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Old 3rd January 2012   #1
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default The Fall of Fashion Bug

As the old adage goes, those who do not heed the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

This is a case in point.

* * *

Everyone who follows the plus-size industry will have heard the recent news that Charming Shoppes, the parent company of Lane Bryant, Catherine's, Cacique, etc., plans to sell off its Fashion Bug division:

Charming Shoppes said on Thursday that it was putting its Fashion Bug chain up for sale to focus on its Lane Bryant line of plus-size women’s apparel.

Lane Bryant has outperformed Fashion Bug this year, posting $221.3 million in net sales in the third quarter to Fashion Bug’s $126.8 million. In the quarter, Lane Bryant also reported flat sales in stores open more than a year, while Fashion Bug reported an 11 percent drop.

While this development was entirely predictable, given the chain's dismally uninspiring recent ad campaigns, the news is still jarring. Fashion Bug was Charming Shoppes' first brand, its founding label. Other marques were purchased later, most notably Lane Bryant in 2001, as well as Catherine's in 1999. And despite Lane Bryant's name recognition, Fashion Bugs were far more numerous than Lane Bryant stores at the time of the LB acquisition.

Thus, Charming Shoppes' decision to sell Fashion Bug is analogues to a situation whereby the Sears corporation would sell its eponymous Sears brand, but retain Kmart, Lands' End, etc.

However, as we stated above, this was a completely predictable event. The real reason why Fashion Bug fell is identified in the New York Times article linked above:

Charming Shoppes has tried to reinvigorate the line for years, including by narrowing its shopper demographic and lowering prices two years ago.

How regrettable that "narrowing its shopper demographic" translates to "narrowing its plus-size models." Fashion Bug has failed to produce a single truly, subversively size-celebratory image in years.

Try this experiment: Head over to Fashion Bug right now. What do you see? Lanky size 12s and 12/14s who resemble straight-size girls. Not a single subversively pro-curvy, size-positive image appears anywhere on the site. Fashion Bug advertising has been like this for years. And while neither Lane Bryant nor Catherine's exactly constitute the cutting edge of size celebration, at least their models are a step above Fashion Bug's faux-plus limitations.

No wonder customers lost interest in Fashion Bug. Every public forum or social-networking site that covers the full-figured fashion industry has long been pervaded by requests for fuller-figured plus-size models. Yet in lieu of heeding this consensus in feedback, Fashion Bug went in precisely the opposite direction, veritably running from its customers and featuring smaller, taller, thinner-looking faux-plus girls.

This is the kind of anti-plus thinking that only makes sense to people who have an innate antipathy to womanly curves and will not believe any degree of public entreaties for bigger models, but will stubbornly cling to their own faux-plus mindset, right up until the bitter end.

And in the case of Fashion Bug, the bitter end has come.

What a sad fate for a brand that was once the most size-positive, pro-curvy retailer in the United States.

* * *

Incidentally, the Times article links to a local Philadelphia newspaper story from 2009 which covered the Fashion Bug efforts toward "narrowing its shopper demographic." As that article reveals, the Fashion Bug revamp was even worse than one could have imagined:

Starting in August, [Fashion Bug president Jay] Levitt says that Fashion Bug will target the 35-year-old larger misses and plus-size customer. Gone are the girls’ and juniors’ departments.

In other words, not only did the brand begin offering an image of women who weren't actually plus-size (despite the fact that it was targeting plus-size customers), but it also intentionally presented a . . . "mature" image. And mature is inevitably a euphemism for "old."

No wonder the Fashion Bug promotions were so disappointing. Instead of showing plus-size women that they were young and luscious, the chain presented them as being older and diminished. And this was supposed to inspire customer loyalty?

Furthermore, at the time of this "reinvention," Charming Shoppes already had a "mature"-oriented brand: Catherine's. Why the pointless duplication?

Monday-morning quarterbacking is easy, but in retrospect, nothing about the brand's strategy makes any sense.

* * *

Perhaps the most galling aspect of the entire sorry mess is that Charming Shoppes had a clear precedent to consider, a precedent so instructive that, had Charming Shoppes heeding its warning, the company might have avoided sinking the Fashion Bug brand.

Just seven years ago--as lamented on this forum at the time--a once-popular plus-size chain named August Max Woman similarly went down in flames.

Like Fashion Bug, August Max Woman was once popular with customers for featuring images of gorgeous and genuinely full-figured models, including Barbara Brickner in her size-16 heyday. Then, for no good reason, AMW endued a disastrous "revamping effort" that eliminated the presence of curvaceous goddesses in its advertising and replaced them with "mature" (i.e., aged-looking) straight-size models.

The cases are nearly identical. Two chains, both featuring beautiful and legitimately full-figured models, both popular with the public, endure disastrous "reinventions" that eliminate their youthful, luscious, visibly curvy goddesses and replace them with older, straight-size or faux-plus models.

Direct consequence: both labels go under.

What kind of person could think that such revamping strategies could achieve favourable results? More to the point, why would any person with such inclinations be working in plus-size fashion?

Why, instead, isn't the industry filled with individuals whose first impulse, on gaining professional status, would be to revamp a label in the opposite manner: replacing a company's older, thinner models with girls who are younger and visibly fuller-figured, who are more inspiring, more size-celebratory, more alluring, and whose physical beauty and well-fed fullness shows customers that plus-size women can look gorgeous?

Shouldn't it be abundantly obvious to everyone in the full-figured fashion industry that an approach that celebrates plus-size beauty is far more effective than one that dispenses with it, and replaces it with faux-plus fraudulence?

* * *

We stated above that Fashion Bug was once the most size-positive, pro-curvy retailer in the United States. That is no exaggeration. For a long time, Fashion Bug's advertising was far superior to that of Lane Bryant, infinitely more size-celebratory, both before the Charming Shoppes takeover of Lane Bryant and afterwards.

In 2001, the final year of Mode magazine's existence, at a time when the publication's editorial layouts had deteriorated into faux-plus irrelevance, Mode's Fashion Bug ads constituted the finest images in every issue--indeed the only images worth noting, the only ones that harkened back to Mode's own pro-curvy heyday.

How good was the Fashion Bug advertising? When we interviewed the original editors of Figure magazine in 2003, the magazine had not yet published a single issue, so we illustrated that interview exclusively with images from Fashion Bug advertising. The point in doing so was to suggest that if Figure's content matched the beauty of its parent company's promotions, its aesthetic success would be assured. Among the illustrations was Megan Garcia, looking every bit a size 18, with her gorgeously plump facial features; Yanderis Lodos in a photograph that showed a swell of roundness at her waist; Kati Kochanski exhibiting full, luscious arms; and so forth. These ads were so size-positive that they would still merit lavish praise today. They set a standard that has only been equalled in recent years, with the work of models such as Sophie Sheppard, Kelsey Olson, Katherine Roll, Mayara Russi, and Lindsey Garbelman.

* * *

It is the past glory of Fashion Bug that makes its decline and fall such a tragedy. But what adds an extra touch of pain to this story is the fact that Fashion Bug is tied in with the greatest missed opportunity that the fashion industry has ever endured.

In 2001, plus-size model Shannon Marie, who was already the most attractive and significant of all full-figured models, blossomed into a size 18 and came to embody timeless beauty in a way that no other model ever has, before or since. Her final campaign--which produced the greatest images of her career--was, not coincidentally, for Fashion Bug. It is a lasting tribute to the pro-curvy vision of Fashion Bug that it embraced Shannon Marie at her more opulent size and featured her so prominently in its advertising. For a company to take such a step would be no less boldly size-positive and exciting today.

Alas, the environment of the plus-size industry was so size-negative at the time that Shannon went on indefinite hiatus, to pursue other interests. This remains the greatest missed opportunity in fashion history. Shannon Marie represented an unprecedented opportunity for the industry: a girl who had started her career as a straight-size model (just like Kate Dillon) and therefore had all of the modelling talent and skill that such a background suggests, but who was infinitely more gorgeous than Kate or Emme or Mia or Natalie or any other plus-size "supermodel" of the day.

At her genuinely full-figured size, with her soft, well-fed appearance, Shannon could have transformed the thinking of all curvy women and enabled them to recognize the superiority of plus-size beauty. She could have demonstrated the futility of the faux-plus approach and showed the industry that it would do better featuring young, gorgeous, and genuinely curvaceous goddesses--and ten years of customer frustration at the industry's faux-plus promotions would have been spared.

The departure of Shannon Marie from the industry was also the event that created the Judgment of Paris--or rather, fuelled its change from a mere offhand fan site to a project with a real sense of purpose. The injustice and the insanity of losing such a gorgeous model was simply incomprehensible and intolerable, and from the time that we learned that she had departed the indusry, due to the very development which should have earned her greater career success (her increased physical opulence), we made it our mission to explain to the powers-that-be that the genuinely full-figured beauty that Shannon Marie embodied--the true, timeless ideal of femininity--was precisely the aesthetic that the industry should embrace.

For much of the last decade, our efforts yielded negligible results, but 2011 finally brought some inklings of genuine progress. Kelsey Olson, Katherine Roll, and Sophie Sheppard are each, in their own ways, filling the void that Shannon Marie's departure left--though still to this day, no model possesses the round, soft, angelic facial features that make Shannon the loveliest of all models.

Consider this too: Shannon Marie is an exact contemporary of Valerie Lefkowitz, and thus much younger than many of the models who were active when she went on hiatus, and are still active today. One can only imagine the endless supply of breathtaking images of beauty that Shannon could have created over the past ten years, if her career had continued.

* * *

Fans have seen each of the following images already, many times over. However, with the current incarnation of Fashion Bug reaching the end of the line, it is worth considering this promotion in full--a campaign that produced the most breathtaking images of feminine beauty that the world has ever seen--to apprehend the heights that Fashion Bug once reached.

Two of the five known images from this campaign appeared in a circular which the company featured in stores and mailed to customers. The cover is utterly ravishing, showing Shannon Marie appearing deliciously full-figured. The clothing is loose at the top--and it is in this one aspect alone, the fashion itself, that the campaign could have been improved--but the pants closely embrace the model's legs, showing off the luscious fullness of her thighs. As a model who began her career in the straight-size segment of the industry, then graduated to plus sizes, Shannon has a note-perfect modelling technique. Her expression is breezy, effortless, and relaxed, yet exhibits an invigorating degree of energy as well. The setting adds to the beauty of the image, with the columns inviting Classical associations, underscoring Shannon's identity as a goddess of Antiquity come to life. Observe how the colours of the tiles harmonize with the hues of the outfit. The lighting is warm and natural.

Click to enlarge

The full measure of the beauty of the image only becomes revealed, however, when it is viewed up close. Once she blossomed into a fuller size, Shannon Marie acquired the most gorgeous figure that any plus-size model has ever possessed, but this scan testifies to the fact that the loveliness of her facial features outshone even the perfection of her soft physique. It is in the beauty of her countenance that earns Shannon the distinction of being the loveliest woman ever photographed. Her visage was gorgeous even when she was a straight-size model, but the extra fullness that she acquired as she grew more opulent enriched her features, enhancing the seductive curve under the chin, cultivating an even more feminine roundness to her look. This is not only the most angelic face that we have ever seen, but also the most sensual, with a well-fed, fleshy appearance that is utterly intoxicating. It is not an exaggeration to say that the beauty of all other models is measured by the degree to which they resemble Shannon Marie.

Click to enlarge

A second image in the flyer confirms that the one way in which the plus-size fashion industry has advanced over the past decade is in the quality of the clothing, as this black ensemble is regrettably formless. Nevertheless, Shannon Marie transforms this into yet another image of superlative beauty. Observe that four of the five images in this campaign show her in states of repose, attesting to her seductive indolence. This image in particular conveys an alluring suggestion of the model's weight. Shannon possesses the loveliest figure of any plus-size goddess, and though only her forearms are visible in the image, observe their full, untoned roundness, the most pleasing, feminine shape imaginable. The stone embankment upon which she rests has the look of ancient Roman masonry, further associating the image with Classical Antiquity and Shannon herself with ancient deities of beauty.

Click to enlarge

Here too, the supreme magic of the image only stands revealed when we view it up close, at a size that permits one to appreciate the loveliness of the model's face. No other model has ever so deftly captured the Mona-Lisa-like look of an almost-smile, but Shannon adds a captivating pout to the expression which betokens her mischievous side. The dark eye makeup emphasizes the mysterious aspect of the model's allure, a shadowy side that most fair-haired models cannot generate. Here too the richness of her facial features is evident, with a slight hint of a curve under the chin. Her clavicle is wholly submerged in soft fullness--the tell-tale characteristic of the lavishly indulged goddess.

Click to enlarge

As noted above, Mode magazine, in the final year of its publication, was but a shadow of its former self, having diminished the size of its models to present-day faux-plus proportions. (Indeed, for all that Mode is remembered as the finest plus-size fashion magazine ever published, it must bear some of the blame for instigating the faux-plus phenomenon.) However, the two Shannon Marie Fashion Bug ads which the magazine published in 2001 recalled Mode's most size-positive origins.

In the first, Shannon is shown relaxing by the poolside, her lounging pose betokening an alluring aversion to any form of exertion, and a love of sweet idleness. The outfit suffers from the flowing formlessness which was still prevalent at the time, but notice how the sheer fabric at the bottom of the image revels the outlines of the model's luscious calves, indicating the seductive fullness of her legs. The tiled background with its red accents injects colour into the image, while the poolside setting invites associations of vacation and relaxation.

Click to enlarge

Radiant, isn't she? Shannon possesses the most flawless complexion with which any model has ever been blessed. Her peaches-and-cream skin veritably glows with a soft effulgence, as if it were lit from within. Here again is that bewitching pout, a smile pressing upon the model's soft, full lips--naturally full, not artificially created. The hairstyle is an intriguing update of a beehive, a look that takes up the model's tresses but still indicates the voluptuous profusion of her golden mane. And oh, those eyes: translucent, with an extraordinary yellow-green hue, the most singular eye colour we have ever seen, the only shade even more beautiful that fair blue.

Click to enlarge

Four of the five images of this campaign appear to have been shot in an attractive, historicist locale with gorgeous Neoclassical touches (possibly the Biltmore Hotel, a Miami landmark favoured by fashion photographers), but one of the two Fashion Bug ads from Mode shows the model in an indoor setting, garbed in various hues of purple. The green chair harmonizes with the violet fabric, and the golden touches in the image, including Shannon's tresses and the sunlit wall in the background, complement both. Her tresses are brushed forward, caressing her soft face, framing it, and flowing freely over her shoulders.

Click to enlarge

We will never forget the first day that we saw this image. We audibly gasped. The look of radiant fullness in the model's facial features is intoxicating. As goddesses indulge themselves and blossom into a curvier size, their visages may take on a rosy glow of self-satisfaction, which is the quality that the model's countenance exhibits here. Shannon possesses the most perfectly formed bone structure that any model has ever possessed, yet in this image, the supremely sensual extra weight in her face has enriched the innate beauty of her features, rounding her perfect jawline and filling out her cheeks, the final impression being a luxuriantly well-fed look. Even her lips appear plumper than before. The look that she adopts is one of voluptuous desire, a carnal fleshiness that makes the heart race. No other model, garbed in such a casual outfit, could create such a masterpiece of seductive sensuality. For the final, most size-positive touch of all, note the swell of roundness at her midsection (though partly obscured by the pose). This image represents Shannon Marie at her most richly proportioned.

Click to enlarge

The final image of the campaign will be abundantly familiar to Judgment of Paris readers, as it has been posted on this forum on many occasions. It remains the most breathtaking image of timeless beauty ever created. This is our own photograph of a Fashion Bug poster which appeared in the stores right at the time that the flyer and the Mode ads were published. It was clearly part of the same shoot, given the familiar Neoclassical setting. In this poster, even more than in the print ads, the stonework recalls fragments of ancient Roman masonry, as if Shannon Marie were reposing on the physical remnants of Classical Antiquity. The dress is a tad loose (the lone shortcoming of the image), but its red hue bespeaks the model's voluptuous nature, for only a goddess with unbridled passions and appetites could blossom into such an opulent size. The seductive slit of the dress at the bottom exposes a hint of the model's luscious legs. Loose though the dress may be, it embraces the model's reverse-view curves, partially perceived in the image, creating a curve which suggests the overall fullness of the model's figure and imparting to her an alluring sense of weight. The finest feature of the dress is the fact that it is sleeveless, thus baring the model's opulent, fleshy arms--the most beautiful arms that any goddesses has ever possessed, their shape entirely due to natural fullness, free of any trace of unsightly "tone."

And then, finally, the viewer's eyes alight on that dazzling countenance, the most beautiful facial features that any mortal woman has ever possessed, here exhibiting a look of such intoxicating fullness and roundness as to stop the heart. Her beestung lips pout in an expression of supreme self-satisfaction. She seems to challenge the viewer, asserting, "Yes, I am fuller figured than ever, but I dare to you say that I am not gorgeous." This is an opulent rose at the greatest extent of its flowering, wholly opened and full blown, radiating the entirety of its sumptuous allure. The image testifies to the beauty of limitless self-indulgence, of physical maximalism, of freedom from any restraint and complete surrender to pleasure, of having it all and still wanting more. This is unconstrained, unlimited, unsurpassable beauty.

Click to enlarge

* * *

Ultimately, one shouldn't be too critical of anything associated with Charming Shoppes. While the mishandling of Fashion Bug in recent years has been regrettable, the company has simultaneously fielded Sonsi, and Sonsi, in turn, has sponsored the existence of FFFWeek, which staged the most exciting and size-positive runway show in the history of the fashion industry, a show where the models began at a size 14, and which prominently featured Judgment of Paris favourites (Kelsey Olson, Katherine Roll, and Lindsey Garbelman) in sizes 16 and 18, and sent those models down the runway in sleeveless, body-conscious styles--even in lingerie.

Charming Shoppes, therefore, has earned limitless goodwill among plus-size-beauty aficionados.

However, there is always room for improvement, and the contrast between the size-positive perfection of Fashion Bug advertising in 2001 (representing a pro-curvy vision that guided the company for several subsequent years) and the dismal state of the label's current campaigns illustrates precisely the wrong kind of progression; not progression at all, in fact, but backsliding and decline. (Would that this before-and-after comparison could have been reversed, and that the label's booking policies of a decade ago applied today, so that we could be currently celebrating a new Fashion Bug campaign featuring Shannon Marie.)

The original article about the sale of Fashion Bug includes the following comment:

Charming Shoppes has hired Barclays Capital as its adviser on strategic alternatives, which include not only a sale of Fashion Bug but also making better use of the company’s $157.8 million in cash.

"Better use?" The best use of some of the company's capital would be to book more gorgeous and genuinely full-figured models and to feature them in unforgettable campaigns, such as the wondrous promotion from 2001 which we have highlighted in this thread. From this, all else will flow.

Let us hope that whichever company purchases Fashion Bug will review the company's past advertising triumphs--this campaign in particular--and seek to emulate it. If it does, then the public will rediscover the appeal of this once-popular brand, and the label will enrich the world with further gorgeous, size-celebratory images, just as it did in its heyday.

- Shannon Marie Galleries
HSG is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 1st February 2012   #2
Senior Member
Join Date: October 2010
Posts: 133
Default The Avenue Goes Under

I have to agree that if there has ever been a definitive embodiment of the plus-size ideal, an unsurpassable representative of timeless beauty, it's Shannon Marie. Her facial features exhibit supermodel perfection, but they are also full and round, with visible weight and a pretty curve under the chin. And her physique has a full, fleshy roundness that is archetypally feminine.

I thought of the sad fate of Fashion Bug today when I read that another plus-size retailer, the Avenue, has gone under:


As the article notes:

United Retail Group Inc, which operates 433 Avenue stores that sell plus-size women's apparel, on Wednesday filed for bankruptcy protection and said it plans to be sold after being burdened by falling sales

United Retail Chief Executive Dawn Robertson...said Redcats USA Inc, a unit of Paris-based retail conglomerate PPR SA that bought Avenue in 2007 for $199 million, has concluded that Avenue is "not core" to its business of selling plus-size apparel online.

Another article suggests that at least someone has a clue as to why this has happened:

The truth is buried in one word in this passage.

United Retail Group Inc., owner of the Avenue plus-size women’s clothing stores, filed for bankruptcy court protection

[United Chief Executive Officer Dawn] Robertson said in court papers that Avenue, which sells women’s clothing in sizes 14 and up, generated about $300 million in sales last year, with a pretax loss of $28 million.

In addition to lease expenses, she blamed “adverse economic conditions,” marketing and pricing problems, and retail sales declines for the bankruptcy.

"Marketing." There you go. Many chains are weathering the same economy that Avenue is facing, but they're doing fine while Avenue is tanking.

What unites Fashion Bug and Avenue is a common problem: they're both stuck on using faux-plus models. At least Fashion Bug has a history of better casting decisions in the early part of the 2000s. But Avenue has been locked into its rigid, faux-plus standards ever since the later days of Mode. For a decade, all I've ever seen in Avenue advertising is lanky, straight-size-looking girls, with no visible fullness in their figures. Not one at a size 18, nor a 16, and even if there were any 14s, they were the tallest, skinniest kind.

This approach has turned me off the chain entirely. I could never support a brand with such anti-plus advertising policies, a chain that takes the money of women size 16+ but acts like it's too ashamed of visibly plus bodies to ever show them in its clothing.

August Max Woman, Fashion Bug, Avenue . . . what is with the people who run these companies? Why do individuals with such an obvious distaste for generous womanly curves end up helming plus-size brands? Why can't these people work in minus-size fashion, which is clearly the aesthetic that they prefer, and have people who actually love the plus-size aesthetic in charge of full-figured fashion labels?

Clearly the faux-plus approach is NOT yielding positive sales results. (On the contrary, it's killing every company that tries it.) So if nothing else, the hard lessons of August Max Woman and Fashion Bug and Avenue should put an end, once and for all, to the myth that curvy women only want to buy clothing when it's shown on false-plus models and reject advertising with true plus-size models. On the contrary, the dire straights of these curve-shunning brands shows that women reject faux-plus frauds, and DO want to see advertising with models whose visibly full figures reflect their own physiques.

Last edited by HSG : 1st February 2012 at 20:10. Reason: URL edited
Shelley is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 17th April 2012   #3
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Join Date: November 2008
Posts: 417
Default Re: The Fall of Fashion Bug

Well, it appears that someone has purchased the bankrupt Avenue chain.

I shook my head in dismay when I read this portion of the article.

Elizabeth "Liz" Williams, the former president of the Fashion Bug chain, will be the chief executive officer of the new company, and Jim Smith will be the chief financial officer. "Our goal is to make Avenue the leading U.S. retailer for plus-size women," Williams said.

If this new president is the same person who presided over the fall of Fashion Bug as it declined into using faux-plus models, then my hopes for the future of the Avenue are not great.

If she really wants to make the Avenue "the leading U.S. retailer for plus-size women," then here's a basic first step:

Use genuinely full-figured plus-size models!
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