Friday, September 25, 2009

And what's wrong with these?

London Fashion Week may not be ready, but women love a curvy model
Size 14 model Hayley Morley caused shock waves when she walked for Mark Fast at London Fashion Week. So what made a curvy woman such a bombshell on the catwalk?

By Tamsin Blanchard
September 24, 2009
Size 14 model Hayley Morley caused shock waves when she walked for Mark Fast at London Fashion Week.
On Saturday, the second day of London Fashion Week, Hayley Morley, got up early and went to work. As a model, she is used to early starts. As a size 14 model, she is not used to walking the catwalk for a young, cutting-edge British designer in a clingy, skimpy, knitted dress. By the end of the day, Morley, 21, had become a major story.

The designer in question was 28-year-old Canadian - Winnipeg (emphasis ours), Mark Fast. The night before the show, a time when designers work closely with their stylists and casting directors to decide on the running order and last-minute fittings, Fast's stylist, Erika Kurihara, had a problem over some aspects of the show – not about the inclusion of the size 14 girls as has been widely reported – and walked out leaving the Telegraph Magazine's fashion director, Daniela Agnelli, to step in at the last minute. Fast worked into the early hours, finishing off the last few pieces, literally knitting them onto the model with his fingers.

"It's a great idea for a young designer to think about a curvy body," says Agnelli, who encouraged Fast to send Morley out in the opening outfit. "It's about being confident and happy with who you are. Hayley is a sexy girl. Mark's vision is of a more womanly woman."

Fast graduated with a Masters from Central Saint Martins in 2008, and his first collection was promptly snapped up by the most wily retailer in the business, Browns. So taken was Joan Burstein, the woman who first bought John Galliano's collection in the Eighties, that she asked Fast to work with Browns exclusively. His intricately knitted dresses, which he forms on the body and makes with a domestic knitting machine using his own blend of Lycra, viscose, angora and wool, retail for £1,300. On the hanger, they can look shrunk and strange. But put them on, and they stretch and mould to your shape. The collection for spring/summer has sold out, and this one is expected to follow suit.

Fast met Morley in June when he was looking for models for a shoot that he was working on as part of a project called All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, a new initiative to help promote the use of models of different shapes, sizes, ages and colour. As one of six young designers chosen to take part in the project, Fast was introduced to Morley (who is 5ft9in, has a 34D bust, and 29in waist) and liked her look and her spirit from the start. He made a dress for her which was then shot by fashion photographer Kayt Jones for I-D magazine.

Morley has been modelling for two years since being scouted by Sarah Watkinson, founder and director of the agency, 12+UK. "Hayley is a naturally curvy girl," says Watkinson. She is totally comfortable with the size she is – a normal, healthy girl with curves in the places you would normally have them."

Since Saturday's show, Watkinson has been busy tracking blogs the world over with women saying, "I would love to have a figure like her."

Fast used two other size 14 girls, both from the same agency – Laura Catterall and Gwyneth Harrison. "I booked them because I felt moved by them when I met them – they have the vibe of old-school super models," Fast said after the show.

Certainly, his super-sexy dresses need a bit of flesh to cling to. "Every woman brings herself into my creations. My work is all about the yarn responding to the body."

For broadcaster Caryn Franklin, who launched All Walks Beyond the Catwalk as part of London Fashion Week, this is only the beginning. Her initiative has been supported by photographers including Rankin and Nick Knight, as well as by Sarah Brown, Marks & Spencer, Vogue editor Alex Shulman, and the British Fashion Council.

"The idea is that every year, we work with young designers," says Franklin, hoping that this season will not just be a one-off. All Walks will also begin to work with colleges, such as London College of Fashion, simply diversifying the range of body shapes and sizes the students aspire to dress.

For many designers, it is a matter of opening their eyes to something new. "William Tempest [a young designer for whom Morley has also modelled] said he realised how suited his clothes are to curvy women," says Franklin. "Up until now, he has only worked with dressmaking dummies and traditional fitting models."

What has become evident to Franklin is that designers do not have access to curvier models, and curvier models do not have access to high-end fashion.

"These girls don't get the chance to be in cutting-edge magazines. All it needs is for us to work a bit harder and not to be lazy. The industry wants this, too. We don't always just want to get it in the neck for being uncaring and without a conscience. I applaud Mark Fast's use of curvy models; I'm delighted by the delight of ordinary women who have been inspired by this."

As for Hayley Morley, hopefully a contract with a high-end fashion brand will follow. "I am surprised by the publicity," says Morley, who is in her final year at university, studying investment and finance in property. "I didn't think it would be such a big deal."

She has been inundated with messages of support. "There are lots of people who have wanted to see a change like this. It's really positive. I've always been a very active person. I go to the gym and am very healthy and happy. I'm not concerned about putting on or losing a few pounds."


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