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October 21, 2015

Bucks County stylist on plus-size women in fashion: 'It's time to recognize us'

'Pink the Runway' event highlights need for plus-size choices in couture

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Pink the Runway Organizers Brandon Baker/PhillyVoice

Laura Mazurek, left, is co-organizer of Philadelphia's 'Pink the Runway' fashion show. The event, touted as the first-ever black-tie couture fashion show for plus-size women, is founded by Crystal Carmen, right.

As a plus-size woman, nothing was more frustrating for Chester County's Kim Grigorian than combing through the racks for a bridesmaid’s dress when the time came for her sister's wedding.

"I cried when trying on dresses because nothing looked good," she told PhillyVoice. 

Grigorian's reality is that major retailers and even local boutiques aren't making clothes for women like her. If they do, she said, they hide them in separate sections or basements. 

Though she has since slimmed down, for health reasons, Grigorian said she once weighed 340 pounds. Yet even as a more hourglass-shaped plus-size model, she has trouble finding clothes that not only fit, but qualify as fashion.

"It's difficult to find fashion that really makes you feel good about wearing it," she explained. "And that's key: Feeling good about wearing it."

Enter "Pink the Runway" creator Crystal Carmen and her co-organizer Laura Mazurek, two local plus-size women working in fashion and changing the dialogue surrounding women sizes 8 and up. 

"[Plus-sized women] are a majority, and it's time to recognize us," Mazurek told PhillyVoice. "Make things for us, put us in your ad campaigns. We're a voice and a buying demographic, and the time is now."

To highlight the issue, the duo will host what they tout as the first black-tie, couture fashion show for plus-size women sizes 8 to 22. The show, taking place Oct. 30 at the Le Meridien Hotel, will feature 30 plus-size models (including Grigorian) and styles from national designers and local ones like Ann Luchade, Christine Phillips and Philly Bride.

More than just a fashion show, Mazurek emphasized, the event is a statement of empowerment – a wake-up call for fashionable plus-size women who are often shunned from the couture landscape.

"What’s important to me is inspiring women," said Mazurek, who operates a styling and personal shopping business in Bucks County. "Eliminating size shaming, opening up marketing to include all women. Because not only are we not represented with the clothing in top-tier designers, but we’re in no ad campaigns. And when we do hit Vogue, it’s considered a ‘Special Issue.’ 

"Some of the things I want to see as a result of the event is for it to not be spotlighted as a special issue -- it just ‘is.'"

According to Houston-based firm Plunkett Research, plus-size is commonly considered between sizes 14 and 32 and plus-sizes women account for 67 percent of the population. Brands like Michael Kors and Gap offer up to about a size 20, but only guarantee the clothing online. That distinction sends the message that designers welcome plus-size customers’ money, but not their presence in stores, Mazurek believes.

She chose Philadelphia for the event because of its status as an "epicenter" of fashion culture on the East Coast. That, and because of the city's momentum, she added, pointing to Market East in particular. Upcoming additions to the city, like the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, still have an opportunity to offer a broad range of clothing sizes in stores.

Mazurek: Not only are we not represented with the clothing in top-tier designers, but we’re in no ad campaigns. And when we do hit Vogue, it’s considered a ‘Special Issue.’

"In about two years, Philadelphia is going to have a facelift," Mazurek predicted. "And with all the development projects -- Jefferson Station, luxury vendors and luxury hotels remodeling and coming to the city -- it’s going to be a destination for luxury, and we want to make sure all women are welcome and represented.”

“I’m tired of going to stores with friends and being the only one who can’t buy anything,” added Carmen.

Lynn Handel, who owns Philly Bride in Old City, told PhillyVoice her bridal boutique is the only in the Philadelphia area to carry plus-size gowns – up to size 20 in-store and size 26 through custom tailoring. The problem, she said, is twofold. Designers assume plus-size women won't buy their wares and will instead opt for, say, David's Bridal. And, more to the root of the problem, plus-size women don't yet feel empowered to step up and demand more options. 

"It has to start with plus-sized women -- the buyers," Handel insisted.

In her case, Handel said adjusting her gown options was one of the first moves she made after opening her storefront at 304 Walnut St. last year, at the former Bridals by Danielle.

“I looked at who was coming in the door and looked at these women, and those dresses were not in the store," she said. "The sizes only went up to 14 and I thought, ‘That’s odd.’ Because you know that’s the average-size woman, not a plus-size woman.

“From a common sense perspective, I really wanted my store to represent all women who would be coming in.”

Tickets for "Pink the Runway" are on sale now. Ten percent of all proceeds will be donated to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.