View Full Version : Our interview with Gwen DeVoe

12th September 2010, 21:31
<br>It must have seemed like an impossible challenge: to create a bona fide alternative to the mainstream industry's straight-size-only fashion weeks--those exclusionary, curve-o-phobic events where no one in a double digit dress size is ever permitted to appear.

Impossible, that is, to anyone else, but not to Gwen DeVoe. Where others merely dreamed, she created reality. Her first Full-Figured Fashion Week looked polished and professional, and featured some of the most gorgeous models in the industry. Moreover, unlike other so-called plus-size fashion shows, with their faux-plus size 10s and 12s, Full-Figured Fashion Week featured genuinely full-figured goddesses, size 14 and up.

In 2010, the second incarnation of FFFWeek tripled in size and prestige, yet maintained its pro-curvy philosophy.

In the following interview with the Judgment of Paris, Ms. DeVoe discusses the genesis of Full-Figured Fashion Week, as well as the philosophy behind it. She strongly advocates the idea--an idea with which we concur--that the plus-size industry should concentrate on create its own, distinct, plus-specific events rather than merely attempting to conform itself to straight-size-industry standards.

Gwen also reveals many fascinating insights about her own background. Readers are sure to empathize with her reminiscences about being a struggling young model in New York, carting suitcases on the subway from shoot to shoot. They will also surely be moved by her reflections on how proud her mother would have been of what she has accomplished.

This is an intriguing tale about the origins of an important cultural event, but it is also an inspiring object lesson about the possibility of realizing one's dreams in the face of opposition and adversity, so long as one has the requisite talent and will.

Crusaders and entrepreneurs alike, take note.<p><center>* * *</center><p>Plus-size model aficionados will also appreciate the many illustrations that accompany the interview. In addition to two new, never-before-posted images of luscious Katherine Roll from FFFWeek 2009, the interview also features <i>eight</I> new full-size photos of dazzling Kailee O'Sullivan from this event. (Lindsey Garbelman's photos from FFFWeek 2010 have appeared on the forum before.) Each model is represented by nine of her best runway images. Be sure to click on each thumbnail to view the image at a larger size. The photographs come courtesy of Richard Lew, the official photographer of FFFWeek 2009 and 2010.<p><center>* * *</center><p>And now, without further ado, please allow us to introduce the woman behind the world's one and only...Full-Figured Fashion Week.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/fffm01b.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center>

- <a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/" target="_blank">An Interview with Gwen DeVoe</a>

13th September 2010, 09:03
What a fascinating interview! I've read a few smaller pieces concerning Ms. DeVoe and the genesis of FFFWeek, but never anything so thorough. I'm very appreciative to her of speaking so openly and in such detail about the obstacles that she had to overcome to create a fashion week for plus-size women. It makes me all the more appreciative of the event.

Above all, what I admire is her stance on using genuinely full-figured models. Her rationale as to why this is important is so true:

If I’m an 18, and you’re saying that you provide size-18 clothing, and you put a size 12 on the runway, that’s not particularly realistic, nor does that make me want to buy the outfit.
Exactly. I can't fathom why the industry thinks that it would. The models should be at least as curvy as the women for whom the clothing is targeted.

Ms. DeVoe makes the point several times, and I love how firm she is on this issue:

The person who works for me as a casting director, in whatever city, he or she is acutely aware that I will only show sizes 14 and up.Any DeVoe Signature Event has always used sizes 14 and up. So I didn’t have to think about that at all, Heinrich. In terms of plus-size, that’s who I feel are plus-size. And there’s no argument about it.
"No argument." I love that. She stands on principle.

I'm not surprised to learn that the agencies try to give her smaller girls, though:

We have specific requirements. We say, “Show us your 14s, 16s, 18s.” And we got back a lot of 10s and 12s snuck in the mix...and that’s fine, but we just don’t book them.I told them I wanted 14s. They sent me 10s and 12s. I discarded those.
Kudos to FFFWeek for discarding them! I wish all clients would do so. I wonder if this isn't how the faux-plus problem spreads. The clients keep getting sent smaller models and simply choose them because, unlike Ms. DeVoe, they don't stand their ground. They may not even realize that fuller-figured plus-size models DO exist.

I'd love to see FFFWeek become even more prominent so that it would influence agencies to use fuller-figured models. It's wonderful to see three gorgeous Judgment of Paris favourites in the images that accompany the interview, and to reflect that the only reason we ever got to see them on the catwalk is because Ms. DeVoe created an event where they could walk the runway. So thank you, Ms. DeVoe.

13th September 2010, 12:36
Something that I find especially admirable is Ms. DeVoe's emphasis on the idea that the plus-size fashion world should create its own vehicles - its own runway shows, its own magazines, etc.

I didn’t want to mix it, or be near the industry’s fashion week, straight-size fashion week, because it was very, very important for me to create our own identity. Let’s create our own. And you know what? Maybe one year they’ll want to be involved with us. Why are we still begging and grovelling? I think that we should put more emphasis on creating our own brand. I’m a firm believer in that. I just think that we’ve wasted so much time apologizing for who we are and trying to mix and blend in. And so far, it’s not working.
So true! Consider the contrast:

If the plus-size fashion industry ties to conform itself to the straight-size industry, all that this produces is full-figured models who get smaller and smaller and smaller until they don't look plus-size at all. And then, of course, they start getting jobs - but where's the success in that? It just means that the minus-size industry has won, and the plus-size industry has lost, because those models are no longer actually plus size. They've become skinny - just what the straight-size industry wanted all along.

But if the plus-size fashion industry creates its own vehicles, then it gets runway shows with models over a size 14, like Katherine, Lindsey, Kailee; and magazines like Mode and Figure, with models like Kelsey Olson and Shannon Marie and Barbara Brickner in them.

The latter is by FAR the better chose. In the latter case, we win. In the first case, we lose.

I absolutely agree that the focus should be on creating plus-specific enterprises that create waif-free environments, eliminate any mixed messages, and show truly full-figured models.

M. Lopez
13th September 2010, 17:05
I absolutely agree on how important the size issue is. Why in the world should models be smaller than the customers of the outfits that they're modelling? The only people who believe that models need to be smaller to be "aspirational" are people who have a preference for skinniness in the first place - and that kind of curve-o-phobic prejudice has no place in plus-size fashion. That's for the minus-size industry.

Why shouldn't the models be the same size as those customers? In fact, why shouldn't they be bigger? Why can't "larger than" be "aspirational"? I find that I am actually much more inspired by models who are fuller-figured than I am, like Mayara Russi, than I am by models who are the same size as me, let alone smaller.

Ms. DeVoe makes this very point:

And I think that it’s empowering them. It makes them feel good about themselves, because finally, here’s someone who’s my size, maybe even larger. You know what it is? It’s a safe space.
Exactly. Seeing a model who is gorgeous and even larger than the viewer actually raises the viewer's self-esteem: "If that size 20 model looks so alluring in that outfit, then surely I can too at a size 18."

Ms. DeVoe herself gives an example of this, describing her reaction to seeing an underweight model:

The young lady’s shoulder was so bony that you could see the bones in her neck, and I said, “Wow, my wonderful, full shoulder would look much better in that dress.”
Exactly. The idea that a fuller figure looks better in clothing than a smaller figure - that's the kind of viewpoint we need. That's the "turn in thinking" that this site has been advocating for years.

By the way, here's one other point for which Ms. DeVoe deserves major praise: the fact that refuses to accept any kind of diet-starvation or exercise-torture advertising. She says:

Not only did I know that it would be inappropriate, but I really feel that it would be inappropriate as well.
Agreed 100 perfect. The industry should be as adamant on this point as it should be adamant on the idea that plus-size models should be over a size 14. At least FFFWeek gets it right and provides the right exampe.

14th September 2010, 09:31
I really liked what Ms. DeVoe said about the possibility of restoring the plus-size ideal:

When you go back and you look at some of the great artwork that was done before I was born, those women were voluptuous. That’s where the word “voluptuous” came from. It was a sign of posterity. It was just wonderful. And I just hope and pray that we return back to that time.
That, of course, has been the core Judgment of Paris message for years. And when you consider the stunning FFFWeek images of Katherine Roll, she looks exactly like a Rubens goddess brought to life and walking the catwalk, with her blonde curls and soft, full figure. If you took a Rubens angel and put her on the runway, she would look exactly like Katherine.

Kailee too, although not as opulent, has a round, angelic face in her FFFWeek images. Lindsey's curvy figure is right out of the Renaissance. Where else but at Full-Figured Fashion Week would you see goddesses like these on the runway? Therefore, Gwen DeVoe's own project is in fact making it possible to "return back to that time," as she hopes.

I'm also intrigued by her idea for a "Plus-Size Project Runway" competition. That would be fascinating to see.

18th September 2010, 12:13
I particularly like the fact that Ms. DeVoe has some polite but firm words against the plus-size models or celebrities who end up endorsing diet drugs and such. She, rightly, doesn't accept it when they

make excuses for doing it. Here’s my take on this. If you decide that you want to switch playing fields, go ahead and do it, but don’t expect us to continue to embrace you. Just be real. And that’s one of the problems that I have with people sometimes. Just be honest.
Very well said on Ms. Devoe's part. If a model or celebrity gains fan support and acclaim, but then turns around and betrays her fans by suddenly embodying size-diminishment, then that model or celebrity should not be surprised or indignant when those fans stop supporting her. After all, the basis of the fans' support was that the model or celebrity was formerly an opponent of body diminishment and diet propaganda. If model or celebrity then starts supporting body diminishment, then she becomes a traitor to the cause, no less. The fans understandably feel used, because that model or celebrity made a name for herself on their backs, then turned around and betrays those fans.

It's very encouraging that Ms. DeVoe recognizes this. Further evidence of the admirably pro-curvy basis of FFFWeek.

30th September 2010, 19:34
I enjoyed everything about the interview. Just as an all-plus-size-model runway show is far superior to a show with just token plus-size models, so is a whole full-figured fashion week superior to a single all-plus-size-model runway show. I love what Gwen has created.

I especially liked hearing her impressions of meeting size-16 beauty Lindsey Garbelman, whose pictures from the 2010 edition of FFFWeek were phenomenal:

I turned around, and there’s that gorgeous Lindsey staring at me with those big, beautiful eyes and the face.

I thought, “Okay, you are not the casting director. You are the producer. Don’t jump all over this girl and tell her that she has to be in Full-Figured Fashion Week.” I watched Lindsey model a couple of pieces. Informal modelling. I looked at the fabric. And I kept looking at her. I said, “You’re gorgeous.” She told me that she actually had submitted for it, but she hadn’t heard back. And I said, “Oh, you’ll hear back. Don’t worry.”
No wonder Gwen was so taken by Lindsey. She is a true beauty.

The images that accompany that interview are stunning. I loved seeing new photos that hadnt been posted on the site yet, like these two new pictures of Katherine Roll from the 2009 show. Her figure is so gorgeous. With those blonde locks and her full facial features, she was the very definition of a goddess in this show.

http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/fffm08tb.jpg http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/fffm06t.jpg

The image in white is especially daring. Its a swimsuit with a sheer overlay, but the effect is of a white dress with a daring slit running up the thigh. Very sensual, yet tasteful.

And of course seeing the many, many new pictures of Kailee OSullivan from 2009 for the first time was a treat. Look at that adorable face in the picture on the right. And oh, the dress on the left really showcases her soft, buxom curves.

http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/fffm12t.jpg http://www.judgmentofparis.com/fffm/fffm33t.jpg

The images also show how curve-adoring the fashions at FFFWeek have been. Amazing event - and we owe its existence to Ms. DeVoe. Thank you!!

27th October 2010, 02:31
I found this interview fascinating and informative -- not to mention inspiring, for all of the reasons that others have mentioned.

One bit of information that stood out to me was the fact that Ms. DeVoe initially established this event with her own finances, her own money.

Before I started to reach out to people to share my idea, I started saving money. Because I knew that before I talked to a sponsor, I wanted them to know that there were certain things that I had already taken care of. I didn’t want people to think that I was coming to the table with no resources and just an idea. I wanted them to know that this brand was mine, and if you wanted to come on board, you can come on board, but it’s not all about your price point, or my price point, because I’m showing you that I have my own. That was really, really important to me.
It reminds me of the stories of the origins of Hollywood. The early studio heads, like the Warner brothers, Louis B. Mayer, etc. didn't make their fortunes in Hollywood. They made their fortunes in other industries before they came to L.A., then established Hollywood with the money that they had made through other ventures.

The moral of the story is, if you want to change the world (at least in a free-enterprise system), you need to have the money to do it. "He who pays the piper calls the tune." In order for plus-size beauty to regain its cultural dominance, people who have size-positive philosophies need to make their fortunes first, so that they have the capital to leverage their pro-plus ideas into existence. FFFWeek is an example of this.

I was also extremely touched by Ms. DeVoe's personal story:

HSG: Of the two Full-Figured Fashion Weeks that you’ve staged so far, what has been your favourite moment to date?

GWEN: Oh, boy. Well, for the launch of Full-Figured Fashion Week last year, my single favourite moment was when my assistant came backstage and said, “Gwen, it’s showtime.” And I stepped outside, and I looked at the smiling faces of people of all nationalities, all ages, all different backgrounds. And I looked, and I was almost reduced to tears, because my mother had passed away a couple of years ago, and I knew that she would have been so proud of me, after me dragging trunks of clothing up and down subway steps in New York. This is my background: independent plus-size model, to being a show producer with very little funds. In the middle of the night going from New York City to New Jersey. I’ve done it all. And I just thought that my mother would have been so proud to say, “Wow, look at what my daughter has created.”
That is a very moving reminiscence on Ms. DeVoe's part, and I'm glad that she shared it. Her mother would indeed have reason to be extremely proud of her daughter's phenomenal accomplishments. Ms. DeVoe's projects have touched the lives of thousands of people, and have helped to shift the culture in a better direction. Bravo.

29th October 2010, 22:28
What a fabulous interview! It was so heartening to see a woman courageous enough to state the truth about true beauty and put her energy and money into that vision. I also want to commend the models who participated! The fashion industry is full of vindictive, twisted people who might want to retaliate against working, full figured models who choose to be a part of such a project because it's a slap in the face to the perverted aesthetic they insist upon foisting on the world. These ladies along with Gwen have taken an important stand for true feminine beauty. Gwen is right when she mentions that full figured women need their own fashion, their own magazines and their own industry. That we don't need to chase after and beg to be included into the mainstream fashion world - which is a cruel joke played on women and girls considering the kinds of people that run that industry.

I am so happy to see this site support and cover such wonderful projects and I look forward to seeing more of them.