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Old 28th June 2007   #1
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default ELLE: Cover & editorial with plus-size models

No, the subject heading of this post is not a fantasy, nor a "might be," nor a "could be," nor a "should be."

Actually, these days, it is all of those things--but it is also an accomplished fact.

Once, just once, it really happened.

Although Vogue has occasionally featured token editorials with plus-size models, Elle has never done so--or so we thought. And even in the case of Vogue, no plus-size fashion model has ever made the magazine's cover. (Sophie Dahl's two Italian Vogue covers do not count, because the model had already diminished herself below plus-size standards when they were published.)

But yes, a magazine with the title Elle did feature a six-page editorial with plus-size models--and authentic plus-size models at that, all size 14 and above. Moreover, it actually put one of those plus-size models on the magazine's cover.

Specifically, it was the Quebec edition of Elle (a.k.a. Elle Quebec) which took this bold and unprecedented step, in its May 1997 issue.

1997 might be called the "turning point at which history failed to turn," because never has it seemed likelier that size-celebration would make a breakthrough in mainstream fashion. 1997 saw the debut of Mode, the publication of Nick Knight's British Vogue editorials featuring plus-size models Sara Morrison and Sophie Dahl (who was still truly plus, at this time), and the appearance of this unique edition of Elle Quebec.

* * *

Without any further ado, here is the issue in question. As you will see, it's a pity that this particular image was chosen as the magazine's cover, since the other images in the issue's curves layout are all far superior. Nevertheless, what you are looking at is a plus-size model on the cover of Elle:

Click to enlarge

The cover lines suggest that the magazine approached this experiment very much in the right frame of mind, i.e., as an attempt to evoke an unmodern aesthetic, entirely different from the harsh, androgynous style that dominates all fashion magazines today. The words on the cover translate as:


In other words, every component of timeless beauty.The cover girl is a model named Natasha NoŽl, who was then signed with a plus-specialty agency in Montreal called "Mannequins Plus." That agency still appears to be in business, but it doesn't have a Web site, and we have no idea if Ms. NoŽl is still modelling.

Hopefully she is, because she appears to be the most attractive model of the three who appear in the magazine's curves editorial.

Here is a superior photograph of Natasha--and in fact, it constitutes the issue's finest page. The layout as a whole is marred by the unnaturally blown-out lighting, but the image itself is gorgeous. The wardrobe is sensual, and the setting, showing the model immersed in water, is captivating. The model's expression is passionate, and the rose petals in the water are a highly poetic touch.

Click to enlarge

Feminine beauty has ever been associated with water. In Antique iconography, the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite/Venus, is invariably depicted rising from the sea, inasmuch as Classical mythology held that the sea itself gave birth to the goddess.

The water metaphor also enriches the following gorgeous image from the layout. The model here is Stephanie, a size 14/16 at 5'8 who is still modelling, and is represented by Giovanni in Montreal. (Bravo to Elle Quebec for choosing visibly full-figured girls.) Whereas Natasha's water image was passionate, Stephanie's is more lyrically feminine--a quality that is enhanced by the model's demure expression, by the bouquet of full-blown roses that she holds so gently in her hands, and by the mirror-still water around her.

Click to enlarge

The model looks well-fed and womanly, and evokes a certain nurturing quality. The delicate nightgown and lingerie contribute to a sense of the model's alluring vulnerability, and impart an attractive suggestion that she needs to be pampered and protected.

Note how effectively Natasha's and Stephanie's pages realize the aesthetic concepts that are itemized on the magazine's cover. These models clearly exhibit femininity and sensuality, and have obviously have led lives of ease and pleasure, indulging with complete abandon in rich delicacies in order to attain their sumptuous curves.

Here is the editorial's title page, showing us Natashe and the third model in the layout, another Mannequins Plus girl by the name of Cynthia Lacasse. We have deliberately scanned the page "dark" to reduce the overexposure effect of the blown-out lighting, and to restore a little detail to the models' figures--which, as you can see, are soft and genuinely full.

Click to enlarge

The text translates to something along the lines of:

A bouquet of sensuality, divine like a kiss, for romantic beauties. Here is spring with all of its promises, and the curvy girls are given the honour.

(Note the reference to the flower imagery.)

Apart from the blown-out lighting, the other element that mars this image is the horrible lipstick style--one of the ghastliest, most unattractive cosmetics trends ever devised, a relic of that worst-ever era of fashion and beauty, the 1920s. No cosmetics style could be less attractive on plus-size goddesses.

On the other hand, the wardrobe is highly sensual and attractive, showing feminine lingerie transparently covered by clingy, camisole-top dresses. Remember, this editorial appeared in 1997, long anticipating the current popularization of camisole styles and temptingly visible lingerie ushered in by the New Femininity.

Next, we see one more page featuring Stephanie, again marred by the horrid lipstick style, but otherwise attractive due to the sensual pose and expression.

Click to enlarge

And finally, here is the page that Elle used for its cover. Perhaps with natural lighting and a different cosmetics approach it would have been somewhat more successful, but any of the layout's other pages would have made better covers.

Click to enlarge

Although the layout is not perfect (Mode in its heyday produced superior images every month), it is still an attractive presentation of plus-size beauty, and the fact that it appeared in a magazine with the celebrated name of Elle makes it particularly noteworthy.

Above all, it demonstrates that mainstream fashion absolutely can be presented successfully with plus-size models rather than with starving waifs, particularly if the fashions are sensual and romantic, if the models are genuinely full-figured (above a size 14), and if the overall aesthetic is one of soft voluptuousness and femininity, rather than harsh modernity and androgyny.

Bravo to Elle for such a fine presentation. How sad that it was a one-time-only affair.

(You may click on the images to view them at a larger size.)

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