Yesterday in London, the 30 year-old blogger Danielle Vanier addressed the fashion press over breakfast, picking out her favourite pieces from the new Marks and Spencer Curve range and highlighting, candidly, their hidden talents; a super-flattering wrap on a little black dress or, on a biker jacket, the secret stretch panels that mean you can’t be “sausaged into” your sleeves.
“Brands are putting curves back on the agenda,” she told The Telegraph afterwards. “The attention to detail in this collection really makes it special. It has been designed [and developed] on a size 24 block (rather than a usual size 12) so there is real consideration for the curvy figure; from the proportion, to the fabric and finish.”
Hiring a young, stylish and enthusiastic woman with a loyal following (Vanier has almost 100,000 fans on Instagram) to consult on the Curve designs was a savvy move from buying director Jo Hales and her team, and one which has successfully generated buzz amongst a community of plus size bloggers on social media today.
But while Vanier’s voice is the loudest calling for the high street to update its approach to curve fashion, she certainly isn’t the only one M&S has listened to. No fewer than 2,000 British women (all sized 18-32, which the new range serves) have helped Hales to develop Curve’s 100-style offering, the first 26 pieces of which are on sale now.
“The women we met with, and who tried on the pieces as we developed them, told us that fit was the most important thing to them,” Hales tells The Telegraph. “That was what they felt was lacking within existing collections on the high street. It was ‘I don’t want to feel like I’m wearing a tent and I’m hidden away’.”
When Hales talks about what was once missing the mark for curvaceous women, she is well aware that she is also talking about a void in Marks and Spencer’s own ranges. M&S currently runs its womenswear productions up to a size 24 on many lines and they are already the biggest retailer in the UK’s plus-size fashion market.
To develop new, bespoke products especially for this consumer group, is to acknowledge the power that they now hold. There is now a collective of plus-size British bloggers who are as vocal and passionate about style as any other, while on the catwalk, stars like Ashley Graham are promoting body positivity like never before. Graham in fact became first plus-sized woman to ever feature on Forbes’ highest-paid models list in 2017.
“One of the things that most of the women we spoke to told us was that they don’t feel confident in their clothes,” Hales says. “What’s really great now is that, as we are embracing different body shapes in fashion, and embracing new role models, women are feeling more confident about embracing their curves. Now they just need the clothes to match.”
So what exactly are those pieces? The first Curve range was very much an experiment for the M&S team, as Hales says that they knew that they needed to get certain staples right before they can offer more trends in future collections. Curve has soft blouses, good knitwear, and little black dresses (including two designed by Vanier). It’s got trench coats, biker jackets, and plenty of stretch denim – “because everyone wanted perfect fitting jeans.”
“From researching the market we saw that there is a real dominance of youth and that missed a huge proportion of the female population,” says Jessica Harris, M&S’s head of PR. “So many plus-size ranges do a sequin minidress in a size 24, which looks awesome, but it has a very short life span and a very specific customer. How many women, at any size, need a sequin mini dress regularly? For us this was about stylish, sophisticated solutions.”
“We are known as the home of democracy and we currently go up to a size 24, but this was something women were asking for,” adds Hales. “It was essential to start with key pieces that every woman would want, but made specifically for this woman with features like pockets and prints in the most flattering, comfortable places for her.”