Michele Weston on MODE Magazine and The State of The Plus Size Modeling and Fashion Industry

As the founding Fashion and Style Director of MODE Magazine, Michele Weston brought her knowledge and passion for plus size women, to a ground-breaking magazine.

Mode Magazine was every plus size woman’s monthly special treat, where she could go and be happy to be, herself. Michele and MODE Magazine, were instrumental in helping to launch the careers of many of the Icon’s we are paying tribute to in this issue.

As a woman, who has seen and experience it all, how does she see the current state of the plus size industry? Read below as we chatted about all the “touchy” subjects that most people tend to shy away from. Years later, Michele Weston remains passionate and optimistic that one day, “they” will get it right.

Maddy: Tell me about Mode Magazine:

Michele: We started working on Mode in 1996 and the first issue came out in the beginning of 1997. In the beginning we decided we would only have six issues per year. The reaction from 62% of the population was overwhelming and we quickly, went to 12 issues per year. We had an amazing team at Mode, our Editor and publishers were people who believed in the vision of Mode. We were a very diverse group who wanted to show variations of size, ethnicities and style.

Maddy: What was it about the magazine that made it such an instant success?

Michele: In my lifetime I have worn between a size 12 and 22, I knew the magazine was reaching plus size women by showing great style and making them feel great in their own skin because I myself, felt good about it.

The magazine was almost like a teaching guide, it taught a generation of women about fashion and style options along with visual aides. The goal was for readers to love themselves, no matter what their size and to feel good in their clothing.

Maddy: I can remember some “racy” editorials that really raised some eyebrows

Michele: Susan Moses has great ability to push the page, and to dare herself to go beyond, sometimes my own, comfort range. At times we pushed the envelope and I had to defend decisions we made, because we were trying to come away from what people expected from a plus size magazine.

Maddy: Were you involved in the casting of models?

Michele: I casted models in the very beginning, and I used size 18’s like Sharon Quinn and I was happy to use fleshy, bigger bodies. I came from a magazine back round, I worked inside fashion houses like Anne Klein so I knew fashion, but now it was important to translate it to plus size.

At that time the super models were Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell. I dealt with girls with “real” bodies. These girls were not starving themselves, and they were straight sized models.

Maddy: With so many beautiful models, how did you decide which model was the one you were looking for?

Michele: When you are casting models, you are looking for something, maybe it’s the sparkle, or the potential or they just have that look. There’s a lot of very beautiful and very pretty women out there, and some I believe are role models and then some are “models”. Real “models” are very far and few, no matter what size they are. I think sometimes women think that if they become a model, they are celebrating their beauty, but there are many ways to celebrate your beauty. Modeling is not the only way. Being on the cover of a magazine does not make you more beautiful than anyone else; confidence comes from inside and not from accomplishments.

Maddy: I can remember Angellika being in this c-thru dress, without a bra walking towards the camera. Were there models, that you just had to put in the magazine over and over?

Michele: That was Angellika Morton; her confidence was undeniable, she shared herself with our readers. She appealed to every women, no matter the size or ethnicity because we all wanted to feel, how she felt and we all wanted to see ourselves, as she saw herself. She was the perfect model, she had no problem taking off her clothes, trying new things and taking direction.

Maddy: Generally speaking, what were the requirements for plus size models?

Michele: The stats were pretty much the same, we needed 5’9 and up and proportionate, but the size options were different. We had our choice of size 12 to 18.  We also took certain girls into consideration because of their look. Maybe they did not fit the requirements exactly, but their look was so strong and they could transcend on camera so well, we would be willing to give them a shot.

Hour glass figures were not the only ones getting work, women with other body types like Kate Dillon were successful because they represented and appealed to so many women with different body types.

Maddy: Talk to me about why modeling has traditionally stopped at a size 18?

Michele: I know a lot of the models do not want to hear this, but I’m going to explain the reasons why as I know them. Patterns change once you go into bigger sizes, past a size 22, it is very expensive to pattern a pattern. It’s not just as simple as sizing up, like many stores still do today. You have to consider armholes, shoulders and waist size. Adding to this, the different body types, the companies can’t afford to make the samples in those sizes.

Maddy: Fast forward to today’s plus size model. What is happening to the “plus size” model? The curvier models, are almost extinct as far as I’m concerned. What are your thoughts?

Michele: We have to look at who is booking them, and what companies. What Mode did, was because we were on the shelves, we helped to keep that woman in the minds eye. This is why I love what your doing at PLUS Model Magazine, because you have to make sure that YOU show that you don’t need a size 10 to sell plus. Just because it’s a double digit, does not mean it’s plus!

Maddy: It seems like real validation for plus size models comes from “mainstream” media.

Michele: I’m disappointed, at times, when I see certain girls doing campaigns. Let’s talk about Crystal Renn. I’m not angry at Crystal Renn, personally. Clients are still booking her, and are casting her so presidents and CEO’s of other stores that do plus size think that this is what they need, smaller models to sell. It’s very hard to get them, then and now, to shoot larger sizes and to stand behind that decision.

Maddy: So is the problem not just with “mainstream” brands and designers? Should we be focusing on plus size stores?

Michele: What has happened is that they are simply stating “available in plus sizes”, and they are shooting safe (smaller models) for the company. There are some companies that have stuck to their guns, like Playtex, Just My Size, Monif C.

In my opinion, the world can’t swallow big sizes and they are not as forgiving as they should be. The issue is that there are people that have decided what we are all supposed to look like; the beauty of Mode and now PLUS, is that we pushed against all that.

Maddy: As an industry magazine, I’m supposed to be representing what is happening out there, and at times I feel like my hands are tied. A lot of the models are so small, in the mean time the readers are like what is going on? The bigger girls, that have potential, rarely invest the money to be a top model, because the jobs are not readily available to them.

Michele: I believe that things come in waves, and the obesity epidemic has touched a nerve with companies. We also need people to stand their ground. At times, we fired stylist, hair and makeup people, because they were either disrespectful to the models, or they did not want to work with bigger models. We stood our ground. I saw as a privilege they did not deserve. We are living in a very precarious time, and advertisers are being very safe. I’m disappointed; I think we should have girls of all sizes out there and not just in Playtex ads.

Maddy: MODE was such a huge success, what happened?

Michele: MODE Magazine went away in 2001, after “911” happened. This event changed the universe and people got very scared and in turn, the new partner for Mode was lost. The audience was there; it was never a lack of interest from the women.

Maddy: The plus size industry has come so far, but have such a long way to go. What do we, the consumers do?

Michele: We have to keep PUSHING and push the rock up the hill. Action speaks louder than anger. Speak with your purse, and don’t buy it, and let them know why. Companies respond to the “bottom line”, and support those companies that are designing with you in mind.

Maddy: Plus size fashion gives us more options today than ever before, why is the plus size woman still not happy?

Michele: Plus size women should consider, they need to shop where they design for her body. I can’t get pants at any store, I always got my pants at the Avenue. It was flattering to my shape and that’s ok. This happens with the smaller sizes too, so I think we need to appreciate the expansion of plus size fashion and support its growth. Not every designer will carry clothing for you, that is just the way it is, and also consider getting a tailor. Maybe buying a bigger size and having a piece of clothing tailored is an option?

Maddy: Seems like some are looking down at the veteran brands that have been clothing our mothers and aunts for so many years. Your thoughts?

Michele: Those companies are continually growing with it’s customer and maybe they are not what YOU are liking at the moment, but there is someone else that is pulling out their pocket book because the look and style of the clothing suits them. Let’s embrace everyone, and not look down at companies, because of their style or price point.