Cho's stand-up styles are for women of substance

Comedian, designer give full-figured ladies glamorous clothes they can smile about

October 12, 2003|By Susan Carpenter | Susan Carpenter,Los Angeles Times

Margaret Cho's well-publicized battles with the bulge came to a head in 1994, when one of the producers of her short-lived sitcom, All-American Girl, decided her face was too big and dispatched a team to help her lose weight. A personal trainer worked her out four hours each day, six days a week. A nutritionist restricted her diet to yogurt and fruit. In two weeks, she lost 30 pounds -- and almost her life when her kidneys failed during filming.

In the end, all it got her was a canceled show, an addiction to diet pills and alcohol, and years of yo-yo dieting. It was a tough lesson in self love -- and one that the 34-year-old comedian now hopes to share through High Class Cho, her new clothing line for fuller-figured ladies.

"A lot of women consider dressing rooms a kind of torture chamber," said Cho, whose formerly obsessive eating habits are a staple of her stand-up act. "High Class Cho is about bringing beauty and the art of fashion to everybody."

Flip through today's women's magazines, and the pages are filled with the mix-and-match bodies of wafer-thin models. Walk into a top-tier clothing boutique, and the sizes max out at a moderate 8.

"I love high-end clothing, and yet I find that my body does not cooperate with the sizes and some of the styles," Cho said. "A lot of these designers, the only thing I can wear is the fragrance."

Working with longtime friend and clothing designer Ava Stander, Cho set out to create a collection that is classic, glamorous and comfortable.

The result is pencil skirts, form-fitting dresses and slinky blouses -- all of them inspired by, and named after, leading ladies from the '30s, '40s and '50s.

According to Cho, that was Hollywood's golden age -- a time when actresses of all shapes and with an original sense of style set the beauty standard.

Sized in homage to that era, the clothing ranges from Audrey (as in Hepburn) to Marilyn (as in Monroe) to Anita (La Dolce Vita Ekberg), which translate into women's sizes 10, 12 and 14, respectively. Some styles are also available in a size 16.

"What's exciting about what Margaret is doing is that she's filling this niche of in-between sizes," said Ceslie Armstrong, editor in chief of Grace, a fashion magazine for full-figured women. "There's a lot of designers who cut really small, and then you have these women's sizes that start at a size 14W that are too big. There's very few designers doing those in-between sizes which really represent the majority of women in America."

According to Armstrong, the majority of women in the United States are a size 12 and up. While a number of lines cater to this market, many of them presume fuller-figured women would rather fade into the background. But High Class Cho is, like its namesake, playful, colorful and bold. Some of the items, like the skirt of shame and / or pride, are reversible -- designed to go from day to night and, on occasion, from night back to day. Many of the pieces are bubble-gum pink, cherry red, floral.

"I'm really fed up that, if you have a figure, you should just wear black," said designer Stander, who, in a hot pink tank top, was putting her money where her mouth is. "No. I'm here. I'm alive. I'm in color. How do you like me now?"

Not only colorful, the clothes are comfortable. Almost everything has a bit of stretch.

"You want to be able to eat your dinner and not feel like, 'Oh my God. I'm going to die,'" said Stander, 39.

At present, the line consists of a mere nine items. A jacket, a pair of pants and two skirts will be added before Christmas. Beyond that, pieces will be added as the company is able to produce them.

High Class Cho is available only online for now, but in the three weeks the site has been up, there's been a lot of interest from brick-and-mortar outlets. Cho said the line will branch out to retail stores "when we catch up."

Ranging in price from $45 to $150, High Class Cho clothing isn't going to make anyone rich. But, Cho said, that's not the point.

"My work is very much about what I do politically," said Cho, a vocal advocate of women's and gay rights. "It's not a profitable venture. Maybe it will be, but I'm kind of like Paul Newman. This is my salad dressing."

To look at her now, you'd never guess Cho had struggled with various eating disorders for her entire adult life. She is sleek and slender -- a size Audrey by her own line's standards. She said she doesn't eat healthily. She no longer works out.

"I've lost weight in the last two or three years, mostly just giving up on the idea of controlling weight," said Cho, who was munching a bagel with cream cheese and drinking a regular Coke. "Dieting made me really a lot larger because I always had this mentality when I ate: 'OK. I'm on a diet. This is the last time I can eat this, so I'm gonna eat as much as I can.'"

Now that she no longer diets, "I'm not bouncing off that kind of craving cycle where the craving isn't really generated by your body," she added. "It's generated by what you deny yourself, so when you deny yourself nothing then you choose what you want. Eventually I got to the point where I wasn't going to try and eat the whole thing because it doesn't make me feel good. I'm just going to eat what I want and let the fat fall where it may."

Margaret Cho's New Line

What: High Class Cho

Where: www.highclass

Cost: Dresses, $95-$150; skirts, $75-$85; tops, $45-$95

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