Generation Z, protagonist of curvy and plus size fashion
Beauty can never be considered a static concept, because it reflects the spirit of the times and is a key to interpreting every society. Each era, in fact, defines its own aesthetic canon that leaves its mark and is consequently capable of influencing the formation of new cultural models.
This process strongly influences the world of fashion: the exploratory experience and the different languages of fashion in fact respond to the criteria of narration of the historical, sociological, political and economic context in which they are inserted, intersecting irremediably with emotions and their communicative power.
But fashion has above all followed the evolution of women’s role in society, a sort of parallelism between the great economic and social revolutions of the last two centuries and their emancipation, which has made it possible to overcome the patriarchal archetype that wanted women to be merely procreators, transforming them into people aware of their rights and masters of their own future.
Clothes in fact design and transform the body, giving it an identity, even in dissonance with the models of the dominant culture.
In order to analyse and dissect the current fashion scenario and explore the issue of clothing as a code capable of conveying shared sociological messages, we spoke to Professor Michela Bonafoni, Program Director of Executive Master in Fashion and Luxury Management at Rome Business School, who told us:
“I like to underline the etymology of the word fashion: from Latin, modus indicates an aesthetic or behavioural model. Fashion in fact is also the life I choose to lead and the way I decide to manifest myself within my social context. There has always been a dualism linking life and fashion, which is capable of bringing together current affairs, politics, economics and society in a collective imagination and which translates into the codification of a collection, because fashion has the ultimate duty to read the society in which we live.
This is the important teaching of George Simmel, considered one of the founding fathers of sociology, who with his 1910 essay “La Mode” made a fundamental contribution to studies on the phenomena of fashion in society.”
The eating disorders of Generation Z
Generation Z children are much more concerned about their physical appearance and weight than teenagers in the past, an attitude that is accompanied by an increase in eating disorders. In Italy, according to the 2018 Obesity Report with additions to 2020, with a focus on the 16 to 30 age group, there is a difference in geographical distribution regarding the relationship with food.
The North-East and North-West are the spokesmen of a well-being linked to economic factors, to a sustainable diet and to the practice of sport “against” a South where, in particular in Regions such as Campania, Basilicata and Puglia, a high rate of obesity linked above all to the culture of good food is highlighted. Moreover, the latest data from the WHO (World Health Organisation) Global Health Observatory indicate that Italy is the third country on the international scene with the highest rate of overweight and obesity.
“Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, and even more so Tik ToK, play a decisive role in the rise of eating disorders in the younger generations. Often a negative comment, perhaps because one has not put in place filters to improve one’s image, corresponds to a malaise, and I would like to distinguish the two terms that make up the word, which causes our young people to fall into the dark.
It is important to talk to them about the disastrous phenomena of anorexia and bulimia and obesity, – 45% of the phenomenon can be traced back to the male sex – because young people are today’s most important consumers and fashion can and must intervene in this sense, as happened with the shock campaign against anorexia “Nolita” and the consequent actions promoted by the late Franca Sozzani, director of Vogue Italia and the National Chamber of Fashion”.
The evolution of fashion: curvy fashion
A single ideal of physicality on the catwalk no longer exists. A new model of femininity is imposing itself on the female population, both international and Italian, which values a sinuous, “Mediterranean” body that has always been synonymous with good health and acceptance.
A curvy body also conveys a positive message of complete acceptance of one’s own being, far removed from the models linked to the ancient perfection of slender forms, too often proposed by the media.
“Fashion has always worked with desirability, which has a direct relationship with desire: it’s like saying I have a dream of mine and I want that archetype and I can achieve it.
By emphasising the sentiment of desirability, fashion first and foremost has a great power that it shares with music: breaking down dogmatic barriers, defeating pre-established canons and sending out international messages.
The dualism of fashion and music, from the 50s to the 80s, passing through the 70s of course, has always married young people, their rebellions that etymologically indicate the desire for a “return to beauty” and created those sub cultures that lead to the breaking of cultural paradigms. Finally, after years in which we had forgotten to read reality, we returned to observing the world. Since 2013 we have created the conditions to meet new needs such as being inclusive and speaking to realities that have in turn become sub cultures and to those who are representative of market sectors “bearers of problems”. Nike, for example, is the brand that in terms of international communication has been one of the forerunners of advertising campaigns with curvy models within sportswear, which has always been loved by Gen Z.“
Best Cases: plus size ambassadors
The culture of inclusion, which originated in the United States and has become international, thanks to the great echo of social networks, has led to the concept of body positivity being transformed and elevated to the meaning of body power.
Plus-size models such as Jill Kortleve, Ashley Graham, Stella Duval and Paloma Elsesser – to name but a few – teach the art of self-acceptance and speak to young people, to the Z generation, with an activism that is part of their daily lives. They are important voices, ambassadors of the contemporary age, who take positions in favour of lLGBT+ rights or for better treatment of the differently abled, taking concrete actions of social and civil responsibility.
In Italy, 2017, for example with Marco Rambaldi, can be considered the year of the watershed in the history of fashion, that is, the moment when inclusivity became the protagonist on the catwalk: different forms, different genders, different ages, different abilities. The young designer, winner in 2014 of the Next Generation contest promoted by Camera Nazionale della Moda and finalist in the 2017 edition of the “Who is On Next?” talent, promoted by Vogue Italia and AltaRoma, has always considered aesthetics as a characterising element of the models’ personal history,capable of conveying unconventional values and messages.
“Talking about body power is not only a semantic change, going back to semiology, but a real transformation of the perspective of eroticism. Plus-size models, or plu agées, no longer walk down separate catwalks but participate in the fashion show together with the others, who wear the canonical sizes 38-40. There is no longer any fragmentation because women no longer have labels: it will then be consumers who decide whether or not an advertisement or a collection is successful. Even where our plus-size ambassador Elisa D’Ospina walks the runway with a non-sector brand.
I would also like to emphasise that curvy fashion is not only the protagonist on the catwalk but also in the round tables and collateral events that animate fashion, as was the case during the last Milan Fashion Week“.
Ambassadors: the brawn phenomenon
The over phenomenon does not only apply to the female universe: the sector is now also opening up to models, who are finding their place in the world of fashion more slowly than their female colleagues.
Men’s shapes, which when no longer sculpted remain “muscularly” biting, are now being called brawn, a term that indicates power and physical performance. This is the new fashion phenomenon created by social networks, which are clearing away prejudice by claiming the freedom, even for men, to have a few extra kilos.
“There is an incredible generation, especially American, that recognises itself in these new models, of which Mirzo Zach and Dexter Mayfield are the most popular testimonials. The first to understand the strength of this trend were the creators of Fash Fashion H&M, who designed a collection dedicated to plus sizes, from a male point of view. Here too, I like to emphasise the term “strong” which has a positive etymological meaning. Even Rihanna, an international icon, has understood the importance of the phenomenon and has transformed her Fenty for Beauty brand – a makeup created specifically for different skin types and cultures – into a lingerie brand too, “Savage X Fenty” dedicated precisely to curvy men.”
The new trends
“As far as new perspectives are concerned, we start from a very particular context, for example the fashion shows held in February March 2022 had to deal with the war in Ukraina. Balenciaga, whose creative director Demna Gvasalia is Georgian, changed part of its collection in a few days. The starting point was a design that reinterpreted a 1950s silhouette revised in a Balenciaga key and an evocation of the post-World War II era that ideally recalled the idea of the post pandemic from Covid 19. The creative imagination was focused on a new humanism. Now a new postulate is needed, a new code represented by the feelings of “closeness” to overcome the current times of crisis, not only economic but above all humanitarian. The consequent trend will be the desire for colour, expressing the will to live, alongside black to express mourning and the fragility of the world. We need to change paradigm; the key words fashion is working with in 2022 are paradigm, counterculture and imagination. Of course, we can’t ignore the metaverse and everything that the digital revolution contains, which represent the true counter-song.”
In this complex scenario, social responsibility, as mentioned above, is transformed into concrete action. Brand activism represents the active social role of companies and influencers in relation to the issues of our time: environmental, social, political and economic issues. It is a term coined by Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar in their 2018 book entitled “Brand Activism, from purpose to action”. It is the new imperative of consumers who are increasingly attentive to the adherence between professed values and the concrete actions carried out by brands and influencers themselves.
Fashion Trend Researcher for the most important brand of Wella Hairstyling called Miu’ Creative Hairstyling and is in charge of creative direction. Cultural Advisor for fashion and beauty companies. She has an MBA in Fashion Marketing and Communication from Central St Martins College in London and a background in fashion and costume science. He is Program Director of the Executive Master in Fashion and Luxury Management at Rome Business School.