Baltimore Fashion Week features diverse models

Event allows ethnic, plus-size, shorter, older models to shine

August 19, 2010|By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

Jearlean is a 42-year-old model who has struggled for years to break through. Courtney is a curvy size 18 with her eyes set on Bryant Park. Deja is the youngest and shortest of the group.

In the fashion industry, which places a premium on being young, slim and tall, many models who fall outside those boundaries have found it hard to succeed. But at Baltimore Fashion Week, which begins Thursday, models of all shades, ages and sizes are getting an opportunity to strut their stuff.

"[Baltimore] Fashion Week was designed in mind so that all types of models could showcase their talents," said Sharan Nixon, director and founder of the event. "We try to keep it diverse in race and size. Our models go from a 0 to 22."

Courtney Thomas, 26, knows it's tough out there for a plus-size model. A size 18, Thomas knows that most top designers aren't exactly beating down her door to dress her. Never has a plus-size model risen to the level of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford or Gisele Bündchen.

"It is kind of frustrating for plus-size models," said Thomas, a Baltimore-based senior engineering assistant. "We'll see clothes that we like that are not made in our size. Some designers think that plus-size models like to wear a certain type of clothes … older clothes like muumuus. I like to show my curves."

But times are changing — albeit slowly.

Shows such as "America's Next Top Model" have opened the doors to all types of models. The popular reality show hosted by supermodel Tyra Banks has featured past winners od different ethnicities, and a plus-size model won the competition one season. Another season was geared to models no taller than 5-foot-7.

A couple of years ago, the modeling industry grabbed headlines when several national and international Fashion Week events wouldn't book models deemed "too skinny." Despite the gentle ripples, models still tend to be size 0, according to Sass Brown, resident director for the Fashion Institute of Technology in Florence, Italy.

"There are still few designers in the mainstream that choose to use older models or larger sizes" unless they're designing plus-size labels, Brown said.

Thomas never envisioned herself modeling until a friend taught her how to walk on a runway. She met Nixon at a fashion show a little while later, and the two formed an immediate bond. Thomas will be modeling for two designers during fashion week: Torrid on Thursday and Ashley Stewart on Saturday.

Next year, Nixon plans to recruit more designers specializing in plus-size clothing.

"The last thing I want to do is tell a plus-size model that I can't allow her to be in the show [because] I don't have anything to fit her," said Nixon. "I'm reaching out so that other people will participate in future shows."

Thomas has aspirations of bucking the system and modeling in New York City's Fashion Week in Bryant Park.

"I'm trying to get there," Thomas said. "A lot of people don't want to see plus-size models. But I have a lot more confidence than when I first started. I hope to get there."

Jearlean Taylor, 42, is one of the oldest models participating in Baltimore Fashion Week. The Randallstown resident welcomes the label. She sees it as an opportunity to show the ropes to younger, less-experienced models.

"It took a lot to get where I am," said Taylor, "I've had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but I turned it all into positive. When the doors close in your face, you go to the next door."

Taylor is well aware that the fashion industry places a premium on youth.

"This industry says you have to be a certain size and age, but that is not etched in stone," she said. "You have to have the desire. You have to have the passion to keep pushing forward."

Taylor attributes her optimistic outlook to her faith, which at times has created an obstacle in the fashion industry — especially when it comes to wearing revealing clothes.

"You have to have a standard," said Taylor, who also runs J & Company Christian Modeling InChrist, a Baltimore-based agency that helps to give models a start in the industry. "I have to be mindful of what I wear. Because my talent speaks for itself, most designers cater to who I am."

At 5 foot 3, Deja Williams, a model based in Newark, N.J., will be one of the shortest models participating in Baltimore Fashion Week. She's also one of the youngest at 13.

Deja was discovered by the mother of Davanna Brooker, a 10-year-old modeling phenom who appeared on "America's Next Top Model" two seasons ago. Davanna's signature walk has drawn comparisons to Naomi Campbell, and has earned her the name "Davanna Diva."

Deja's mother, Daphne, wants her daughter to achieve the same success as Davanna, who will also be participating in Baltimore Fashion Week, but she also wants her to stay grounded. As a result, Deja will not be participating in Baltimore Fashion Week until Sunday so that she can finish out summer camp.

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