Join Date: July 2005
A few words with Nancy LeWinter (OSP)
Among the best decisions that One Stop Plus made in organizing its New York runway show, which we reviewed in a recent thread
, was hiring the publicity firm 5WPR to hand public relations pertaining to the event.
The 5WPR team members were extremely helpful and considerate, not only to the heavy hitters of the mainstream press, but also to independent fashion writers--and even to the Judgment of Paris, as we will shortly describe.* * *
Of all of the people who were involved in the Belle Époque show, there was one individual with whom we particularly hoped to exchange a few words, and that was Ms. Nancy LeWinter.* * *
Our desire to speak with her was not motivated merely by the fact that she is OneStopPlus.com's creative director. In 1997--then using the byline Nancy Nadler LeWinter--she was, with Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, the publication director of . . . Mode magazine. She held this position throughout Mode's existence, right up until the magazine's tragic demise in 2001.
In other words, Mode existed because of her.
The opportunity to speak with Mode's founder was priceless. We couldn't pass it up. Alas, we knew that in the midst of the hurly-burly surrounding the OSP show, we would be lucky to obtain even a minute of her time and couldn't hope for the kind of full-fledged, hour-long interview that we usually conduct. Still, in meeting her face to face, we wished to thank her for her stellar efforts on behalf of size celebration. After all, if it hadn't been for Mode, the Judgment of Paris would not exist, nor would much of what today comprises the U.S. plus-size industry. Without exaggeration, Mode started it all.
Here is where 5WPR entered the picture. After the runway show had concluded, when we finally summoned up the courage to use our "Backstage Press" pass and venture behind the white veils of the Atrium, Nancy was nowhere to be found. We approached a 5WPR representative and relayed our wish to speak to Ms. LeWinter, and this representative set about tirelessly attempting to find her for us. At one point, she must have marshalled half a dozen people to search for Ms. LeWinter, enthusing to her colleagues that she had someone with her "who had come all the way from Canada" to see the show.
After considerable effort, the 5WPR people finally tracked down OSP's creative director, and the following revealing dialogue ensued:
HSG: First of all, I want to tell you what a thrill it is to meet you, because you were Mode! You were Mode.* * *
NANCY LeWINTER: I was. [laughing]
HSG: You created everything.
NANCY LeWINTER: Thank you.
HSG: Would you not say that in many ways today's show is Mode's legacy?
NANCY LeWINTER: You know, I won't say that, because I think this is above and beyond what we had envisioned. But thank you. Thank you. I will take the compliment. Thank you so much. No, it really is extraordinary. This has been something that has been discussed for two years.
HSG: Two years?
NANCY LeWINTER: Literally two years. But I think what happens is that you can have the vision of something, but it was just the perfect time.
HSG: I realize that your focus is on today's show, but I just want to thank you again for what you created, because even now, 13 years later, people still talk about Mode.
NANCY LeWINTER: I know they do. Isn't it amazing?
HSG: It remains untouched.
NANCY LeWINTER: I know.
HSG: And isn't it rather sad that there is still no worthy inheritor of Mode's legacy?
NANCY LeWINTER: You know, it is surprising, to be honest. But OneStopPlus.com not only did the fashion show. We are launching OneStopPlus.com magazine.
HSG: You are?
NANCY LeWINTER: We are. And I'm the editorial director.
HSG: And will you bring to OneStopPlus.com magazine the same vision that you brought to Mode, which everyone loved?
NANCY LeWINTER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
HSG: Because, everyone still remembers Barbara Brickner on the beach, Shannon Marie in the park. . .
NANCY LeWINTER: You really do!
HSG: Everyone does.
NANCY LeWINTER: How about Kate Dillon's nude cover? And now, all of the sudden the world is saying, "Oh, this is a new--" And I'm thinking, "Wait a second: 1999, kids."
HSG: Yes, that's true. But you know what? We all loved Kate Dillon at the beginning--dearly. But then she started to go down in size.
NANCY LeWINTER: But I will say, she really was so inspirational for a lot of us because she was a teeny-teeny model. At one time she was a size 2.
HSG: That's right. And then she blossomed.
NANCY LeWINTER: Yes. And she got up to, at one point, I guess an 18--
HSG: And wasn't she gorgeous?
NANCY LeWINTER: Magnificent.
NANCY LeWINTER: Magnificent.
HSG: So you do acknowledge that?
NANCY LeWINTER: No, no, no. You're absolutely right. She was magnificent.
HSG: I'm so glad to hear you say that.
NANCY LeWINTER: Magnificent.
HSG: Because that was the Kate Dillon with whom people fell in love.
NANCY LeWINTER: We did. We all did. But I think what we really fell in love with was also her attitude.
HSG: Yes, of course.
NANCY LeWINTER: Because she was so empowered, and so modern. There was no, you know, "Woe is me" kind of thing. It was flaunting to the end.
HSG: Now, on to today's show, which was so exciting. What was the spark that set it off?
NANCY LeWINTER: Actually, Stephanie Sobel, the president of OneStopPlus.com--
HSG: She just had this vision?
NANCY LeWINTER: Two years ago, she said, "You know, I'd love to do a fashion show." And we all said, "Yeah, whatever, whatever." A fashion show is such an enormous endeavour. We thought, "Yeah, maybe." But then time went on, and all of a sudden Vogue Curvy did their thing, and French Elle did their thing, and then Glamour did the shot of Lizzie Miller, and it was the right time. When all those things came together, it was the absolute, perfect time.
HSG: Because there was a kind of false start. Lane Bryant did their lingerie shows for three years, back in 2000--
NANCY LeWINTER: Way back. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
HSG: But then nothing further happened. And then there was a dry spell for many years. And finally you produced this event, which holds such promise.
NANCY LeWINTER: You know, from one who's been in this thing for a long time, I will tell you the difference for me with this show. I think Zahir said it, and I really admired it: "This is a runway show that was plus size. It wasn't a plus-size runway show."
HSG: How would you elaborate on that distinction?
NANCY LeWINTER: In other words, the fashion was up to the level. Look at the environment. We didn't do some warehouse downtown.
HSG: Indeed, this setting was phenomenal. Whose idea was it?
NANCY LeWINTER: Stephanie [Sobel].
HSG: This was the perfect location.
NANCY LeWINTER: And we are part of Fashion Week. We are every bit in the arena, so to speak.
HSG: How important is that?
NANCY LeWINTER: Oh, I think it's extremely important. It's important, certainly, for the press.
HSG: Oh, yes, for them, absolutely.
NANCY LeWINTER: I don't think you'd be talking to us otherwise.
NANCY LeWINTER: It's important to the press. But I think more so, for about a week now, we have been getting 'blogs. . . And even today, somebody just told me that at Women's Wear Daily, everybody is tweeting and sending pictures.
HSG: Of course. Oh, no question.
NANCY LeWINTER: This is a validation and empowerment. This is a major, major endeavour, undertaking, and a statement. So I think that was a big part of it. It's great that the press is here. But when women say that they can see themselves in. . . I've got a better fact for you. Women can see themselves on the runway. How amazing for these women, who have their career in fashion, they finally get to walk a runway.
HSG: That's true. The only small caveat I would suggest to you is that one doesn't want to feel that plus-size fashion needs the approval, or the endorsement, of the straight-size industry.
NANCY LeWINTER: No, it doesn't.
HSG: That's the only thing.
NANCY LeWINTER: No, I agree. I don't think it's about approval. I think it's about equality. I like to say it's fashion democracy. We are now democratic. We are not saying that one size is better than the other. All sizes are great. It's about embracing all sizes being as good.
HSG: Having said that, will there be future OneStopPlus.com runway shows?
NANCY LeWINTER: Absolutely.
HSG: There will be? In that case, may I suggest that there is one single, possible area for improvement. . .
NANCY LeWINTER: Tell me.
HSG: Is there any chance that the models could creep up a little bit in size?
NANCY LeWINTER: [pause] You know what? We're using the top models in the industry--
NANCY LeWINTER: --whatever those people are. Today they were 12, 14, 16. Tomorrow they may be 14, 18, 20. We have no idea.
NANCY LeWINTER: But we need girls who can walk. Did you see these girls walking?
HSG: Of course.
NANCY LeWINTER: If I tried to walk in those heels, do you know how face-first I would be? So we need pros. Whatever the industry has, we will use.
HSG: That's true. But you could also nudge the industry a little. Because you said yourself--
NANCY LeWINTER: Oh, I think this will nudge them. Are you kidding?
NANCY LeWINTER: I think this will absolutely be a motivation.
HSG: Because you said yourself how magnificent Kate Dillon looked when she was an 18.
NANCY LeWINTER: Right. It's direction and reflection, though. We can help direct the market, but we also reflect the market. It's the same thing with fashion. We direct and reflect fashion as well.
HSG: Thank you very much for answering my questions, Ms. LeWinter. Good luck with your future projects.
NANCY LeWINTER: Thank you.
To say the least, we were deeply honoured to have exchanged these words with Ms. LeWinter, and intrigued to learn that One Stop Plus will be issuing a magazine helmed by none other than Mode's publication director.* * *
It was edifying to have Ms. LeWinter confirm that, yes, during the most gorgeous and exciting phase of her career, Kate Dillon had indeed blossomed into a luscious size 18--the size of goddesses such as Katherine Roll and those stunning Brazilian plus-size models who are causing such a sensation today. To hear Nancy call the size-18 Kate Dillon "magnificent" was extremely gratifying.
It was also a pleasure to enthuse with Ms. LeWinter about the breathtaking setting of the Belle Époque event.
On the other hand, while Nancy deemed the OSP show "above and beyond what [Mode] had envisioned," we respectfully disagree, because Mode laid the foundations for today's plus-size fashion industry. Moreover, in terms of beauty and voluptuousness, the OSP models simply could not compare with Mode's most revered goddesses.
And that brings us to the most important point that we raised with Ms. LeWinter. Politely, but as earnestly as we could, we encouraged her to enlist the services of fuller-figured models, and reminded her of the popularity of the size-18 Kate Dillon in Mode's heyday. The only significant and consistent criticism that we have encountered of the Belle Époque show throughout the Web--and especially on the company's own Facebook page, in comments posted by OSP customers--is that the size-12 models in the show (i.e., the majority of the girls involved) were simply too thin to represent plus-size women.
Ms. LeWinter's explanation as to why the company made its selections--saying that OSP was "using the top models in the industry" and thus "reflect[ing] the market"--was illuminating, but also troubling in its implications. Such a policy creates a closed loop, leaving all control ultimately in the hands of modelling agents--agents who may have their own aesthetic biases in favour of faux-plus models and have no particular motivation to reflect public wishes for fuller-figured girls.
After all, choosing girls who are "the top models in the industry" (presumably by the measure of "those who are working the most") means selecting models simply because they have already been chosen by other clients.
This leads to a situation where the deciding criteria for booking models is not customer enthusiasm, as it should be. Rather, it is only a measure of the booking practices of . . . other companies and other bookers.
Client A: "We selected a model because she has worked for clients B, C, and D. She's really working. She's one of the top models in the industry."
Client B: "We selected a model because she has worked for clients C, D, and A. She's really working. She's one of the top models in the industry."
Client C: "We selected a model because she has worked for clients D, A, and B. She's really working. She's one of the top models in the industry."
And so forth.
You see what we mean about a closed loop?
A far better process that a company could use in selecting models would be to gauge two factors:
a) Is she beautiful enough to really inspire our customers?
b) Is she full-figured enough to really inspire our customers?
OSP should ignore what other companies are doing. They should consider it irrelevant which models other clients are booking.
For its future runway shows, we earnestly hope that OneStopPlus.com will not merely reflect what is prevalent in the "market," because by that measure, the models will always be faux-plus. Rather, we hope that OSP will more closely reflect its customers' tastes, not the tastes of other companies' bookers.
Ms. LeWinter encouragingly suggests that "Tomorrow they [the models] may be 14, 18, 20." But One Stop Plus need not wait for anyone else to make such a move. OSP can make this happen all on its own. It needs no approval from other clients, nor from agents, to select the models who will walk in its own show.
As Gwen DeVoe told us in our interview, Full-Figured Fashion Week has a size-14 cutoff, and it does not compromise on that point, regardless of whatever success a model may be enjoying elsewhere in the industry. It is a commendable practice, and earns great public praise.
OneStopPlus.com too can blaze its own trail. If it does, if it books fuller-figured models for both its future runway shows and for its forthcoming magazine, then its customers--and full-figured women in general--will applaud its efforts ever more enthusiastically.
Once again, we are very grateful to Ms. LeWinter for giving us a few moments of her time. All plus-size-model aficionados are deeply indebted to her for creating Mode magazine--the fountainhead, the wellspring, the source of the all that has followed.
Furthermore, we applaud her, and OSP president Stephanie Sobel, for bringing a plus-size fashion show to New York Fashion Week, and earnestly hope that the show will blossom, and become a bolder vehicle for size celebration in its future incarnations.