Ashley Graham knows that there’s nothing sexy about a beige bra. That’s why the American model is doing her part to ensure that curvy girls never have to settle for beige again. In 2013, Graham partnered with Addition Elle to create a lingerie line that busty and booty-blessed gals both want and deserve. No surprise: the sorely needed (and very affordable!) collection has been a hit. Now, as she’s set to debut her fall and holiday collections at the KIA Style 360 Showcase for New York Fashion Week, Graham opens up what inspires her designs, what her customer really wants and how the Lincoln, Nebraska-born beauty feels about being called plus-size.
Where do you get your inspiration for your lingerie?
Every inspiration comes off the runway in Paris. Everything is current. The team at Addition Elle goes to Paris and to all the lingerie shows and they come back and we all work together to create a game plan where everything looks as current and modern as possible.
How do you describe the fall line?
It’s a lot more bondage-y and strappy. Instead of a classic lace we used geometric-type lace so you see interesting shapes rather than just roses and flowers and stuff like that.
It sounds like a tougher, street look…
It is more street wear-influenced. I would wear each bra with a see-through shirt or button down. It looks like part of the outfit, not just a bra.
You also have a holiday line. What’s the overall vibe?
That collection [the Black Orchid line] is a little bit more Old Hollywood. It’s more sensual than the fall line. It’s got the holiday feel where you feel pretty and gorgeous in it. [The dominant colour scheme] is a deep, deep purple and black. There’s a little bit of embellishment on it. I don’t like a lot of bling. Designers in the plus-size world love to add glitter to a booty jean, and ugh,I can’t stand it. I told Addition Elle when I first came on that I don’t do glitter; I don’t do bedazzling. But for holiday we did do a little. Some of the shoulder straps have a few gems on them. It’s subtle and very beautiful though.
You’ve been doing this line for two years now. What have you learned about designing lingerie?
I have learned that not everybody likes my bras! But that’s OK because we have a lot of really amazing, loyal customers.
What do you mean?
Personally, I love to wear a non-molded non-padded bra, but [my] customer, she loves a molded bra. She loves it. So that’s why we’ve been doing a lot more molded bras for her.
What’s the issue with a non-molded bra?
I think there’s an element of feeling like you’re not wearing a shirt and I kind of like not having a shirt on—maybe that’s why I like a non-molded bra—but our customer doesn’t so we’ve listened.
It sounds like you really listen to feedback…
I am the customer so I’ll call and say, ‘Hey, I just wanted to say that I like this or can we do this?’ They give me the samples and I wear them every single day. I’m not just making these and saying, ‘Buy my bras! I don’t wear ’em but you can!’ No. These are my everyday bras.
Do you see your work as political in any sense?
I don’t see it as political, I just see it as a way to be more inclusive and to let the customer know that she’s not alone. That this is more of a community-type of thing. I think that the customer has really responded to that. I have girls posting [pics] all the time in their bras and it’s almost like we’re a big family of the plus-size/curvy boob club. It’s awesome.
What’s it like to be a plus-size icon at New York Fashion Week? How do you feel in that environment?
It’s very welcoming. Everybody is so excited and the fact that KIA 360 [the show sponsor] is also excited and that I’m going to be showing my line among Adam Levine, Serena Williams, the Kardashians, it’s insane. It’s like me? My line? It’s kind of a slap in the face of reality.
How do you feel about becoming a spokesperson for plus-size women?
I think it’s amazing. I don’t take my role as an advocate for the curvy ladies in the fashion industry lightly because I know what it entails. It entails fighting people that are fat shaming, it entails fighting against designers that are never going to design clothes that are big enough— it entails all that stuff.
What’s your take on the plus-size debate? Melissa McCarthy recently said she wants to do away with the term completely. How do you respond to that?
At the end of the day, the word will slip out of my mouth because we’ve been called plus-size for so long. I’ve been called a plus-size model for 15 years. It’s hard to wipe that whole stigma off of yourself. But I do believe that it is a label and I’m not a fan of labels. I don’t want to be measured on my success by the number in my pants. Why do we have to say ‘Ashley Graham, plus-size model’? I understand why people want to book you as a plus-size model, but I’m still not a huge fan of it.
What would you prefer?
I mean you could call it curvysexalicious.
Alternatively we could just have clothing stores for women where all sizes are represented…
2015 has been a big year in terms of body acceptance, particularly online. A lot of voices have emerged. Have you noticed a positive shift on social media?
I think social media is amazing. It’s totally given me a voice to be able to speak to viewers about size acceptance and beauty acceptance and what it truly means to be beyond size. I think we need to keep the conversation moving and I’m really excited to hear about what women want to talk about because I’m ready to talk about it. I think we’ve gotten to a stage where we’ve talked about size, now let’s get into the deeper, darker issues and why we’re feeling like we’re not good enough.
Who are your favourite people to follow online?
I follow a lot of plus-size bloggers like Gabi Fresh—she’s so cute—and Nadia Aboulhosn. There’s this other girl who was like 200-something pounds and she lost all this weight but she did whatever she could to keep her butt. She calls herself Big Bottom Behavior. I love following her. She’s just a regular chick who shows what she’s eating, shows her workout; she’s really got it going on.
What’s your advice to women to feel good in lingerie?
I think it boils down to confidence. A lot of it for me was looking in the mirror and telling myself, you are beautiful and telling myself, ‘OK, back fat you’re going to jiggle and you’re going to pop over my bra but today that’s just what we’re going to deal with.’
I think the more you tell yourself that you’re beautiful and the more you believe it that it’s going to stick with it. I always tell women why are you trying to strive for perfection? Perfection doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing.