Although plus-size modelling has menaced the fashion establishment and its androgynous, anorexic standard for well over a decade, it has obviously not yet dismantled this toxic paradigm. Far from it. Indeed, the minus-size industry has dug in its heels and entrenched itself. Thus, it is instructive to survey the last thirteen years and identify significant potential turning points at which fashion history failed to turn.
A friend of the author's likes to single out an incident during 1998 as a prime missed opportunity. At the time, Revlon was set to launch an unprecedented cosmetics campaign fronted, for the first time ever, by a plus-size model. The decision came down to Emme versus Barbara Brickner, as Mode
magazine reported at the time. Ultimately, the contract was awarded to Emme, and seemed to target career women. (You can view a commercial from this campaign here
.) But in 1998, Barbara Brickner was a young, voluptuous vixen with a sinfully full figure and a steamy allure that the plus-size industry had never seen before. Therefore, if she had won the nod from Revlon, then the campaign would surely have been completely different in tone. It would have targeted seductive ingénues rather than soccer moms, and the public would have seen a gorgeous, full-figured model photographed with all of the glamour that distinguishes top-level cosmetics campaigns. This could have made an even bigger impact that, say, Sophie Dahl's all-too-brief career as a plus-size model.
However, at least as great a missed opportunity as Revlon's choice not to feature Barbara was the 2007 decision by Modern Bride
magazine--then the world's top bridal publication--not to publish a spectacular editorial that it shot with gorgeous plus-size model Kailee O'Sullivan (Muse Models NY, size 14).
The images produced for this editorial were, and remain, the most alluring, seductive bridal images ever photographed, and the finest work of Kailee's career to date. If the public had seen them, and if the rest of the fashion industry had been exposed to them, then full-figured modelling would be a far more significant presence in the mainstream fashion world than it is today.* * *
When the first images from this unpublished editorial were released, no one had any idea of their source or history. Miss O'Sullivan was then riding high on the acclaim of her legendary 2007 Glamour tear sheet. When Kailee's bridal images appeared, we posted them in one of the most ardent essays that we have ever penned about her work. Two years later, in 2009, those pictures were still very much on our mind when we interviewed Miss O'Sullivan and asked her about them, at which point we learned the astonishing fact that they were part of an unpublished editorial for Conde Nast's flagship bridal publication.
The conversation, as recounted in our interview, went as follows:
And now we came to what is perhaps Kailee’s darkest, most passionate, most mysterious image—mysterious because of its content, and mysterious because no one hitherto knew its source.
“This was a test?” I asked.
“This was not a test shot, actually,” Kailee responded.
“This was not a test shot?”
“No. It was an editorial—”
“My God,” I gasped, already preparing to track down the publication as soon as the interview was over.
“—for Modern Bride magazine that never got published.”
“Never got published?” I echoed in bewilderment.
“It never came out. I don’t know why. I was looking forward to it. But yeah, I love, love, love those pictures. I love them. Because I feel—”
“This one above all. They’re all beautiful, but this one seized the collective imagination.”
“Thank you,” Kailee replied. “When you’re looking at you, it’s so hard to look at pictures from an unbiased or objective—”
“You can be biased,” I grinned.
“But, no, I looked at it, and I thought, ‘Okay, you know what?” she divulged. “That’s a good picture. I like that picture.’”
It was wonderful to hear her praise her own work. “Unlike the gentle expressions that you sometimes adopt,” I observed, “there’s a cruelty to your look here, if you know what I’m getting at.”
“Yeah,” she laughed.
“In an Evil Princess kind of way?” I said, growing more ardent.
“Yeah, definitely. Like I said, I had to get into that role.”
“If this is a bridal editorial,” I fantasized, “then this image says, ‘Okay, you’ve married me. Now you’re going to be my slave for all time.’”
“Wow. You know what?” she responded, not quite ready to go that far. “That wasn’t going through my mind at the time, but… What was I thinking?”
“Yes, what goes through your mind in order to generate such a look?”
“I just had to feel the dress, feel the hair, feel the makeup,” she explained. “The apartment that we shot in was really glamorous, and I had to get into character, really feel it, get vampy, and… You’ve just got to feel it. You’ve got to feel what you’re in.”
“You did a great job.”
One further picture from this editorial subsequently appeared
online, in Kailee's Hughes Models portfolio. As Melanie noted at the time that it was first released, the image exhibits "silver-screen glamour," with dramatic lighting and a seductively "dark, blood-red (almost black) lip colour." In the image, Kailee exhibits "a hungry look in her smouldering eyes" and "exudes full-blooded sensuality," while the satin sheets and fur bedcover add to the bewitching effect.
Much as we have always admired the aforementioned images, little did we know that six further photos from this unpublished editorial were hidden away, all these years. But now, at last, we are privileged to share these secret treasures, giving a comprehensive account of what would have been the most exciting bridal editorial ever published.
The following photograph, for example, presents Kailee in the same delicious bridal dress that she wore in the previously released image, but shows her in a yet-more seductive, recumbent state. We have recently seen breathtaking images of models such as Mayara Russi and Kristina Yeo lounging on sofas, but Kailee's image surpasses even those in wicked allure. The positioning of the model on an actual bed, as opposed to on a couch or settee, is immediately more provocative, especially with the fur blanket, which adds a primal, animalistic undercurrent to the photograph, playing off against the sophisticated elegance of Kailee's carefully coiffed hairstyle and chic gown. These disparate elements offer a thrilling juxtaposition of civilized refinement and animal passion, thus encapsulating marriage itself as a sacralization of a primeval impulse--that of pair-bonding.
Furthermore, Kailee's pose is more sensual than Kristina's or Mayara's. It is luxuriously indolent and languorous, for all of the smouldering passion that her steamy gaze radiates. Kailee's body appears to have been poured onto the fur. She reposes heavily upon the bed, like a lioness at rest, the fur covering imparting to her the qualities of a predatory feline. Such passive lassitude is utterly intoxicating.
If we come in closer, we find the picture to be even more seductive. The model's ice-on-fire eyes show eagerness and appetite. She fixes her gaze on her spouse and hungers for his adoration. The gown can barely encompass her buxom voluptuousness, and the sensation that her figure is struggling to escape its confinement betokens the way in which the model can barely keep her desires in check and eagerly awaits the opportunity to unleash her passions. Kailee's physique was more opulent and gorgeous during this period of her career than at any time before or since, so her arms exhibit substantial fullness while her doll-like face appears round and replete.
However, while the previous image exhibits high-temperature emotions, the following picture goes several steps further and is surely the steamiest, most unbridled depiction of feminine passion ever created. Much as we have always admired Kailee's art (dubbing her "the most romantic of plus-size models"), we never imagined that she had such fiery ardour within her. She appears to have surrendered completely to fervent rapture, luxuriating in it, allowing it to overcome her and transport her, like the eponymous mystic in the Baroque sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini. The sinful S-curve of her figure expresses the voluptuousness of her desires and involves the viewer in the image, as he is mesmerized by her buxom contours and reverse-view curves. The fur stole heightens the sensuality still further, suggesting the tactile pleasure that it offers to a caress and injecting another animalistic element.
The fact that Kailee's figure was more opulent at this stage of her career is the most important factor in the astounding beauty of these images. The extra fullness that she exhibits gives her arms a softer shape and her facial features a more sensually well-fed look. "Opulence," full-blown and lavish, is the central theme of this shoot, and Kailee embodies this maximalist aesthetic in the luxuriance of her physical person, just as all of the other trappings of the shoot, from the gowns to the setting to the rich cosmetics, exude opulence as well. In reference to the later, Kailee's eyeshadow has the look of burnished gold, but the most exciting makeup element is the witchy blood-black lip colour, which enhances her persona's dark appeal, creating the identity of an excitingly wicked temptress, a goddess tantalizingly inclining towards evil.
A second image of Kailee in this setting exchanges the full-bodied passion of the previous image for a related tone, one that is no less captivating. In this image, she channels a host of so-called "dark" emotions that, given her innately doll-like prettiness, are transformed into looks of bewitching beauty. She appears pouty and spoiled, deliciously sulky and petulant, like a vain entitlement princess confronting the possibility of once, just once, not getting her way. These supposedly negative emotions actually enhance her seductive allure. The fur stole draped heavily over her shoulders establishes her as a girl of wealth and privilege, while the most alluring and size-positive detail is the halo of fullness at the model's midsection, pressing against her silky dress and testifying to her irresistibly self-indulgent nature.
Having played a symphony of dark emotional notes in the previous images, Kailee now explores an entirely different mood. Fittingly, given that her gown in this image is lacy and traditionally feminine, Kailee switches to a softer, more angelic demeanour. Now she appears lost in reverie, exploring thoughts that are romantic rather than carnal. The curvaceously shaped sofa behind her appears inviting, creating the impression that the model will, in the very next moment, sink into its comfortable embrace and begin dreaming a romantic fantasy. The books on the night-table beside her (with their wonderfully archaic appearance, betokening their Old World contents) might be storybooks that she has just been perusing and which have put her into a dreamy state of mind, stirring her passionate longings. Behind her, the wall opens up onto a vast, elegant library, as if it were a window into the model's own psyche, a view of a young mind filled with romantic tales and fantastic imaginings. One could also read the juxtaposition of the gorgeous model and the library as identifying her goddesslike status as a living muse, a present-day incarnation of the greatest beauties of Western history, whose fleshy pulchritude has inspired the creation of the entire archive of European creative culture, from Helen of Troy down to the present day. (How fitting that Kailee is represented by Muse Model Management, for in this image, she is the archetypal muse personified.)
The splendid edifice in the image is the famous Long Room of Trinity College Library in Dublin. How appropriate that it should be a library in Ireland, given Kailee's own Irish heritage. This is surely one of the most splendid rooms in the Western world, renowned as much for its ornate, 19th-century historicist beauty as for the treasures of knowledge that its elegant volumes contain.
Kailee seems poised to enter this literary time-tunnel, a world where valiant knights fight for her honour and pledge their lives to satisfying her every excitingly selfish whim. Of all of the images in this editorial, this one shows Kailee's figure as appearing fullest and most sensually well-fed, with a fleshy roundness to her arms, a generous womanliness to her hips, and a rich voluptuousness that the deep V-cut of her gown alluringly exhibits. The necklace draws the eye downward towards her buxom allure. Her lacy gown seems like dream clothing, her prosaic everyday attire having been transformed, Cinderella-like, into the kind of delicate, feminine raiment that a princess in a storybook might well have donned.
At this point, readers may believe that they have seen the best of what this editorial has to offer. But they would be wrong. In addition to the previous images, the photoshoot also included two depictions of Kailee in intimate apparel, the first of which may be the most alluring lingerie image ever created, and the most seductive photograph of Miss O'Sullivan's career. It is closely akin to Kailee's legendary Glamour tear sheet, with a similar pose of the body. However, what makes this image even more beguiling is the smouldering passion in the model's eyes and the bewitching manner in which she strokes her devil-red tresses, acting out a gesture which the viewer subconsciously yearns to perform. Although Kailee's black lingerie for Glamour was even more revealing, this bustier has a yet-higher seductive power. Not only does it daringly showcase the model's buxom voluptuousness, but it displays a soft swell of fullness at the model's waist. Of all of the steamy characteristics of this masterpiece, from the setting to the wardrobe to the lingerie to the pose, this physical detail, testifying to the model's sensually untoned, rounded middle, is the most alluring of all. The placement of the model atop a bed, nestled on satin sheets, gives the image an intimate quality. In the context of a bridal editorial, the photograph discloses the secret, private beauty which only the bride's spouse will ever be privileged to see. Kailee's complexion looks as fair as alabaster, and indeed there is a sculptural quality to her figure, with skin as smooth and flawless as the polished marble of a Classical statue of Aphrodite. The way in which the strap of the bustier presses into the soft flesh of her shoulder is another sensual touch. The coup de grace is the blood-red lip colour, giving the model an irresistibly sinful quality, which plays off against the Victorian qualities of the bustier, with its Old World embroidery.
The final masterpiece from this incomparable shoot depicts the model in the same lingerie ensemble, but adopting a more provocative, languid pose. The intoxicating swell of fullness at he waist is still visible. An especially sensual detail is the way in which the thick lock of her auburn hair flows into her buxom décolletage. As in the first photograph in this thread, Kailee sinks heavily into the bedcovers, thus communicating an alluring lassitude and a sense of the seductive weight of her figure. She is not merely posing atop the bed but actually ensconcing herself within the satin sheets and covers. Her pose is graceful and artful, a curvilinear positioning that optimally displays her voluptuous curves.* * *
These images are easily some of the finest that any plus-size model has ever created. The thought that a magazine with the mainstream reach of Modern Bride in 2007 very nearly published them, but didn't, is heartbreaking. If this editorial had been released, it would have caused an absolute sensation. It would have been the most exciting and beautiful magazine layout in which any full-figured goddess had ever appeared.
Miss O'Sullivan remains an attractive and talented model, but the touch of extra fullness that she exhibited in this photo session augmented her beauty still further. At the time that these images were shot, she rivaled Kelsey Olson for the distinction of the world's most beautiful plus-size model. Fans continue to enthusiastically applaud Kailee's career success but also earnestly wish that she might regain the richer figure that she exhibited in these unsurpassable images, which made her beauty even more subversive and supreme.
- Kailee O'Sullivan at Muse Models