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Interview With Curvation® Designer Sunil

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2006 Project Confidence Awards. Presented by Curvation® and led by Queen Latifah, Project Confidence aims to build a nation of confident women through education and social action. The evening was inspiring, to say the least, but little did I know that there was more in store…

Once the event was over I was introduced to the designer of the Curvation® clothing line, Sunil. I had been told he was a very nice man and an excellent designer but what cannot be expressed second hand is the passion he possesses with every sketch, color and design.

Sunil invited me to the corporate offices of Vanity Fair in New York where I was able to look, and even try on, some of the samples of the new Curvation® Summer Line.

The summer line is full of separates in bold and curve flattering colors. Everything from bathing suit cover-ups to hand bags and belts are unique and designed exclusively for beautiful, curvy women.

Sunil and I sat down to chat about fashion, the curvy form and the inspiration for his designs…

[Maddy] How did you get started in Fashion?

[Sunil] I always loved clothing – I grew up in Shrilanka. There is a very different view of women there than the way it is here. Women are very curvy and it’s very acceptable.

I guess you could say that I got started in fashion when I took part in a contest and won second place. It was a national contest.

[Maddy] Did you go to school for fashion?

[Sunil] Well, first I went to school for accounting — I’m actually a CPA, but fashion was the thing I loved. My father wanted me to have something more stable first. After obtaining an accounting degree, I went to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NY.

[Maddy] Did they cover designing for plus size women in school?

[Sunil] No, not at all. I had to learn all that on the job. I started the plus size line at Anne Klein and it was a huge success. I dressed many celebrities including Cameron Mayhem, Rosie O’Donnell, the Duchess of York to name a few. We were the true plus design label at that time — this was in 1995.

[Maddy] What are the differences between designing for a larger woman and a smaller woman?

[Sunil] The first thing I look at is “color”. When a color appeals to me, instead of looking at a swatch that is 2″ X 2″, I put up a swatch in my office that is 18″ X 18″ and I leave it there for a week. If after a week I’m still enthralled with the color, then it goes on the line.

The second thing is fabric. I don’t think people realize how important fabric is because it has to drape well and not cling. You lose everything when a garment clings. The key to the fabric is that it has to have “stretch”.

[Maddy] How does your passion for beautiful plus size clothing translate to the garment?

[Sunil] I do something that is very different than most other plus size lines. I start with an attitude sketch.

[Maddy] What is an attitude sketch?

[Sunil] One of the most important things about an outfit is the attitude. I want to communicate to the person making the clothing what the piece is all about – meaning, ‘what is the attitude’. The attitude sketches show the essence of the garment.

Most plus lines do not think that plus size clothing deserves an attitude and I say why not? Plus size women are beautiful, curvy and sexy and they can wear the same styles when they are made to fit their body properly.

My attitude sketches show the person making the garment how it’s going to be accessorized and worn.

[Maddy] After the attitude sketch, then what happens?

[Sunil] Then I pick the pieces I want on the line. If I need 10 pieces on the line I will sketch about 60 then I will pick the best 10.

[Maddy] As your sketching, are you also thinking about the fabric?

[Sunil] Yes. I have fabric boards in front of me so while I sketch I can look at it. I’m adding the fabrics to the sketch.

[Maddy] Are there certain fabrics that are best for plus size women?

[Sunil] Surprisingly natural fabrics drape better. Some people think that polyester and poly blends are best for plus clothing. My jerseys are silk jerseys and not poly jerseys… They not only feel better but also look better on a full-figure. These fabrics also last longer and are ‘breathable.’

[Maddy] When did Curvation® decide to go from Intimate Apparel to a full clothing line?

[Sunil] Well the Intimate apparel was very well received and I believe it has been such a success because they really reached out to the consumer and gave them what they asked for. The line is superior to what was out there. It’s designed specially for “her”. We did not take a 34 C and grade it up to a 40 DD.

In 2004 we were asked about coming up with a clothing line that would hold the same integrity that the Intimate Apparel was known for.

[Maddy] The models at the Curvation® show LOVED the clothing! Mia Amber Davis in particular could not stop telling me about the curvy jeans… she said she normally has a hard time finding jeans to fit her 6-foot curvy frame. What makes your clothing so different?

[Sunil] I design clothing that will “find” the woman’s natural curves and not fight it. Details in the clothing will help the garment “find” your body. The next thing is the fabric. You have to have good fabrics to work with in order to make a garment exceptional.

Another thing that I do that is different is that I have my size 18 fit model but I also have a size 14 and size 22 to make sure that nothing is lost.

Sometimes I make changes — for instance, sometimes on a size 22 blouse I will add an extra button. Maybe I will make it longer; I will change the collar or add a seam. This is what they do with straight sizes but not with plus.

[Maddy] I don’t think women have the confidence, yet, to shop online. What advice can you offer the women you design for?

[Sunil] I won’t say that shopping online is the best shopping experience or the best avenue for our product but I can say that if the customers would take the time to read about the products and details on the site and look at the pictures, they will see how much care goes into each individual garment.

Since it’s designed for “her” it will fit “her” a lot better than most garments they pull off the rack. A lot of it has to do with Queen Latifah herself. She said that, “This is a line that I can put my name to and I can be proud of.” And you know what? She wears almost everything from the line!

The garments that our customers are getting are exactly what Queen Latifah wears. We don’t change anything just for her. She picks things from stock and wears them. She has been photographed in People Magazine, Glamour and Newsweek wearing her clothes. And this is a woman that can wear whatever she wants!

[Maddy] How involved is she in the line? Does she see every single piece?

[Sunil] Yes she does. Susan is the Creative Director and we work together to come up with the line. Queen Latifah is told about everything as it is happening and then she comes in to see the final product. We always have to be ready because sometimes she will just come in without telling us and begin to try things on.

[Maddy] I find that sometimes plus size clothing is made for hourglass figures. What about those of us that are not the same size on the top and bottom? How does your clothing address a woman’s body type?

[Sunil] I do not have many dresses on the line because I believe it is harder to design dresses for women of all body types so I created this line so that you can mix and match several tops to different bottoms. Some of what I created was made so that it will look like a dress while it’s really a skirt and top combo. This way you can wear the sizes that you truly are. Many women are not the same size on the top and bottom.

[Maddy] How do you maintain such passion for women who are often forgotten by the Fashion Industry?

[Sunil] Well when I design – I design for beautiful women. Beautiful, curvy women. I don’t believe that just because something is made in a size 0 it automatically will look great on a body so I make clothing that is flattering to the women I have in mind.

Paul Poiret called himself the “King of Fashion” and is enjoying a huge revival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY and there are articles about him in most fashion magazines. He came up with a theory — He proposed that if you could move the eye around the body it is automatically slimming. I have spent a lot of time studying his work and trying to apply this theory to the designs. For instance, in the pant design, the side seams are brought an inch forward. So when you are looking at the person you are actually seeing the side seem. So your eye goes top to bottom.

[Maddy] What inspires you?

[Sunil] I spend a lot of time researching. I go to the history books, museums in Paris and I also look through the archives. I truly believe that good design is the key. I just came back from the silk mills in China – looking and choosing fabrics for the line. It’s nothing like anyone has used in the plus size market. I found it in a broken down mill in China but it is exquisite and perfect for plus size bodies.

[Maddy] Sunil, I am truly inspired and look forward to all of your designs and fashions for curves… Thank you…