View Full Version : Our Queen Grace interview
<br>Given that Marina Zelner, the founder, CEO, and designer of the Queen Grace collection, had the vision to feature gorgeous plus-size model Kelsey Olson in her line's first-ever campaign, and then had Kelsey joined by stunning goddess Katherine Roll on the runway at Full-Figured Fashion Week 2011, we were delighted to be given the opportunity to interview this new leading light of the plus-size fashion industry.
Our hour-and-a-half discussion turned out to be one of the most significant conversations that we have ever had with any fashion professional. Madame Zelner shared many penetrating insights into the philosophical significance of fashion in general and full-figured fashion in particular, and addressed many of the hot-button issues that confront the industry today.
In particular, Marina shared a revelation that is unimaginably shocking and appalling, for it confirms a measure of corruption within the full-figured fashion industry that, until now, had only been a rumour. Madame Zelner's uncompromising stance in the face of this enticement towards selling-out truly deserves to be called noble, fully in keeping with the aristocratic title of her marque.
The interview also comes illustrated with three never-before-seen outtakes from Kelsey's Queen Grace shoot (exclusively granted to the Judgment of Paris), along with full-size images of all eleven pages from the inaugural Queen Grace catalogue, scanned in higher resolution and truer colour than have hitherto been available on the Web. Be sure to click on the images to view the looks at a larger size.
Kelsey at her princess-like best, from the first-ever Queen Grace photoshoot:
<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/queengrace/qg21.jpg"></center><p>- <a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/queengrace/" target="_blank">Click here to read our Queen Grace interview</a>
23rd July 2011, 13:36
This is one of the most compelling interviews I've ever read on this site. I already admired the Queen Grace collection for the beauty of the clothing and for the fact that it featured Kelsey in its look book, and had both Kelsey and Katherine on the runway, but reading about Ms. Zelner's passion for her endeavour and her unwavering commitment to her customers makes me even more supportive of her line. In Marina, I think we have a champion of plus-size beauty like none other.
But "shocking and appalling" is right. As I was reading the interview, I knew instantly which revelation was meant. It angered more than I can say; more than just about anything I've ever read anywhere:
MARINA: I had an experience where we hired a model—and you know, we’re not going to name any names—
HSG: Of course.
MARINA: —but it was a big, big agency. And we saw the photographs, the portfolio that was sent to us. She was a beautiful, voluptuous woman. When she showed up—we have sample 16—and we started trying it on her, and we couldn’t believe what was happening. Well, she lost 45 pounds.
HSG: [aghast] Oh, my God.
MARINA: And we felt horrible for her, but the bottom line is, I cannot use these images. This is not a true representation of what my brand is all about, which is empowering beautiful, curvy, sophisticated women. And she shared with me that her agent actually suggested that she should be losing weight—she’s going to get more bookings.
HSG: Oh, my God.
MARINA: Yeah, it’s very frustrating. But it’s still out there. It still exists.
HSG: That’s so appalling.
MARINA: Absolutely. I felt the same way about it
I wanted to shout at someone when I read this. I can't believe that a agent for a plus-size model -- someone who is supposed to be supporting size celebration, who is supposed to be promoting the use of fuller-figured models -- would tell a model to diminish herself!
That agent basically set out to destroy plus-size beauty; to eliminate a classically curvaceous figure.
There are so few gorgeous and genuinely full-figured models in the industry anyway, and he/she just ruined one of them.
This is worse than anything even an Anna Wintour or a straight-size designer could do. Those people merely affect the minus-size industry. But this agent actually sabotaged the plus-size movement, by eliminating a true plus-size model and turning her into another faux-plus fraud.
Here's the link to the audio of that passage. It makes me livid:
All I can say is, thank goodness Marina realized that she couldn't use these images, and decided to use Kelsey instead:
MARINA: We’re not going to compromise our principles and our belief that a beautiful, curvy model can communicate the right message to the customers out there and present it the right way.
Bravo! If only more plus-size labels would display this kind of pro-curvy commitment to their customers, the movement would actually advance.
I just dread to think of all of the companies that, when faced with a model so badly diminished from her plus-size self, would still use her images. The fact that Marina resolved not to be a party to such deception makes me want to support Queen Grace that much more.
23rd July 2011, 18:33
The fact that an agent pressured that model into starving herself down 45 lbs is an outrage. Any agent who takes such an anti-plus position is basically a fifth columnist for the diet-torture industries, and is undermining the plus-size industry from within, decreasing its models' subversive potential -- and their beauty.
The grim irony of the agent's claim to be diminishing a model's size so that she can "get more bookings" is that it doesn't even accomplish that! Far from it -- the model in question LOST this major, major campaign with Queen Grace, (not to mention the chance to represent the line at FFFWeek,) precisely BECAUSE she listened to her curve-o-phobic agent and faded away into a faux-plus size. Something that she supposedly did "for her career" actually turned out to be BAD for her career. So she sold out for no reason at all.
Instead, the model who got this prestigious campaign (and deservedly so), Kelsey, is one who resisted industry pressure to shrivel away her curves, and instead kept her glorious size-16 figure and 39" waist.
This makes me respect models like Kelsey and Katherine even more, because given that there is this kind of a toxic, anti-plus element in the industry, Kelsey and Katherine are truly principled for rejecting it, and for remaining true to their curvaceous selves. They're more beautiful and more important as a result. They are the models who matter, and who are truly inspiring, in a way that a model who diminishes herself can never be.
Kudos to Marina Zelner and Queen Grace for spurning what would have been a meagre, half-measure campaign, and instead giving their crown to the genuinely full-figured and gorgeous models who actually deserve it.
24th July 2011, 02:59
I admire Marina Zelner for all of the pro-curvy statements that she makes in this interview, but especially for her generous words about her models. To many companies and CEOs, their models are little more than chattel, but Ms. Zelner clearly reveres them and sees them as muses and goddesses - which they are.
This also indicates how much respect Queen Grace has for its customers, for just as it sees its curvy models in such a positive way, so does it view its curvy clients.
I have always believed that how a plus-size label approaches its models reflects exactly how it thinks about its customers. If a company features gorgeous size 16s and 18s, like Kelsey and Katherine (as Queen Grace does), then clearly it adores its full-figured clientele and loves their body type. But if a company merely resorts to faux-plus models, then clearly it does not have any esteem for its plus-size customers, and while it is content to take their money, it doesnt even respect them enough to show their body type in its advertising.
Marinas words, like her company images, both testify to a profound admiration for full-figured women.
The grim irony of the agent's claim to be diminishing a model's size so that she can "get more bookings" is that it doesn't even accomplish that! Far from it -- the model in question LOST this major campaign with Queen Grace, (not to mention the chance to represent the line at FFFWeek,) precisely BECAUSE she listened to her curve-o-phobic agent and faded away into a faux-plus size. Something that she supposedly did "for her career" actually turned out to be BAD for her career.
Not only that, but even if the model who diminishes herself does book any jobs at her whittled-down size, those jobs are worthless, because she is no longer visibly curvy. By this crass "bookings" argument, a model might as well become a size-0 anorexic to get work - that being where such toxic thinking ultimately leads.
No, anyone who pushes a model to starve herself is no friend of the model, nor of full-figured women, nor of the industry, nor of the movement. Rather, a good agent will encourage clients to enthusiastically book a model at her truly full-figured size - especially when, as in the case of Queen Grace, that size-positive intention was right there in the company brief.
24th July 2011, 16:01
Marina's commitment to size-celebration is truly wonderful, but for me, what really distinguishes Queen Grace from another other label currently offered to plus-size women is its Old World sensibility and its European roots. The passages in the interview that I find most unique are those in which Marina discusses those themes.
For one thing, I love the fact that she uses phrases like "Old World" and even "old-fashioned" in a wholly positive way. I certainly agree with the following propositions:
MARINA: Most people love the old-fashioned appeal of the name.MARINA: I’ve received a lot of comments other customers saying that what attracted them to the brand, even before they saw the images of the dresses, is that it exudes that old-fashioned, Old-World sensuality.
The designer's European heritage gives her a perspective outside the thin-centric American sensibility:
MARINA: My heritage stayed with me. It influenced me. It’s something that I love, and when I design clothes, I want to bring that back here, and I want the designs to be influenced by that European aesthetic.
Crucially, it's not just contemporary Europe that Marina is talking about, but traditional, pre-war Europe, where the aristocracy was in place and celebrated a beauty ideal of which plus-size femininity was but one expression:
MARINA: I grew up in Europe. I’m going back to the images of the Old World with the beautiful, Rubenesque body, and the light in their eyes, and the beautiful sexiness of their skin, and their body form. This is something that always drives me in my design ideas.
You can see how this enriches her choices both in her gorgeous models and in her wonderful taste in design, when she talks about incorporating "ruffles and flowy skirts and bows" in her forthcoming spring collection, and in how she responds to Vogue Italia's "Belle Vere" editorial:
MARINA: I would love to create the same imagery, with that same sensuality, with the old-fashioned, opulent, glamorous feel, while the women are actually wearing clothes.
I love the passages in which Marina specifically references her European upbringing. I can relate to this personally, because it reflects my own childhood, as it would for almost anyone who was either born in Europe or was the first-generation son or daughter of European immigrants:
MARINA: [In Europe] everyone was accepted for who they were. We had great celebrations. Whether it’s an Italian family or Polish or Russian or German, the greatest events happened around the big table. There was always food and drink and wine, and that was part of the greatest celebrations of life.
As Marina describes, models like Kelsey and Katherine truly are the embodiments of the fairy-tale princesses of traditional European lore:
MARINA: Fairy-tale books that I read as a child always showed the beautiful, voluptuous girl. And little girls grew up with that, seeing that this is exactly how see looks. A Russian beautiful girl, she had red cheeks and beautiful, long, blonde hair, and everyone thought, how beautiful she is.
The most important passage of the entire interview, I think, is one in which Marina contrasts this traditional European vision with modern media sensibility:
MARINA: Any child growing up in Russia would go on trips to the museums and see beautiful art, sculpture, and painting. And the history and the stories that we grew up with were very, very different. We were very much influenced by what happened in the past and how we evolved and who we have become. Even during the time of the communist regime, when a lot of these things were prohibited, and the museums were closed down, beautiful works of art were still celebrated.
Here, however, we are so driven by media, and we are so driven by what’s hot and popular on T.V....And our children are growing up with that mentality, that unless you are popular and skinny and have a lot of money, you don’t represent much in the society, and you are not recognized.
People in the West today, especially in North America, grow up as deracinated units of a consumer culture with no sense of their own heritage and traditions, no knowledge of the legacy of culture that preceded them. This leaves them vulnerable to mass-media indoctrination, to be taken in by the latest trend or fad, however toxic.
But an awareness of one's Old World roots allows a person to see past modern media brainwashing, to recognize the anorexic ideal as a temporary aberration, a deviation from the true, timeless ideal that European aristocratic culture celebrated throughout the ages. It offers a viable alternative to the degenerate society in which we live, a promise of something better and more beautiful.
With her Queen Grace collection, and the images that she generates to promote it, and the goddesses whom she selects to showcase it, Marina Zelner is helping to restore that healthier, more natural, more noble aesthetic.
25th July 2011, 14:37
I agree about how wonderful it is to hear Marina praising her models so vocally. It clearly reflects her view of full-figured women in general, which is indicated in all that she says about listening to the wishes of her clientele. She is truly committed to full-figured beauty as a principle, and to individual plus-size women as well.
I love the story of how Kelsey was cast for this campaign:
MARINA: We were looking for a face for a while, and we just couldn’t find anyone. We had gone through all the modelling agencies. We didn’t find that face that really struck me right away, with that beautiful innocence and gorgeous body and gorgeous expression and vibe. And then when I received the runway lineup of my models—so I have to give kudos to Full-Figured Fashion Week—and I saw her picture, I was just taken aback. I was stunned. I said, “This is it. This is the girl we need to work with.” And when I saw her come into the studio to do the photo shoot, I knew for sure that we made a fabulous choice.
Aside from the fact that she is a humble, beautiful woman, her personality just comes through on camera. She turns it on. I mean, the camera is looking at her, and she’s having fun with it, her eyes are in it, her whole heart is in it, and it was just a wonderful experience to work with her. And when she tried on our gown, we knew that that’s the gown she’s going to be wearing on the runway, because no one else could have presented it better than her.
I feel exactly the same way. Kelsey's images are always very empowering, and they give an accurate read of what an outfit will look like on a curvy body type:
MARINA: If I were a woman looking for a dress and seeing Kelsey wearing a beautiful dress on the pages of a magazine, I would believe it. I would want to go and buy it, or at least try it out, because I want to associate with an image like that. She’s someone who is absolutely, stunningly gorgeous. Her body is beautiful. And this is the aesthetic that is appealing to me. And I’m hoping that other curvy women out there will feel the same way when they see our images.
This passage includes the phrase that gives the interview its title, "a regal princess." I find it a clever heading, as it could apply to Kelsey, to Katherine, to Marina herself, or to any curvaceous beauty wearing Queen Grace clothing:
MARINA: To see my designs and my clothes come alive on a beautiful body, that was not an opportunity I was going to miss. And she did an absolutely phenomenal job. She is a regal princess.
My favourite passage introduces the notion of Kelsey as a "muse," which references Greek mythology -- and we know that Ms. Zelner is familiar with Greek myth, as she herself points out in the passage about the Judgment of Paris painting:
MARINA: For every designer, there is a muse, and she has become our muse in many ways, because she embodies the image of this elegance that we want to see in our designs.
Her description of Katherine Roll and her performance on the runway is equally loving. Even if I hadn't seen the photos from FFFWeek, I would have clearly imagined her runway turn, based on this description.
MARINA: She has that same elegant appeal to me as Kelsey did. She is really beautiful. And the other thing that I admire about her: fabulous runway skills. She does a phenomenal job. She walks out there and… You know, these girls, they listen. They expect a designer to share with them what is the vision that we want to present on the runway. And all of these ladies, we said to them, “Look, this is a collection that exudes so much sophistication that we want you to present it in the same way when you walk down the runway.” And if you look at the images of Katherine—Katherine Roll—on the runway, she was just phenomenal: beautiful, elegant, sophisticated; walked her beautiful, curvy walk. She wore our lacy wrap dress that fit her just incredibly, just every little curve was just properly hot, and she looked phenomenal. And then when she stares into that camera at the end of the runway, you know, it’s mesmerizing.
It's so exciting to have a plus-size designer who thinks of full-figured women this way, who views them as royalty. I think anyone clothing themselves in Queen Grace fashions will be able to feel that aristocratic spirit.
26th July 2011, 06:00
What I love in the interview is Ms. Zelner's sense of mission. She amply justifies her assertion:
MARINA:This is really, truly, not just about making clothes. This is about empowering women and making them feel sensational.
From everything that she says in the interview, I get the feeling that this is true. It's true for herself, true for curvy women in general, and true even from a very personal place - true for her own daughters, as she points out:
MARINA: I have two daughters myself who see the images in the press and try to achieve the standards that can only possibly be achieved by starving themselves and putting their well-being, physical and psychological health, in danger.
When my daughter picks up a magazine, that’s what she sees, and it’s very frustrating...To see a slim girl who would make comments about the fact that she is not slim enough to fit in a dress is very, very disappointing. And it’s not coming from my house. It’s not coming from my thinking. It’s coming from what’s out there in the media and the press.
That last paragraph is especially important as an answer to those who would make excuses for the thin-supremacist, anorexia-pushing media by claiming that body image is determined at home. As Marina's comments indicate, parents can do everything in their power to foster positive body image in their children, but the toxic culture is all around them, impossible to escape, and it will infiltrate even the healthiest, most traditional household and threaten to undermine all of the positive values that parents try to inculcate.
But the most passionate passage is Marina's cri de coeur to full-figured women to stop wasting their lives trying to starve/torture themselves into artificial, media-acceptable emaciation, and instead to go out and live:
MARINA: Who you are is exactly where you need to be. This is who you are. I’m always very frustrated with women who stay at home and cry their eyes out, and they say, “I’m not going shopping until I’ve lost 30, 40 pounds.” You’re going to be spending all your life sitting on the couch, waiting for a miracle to happen! Go out there. Have a good time. Have the confidence to celebrate who you are. You are going to be loved and recognized for your personality, for your spirit, or for the edge that you bring, or the fun element that you bring. We all have something to offer.
That quote should be taped onto every woman's fridge who has ever denied herself anything - food or fun - just because she doesn't resemble the unnatural, un-Nordic, un-Slavonic, un-Mediterranean, alien standard that the media pushes.
Ms. Zelner recognizes that for some, it isn't easy, but bravo to her for wanting to do whatever she can to liberate women from this negativity and to encourage them to live life to the fullest.
MARINA: These women have been so destroyed for many years by the notions that they’ve see in the media and T.V., and by the fact that they are not recognized in commerce when they go to the stores. Their self-esteem is so low that it’s so hard for them to all of a sudden awaken and say, “You know what? It’s okay. I can do this.”
And we want to build that self esteem. This brand is about celebrating a woman and empowering a woman...There is so much to a women’s psyche that could be influenced by as simple a thing as making her feel beautiful. Very, very true.
27th July 2011, 05:56
As others have observed, one of the things that makes Queen Grace such a welcome collection is that it is a very personal expression by Marina Zelner. It isn't just an anonymous brand; it has a personality behind it. That's why this interview is so fruitful.
The fact that Ms. Zelner shares exactly the same aggravations that other full-figured women do, and seeks to resolve them in her line, is what makes the whole endeavour so promising.
Take the model issue, for example. She herself acknowledges that she feels just as upset as many other full-figured women do when clothing is presented on models who are smaller than their intended customers. Whether those models are minus-size or faux-plus, it's the same disappointment, the same insult: they're a con; they're just not authentically full-figured.
MARINA: I’ve dealt with the same issues, whether it’s insecurity, or frustration, or sometimes it’s anger at the media and other outlets that show us images that absolutely do not reflect the reality around us.
This frustration is translated right into her label's booking policies, which correct the injustice and get it right:
MARINA: We are very strongly opposed to what’s happening at a lot of plus-size brands, where they manufacture clothes for larger women, but then in their media advertising and promotions they show it on smaller girls.
This shows how important it is for a CEO/designer to be able to truly empathize with her clientele and share their perceptions and understand their wishes.
By the way, on the model issue, I have to point out that once again Full-Figured Fashion Week proves to be the most beneficial plus-size enterprise out there. Did everyone catch how Kelsey got noticed by Queen Grace? It was directly because of Kelsey's selection to participate in FFFWeek:
MARINA: When I received the runway lineup of my models—so I have to give kudos to Full-Figured Fashion Week—and I saw her picture, I was just taken aback. I was stunned. I said, “This is it. This is the girl we need to work with.”
FFFWeek is the gift that keeps on giving!
<br>As Emily mentioned earlier in this thread, one of the things that distinguishes the Queen Grace collection is Madame Zelner's opulent <i>taste</i>--her taste in models and her taste in fashion. Taste is a quintessentially aristocratic quality. One can hardly learn taste; one simply has it or one does not. One must be born with it, just as one must be born to the purple.
Allow us to exhibit another manifestation of this exquisite taste: the sophistication of the Queen Grace promotional materials.
When we received our copy of the Queen Grace catalogue, it came in an elegant white folder emblazoned with the line's distinctive coronet-embellished crest.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg04.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg04a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>Inside was a letter from Queen Grace, thanking us for our patronage. It was similarly decorated with the line's attractive logo and folded over in a classic z-fold. This scan shows the elegant silver trim.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg07.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg07a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>The catalogue itself is conveniently spiral bound and shows the royal purple hue, very similar to the colour that the Judgment of Paris has always used for viewed-links text. The eleven looks inside this catalogue are all viewable as full-size scans by clicking on the thumbnail images on our interview page, linked above.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg03.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg03a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>Another 8½×11 page with the Queen Grace logo and sophisticated silver edging features the text of a press release from just prior to Full-Figured Fashion Week. Please click on this image to view it at a larger, readable size.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg06.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg06a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>Finally, a glossy page describes the collection, offers a company overview, and notes Madame Zelner's personal background--which is quite compelling. Everyone who has enjoyed discovering Marina's opinions, as relayed in our interview, will find her biography quite fascinating and inspiring.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg05.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/qg05a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>Once again, we wish to thank Madame Zelner for engaging with us in such a candid and enlightening interview, and for providing us with such attractive visual material to support the presentation of this intriguing text.
(Click images to view larger.)
28th December 2011, 11:03
Half a year later, and I still find this interview to be fascinating and inspiring.
Others have singled out many of the most important quotations, but I also wish to highlight two more passages.
In this comment, Ms. Zelner talks about her pro-curvy approach to design:
MARINA: When you see our collection, you’re not going to see anything that doesn’t accentuate the waist, or the hips, or the bust. Everything that we think about is how to make the body look beautiful and curvy.
I’m very frustrated about some of the outfits that are put out there and make a woman believe that she’s supposed to be covering herself up...There is nothing wrong with, and nothing more beautiful than, a woman’s curves. And to hide them under these free-floating frocks that are put out there, I think is a shame.
How wonderful that her philosophy as a designer is based on body love. It's the same impulse, I'm sure, that prompted her to choose gorgeous and genuinely full-figured models like Kesley and Katherine to show off her apparel. Marina has a sincere aesthetic enthusiasm for the beauty of the generously proportioned female figure. One would think that everyone who works in plus-size fashion would have such inclinations, but they don't, which is why Queen Grace gets it so right, while too many other brands get it wrong.
They should adopt Marina's approach both to designing clothing and to booking models.
On a different note, I appreciate Ms. Zelner's comments about how wearing classy clothing gives a woman a more refined sense of herself, a nobler bearing:
MARINA: When the models were trying on our clothes, they would come in dressed casually, in jeans and shirts. And then they would put on our dresses. They right away reached for their heels, and they stood a little taller, and they straightened out their shoulders, because it raises your self-esteem. It makes you feel beautiful. And every woman wants to feel that way.
It's why I feel that the name of the label, Queen Grace, is so well chosen. The phenomenon that Marina describes indicates how being inspired by the idea of aristocracy and aristocratic values can benefit young women today; how they can apply it in their own lives and become more ladylike -- and beautiful.
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