, damn homophones

  8. 8 On July 17th, 2008, Brynne said:

    Just wanted to point out that when they say “real” plus size women, they could be interpreted as saying that these are ACTUALLY plus-size, not Hollywood plus-size.

    (they probably aren’t, but if you want to be optimistic….) :)

  9. 9 On July 17th, 2008, lilacsigil said:

    godlessheathen- the winner of Season 2 was a woman of colour, Chloe Dao.

    And I think there’s something very wrong when the winner of every “real person” (aka non-model) challenge in four seasons is the designer who is assigned the thinnest amateur model. It’s like the judges see clothes on a non-skinny body as deformed. Michael Kors, at least, does plus sized fashion, so he should know better, but obviously doesn’t, when every time, a nasty design on a skinny body will defeat any design on slender-to-large body. And the designers who can’t handle a non-model body don’t help, either.

    PR Canada did this much better – they used plus size models, and a designer who whined about having to design for them was slapped down by their mentor, who laughed at the designer and asked them who, exactly, did they think their customers were going to be?

  10. 10 On July 18th, 2008, pennylane said:

    And season one’s runner-up Kara Saun was a woman of color

    I loved Korto’s dress with the salad on the shoulder. The dress itself was really beautiful and was one of those rare occasions watching PR where I could actually imagine myself in that dress.

    KM–Although my body is quite different than yours I know what you mean. I have a very muscular and flat-chested body that I’ve been told is unfeminine. There’s such a narrow range of acceptable body types which just guarantees that no woman ever feels entirely comfortable in her skin. Phhhbt.

  11. 11 On July 19th, 2008, Liza said:

    Also – anyone else notice the little blond tan guy (Blake? Blane? w/e) bitching because his model was “curvier than he expected.” I was like, yeah, she’s a real lard-ass. Tiny douchebag, try cutting the garment with extra room then tailoring down if your model is especially small. It’s easier to go in than out, and if you don’t know how to do that you probably shouldn’t be on PR.

    By the by, I can’t be the only one that would have made a dress out of tampons and condoms. Seriously, I was surprised no one chose either of those things.

    Even if tiny blond douche’s dress DID kind of look like a giant maxi pad…that’s not what it was made from.

    KM – I know what you mean. I’ve recently entered the “in-betweenie” realm (I currently wear a 16, I used to be a clearly-plus-sized 24) and I’m sensitive to that now. So far it hasn’t been directed at me, but I’ve seen a lot of “oh, you’re not THAT fat” stuff directed at people wearing a size 12/14/16/18, with a tone of condescension, like, you’re not as fat as me, so you’re not fat enough to have a problem. You’re not fat enough to be part of a movement. If you’ve lost weight you don’t belong here. Ugh, for a movement that’s supposed to be about acceptance, there seem to be a lot of people who put up walls. I admit, I occasionally say things that sound that way (actually during PR I noticed Nina looks like she’s gained some weight back and I think she looks better, she was too thin looking before IMO, and I said she “looks like a human” now…what I meant was that she looks healthier and like herself again, but it came out a little snarktastic) but they don’t have the same intent. I mean, I can certainly understand the instinct to shut out due to what said “outsiders” have done to us fatties before, but I definitely think it’s better to have allies that lie outside of a group. Kind of like how most of the gay people I know appreciate straight allies, or the minorities I know appreciate white/majority allies. Most feminists appreciate male allies. Etc.

  12. 12 On July 22nd, 2008, Must be Something in the Water « Finding the Qs said:

    [...] Rachel at The F Word posts about the latest series of Project Runway and a contestant who specializes in women of size. [...]

  13. 13 On October 16th, 2008, Project Runway vs. Presidential Debate: Which did you watch? » said:

    [...] Korto seemed to possess the most maturity and business acumen of the group. And Korto, if you recall, says her designs are intended for “real, full-figured women” (her term, not mine). The [...]

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