The Most Size-Inclusive Brand at Fashion Week

There’s a lot to see at fashion week. Blink (or scroll too fast) and you’ll miss the details: feathered bags, futuristic sunglasses, fork jewelry. All month long, we’ll spotlight the things we saw that surprised or delighted us.

PARIS — For many years, the fashion industry has been criticized for its lack of diversity in the types of bodies shown on runways.

Some progress has been made, and some seasons are better than others. But for the most part, at the most prominent fashion shows of New York, London, Milan and Paris, the landscape during the season that just ended looked like this: one plus-size model and one mid-size model was cast among a sea of size-zero (or thereabouts) models.

So it was refreshing, toward the end of this Paris Fashion Week, to see these ratios entirely flipped — even if only at one show — by a young brand called Ester Manas, designed by the Brussels-based duo Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre.

It was only Ms. Manas and Mr. Delepierre’s second runway show. In 2020, the label was a semifinalist for the LVMH Prize, a prestigious contest for emerging designers, in which the duo set themselves apart technically: About 90 percent of their collection comes in one size that fits several — from about 34 to 50 in French sizing, or 2 to 18 in American sizing.

So, of the 29 looks presented at their runway show on Saturday, less than one-third were worn by conventionally thin models.

Yet instead of feeling like some extraordinary, yassified act of body-positive rebellion, the designers pulled off a more impressive feat: It just felt normal. The models — like women who buy clothes in the real world, like the audience watching the show — represented a wide range of sizes.

Still, these weren’t necessarily everyday clothes for every women, though that’s true on most runways. These designs were ruched (which allows the broad size range), sheer, brightly colored and sexy, but securely constructed, exposing midriffs in a way that never seemed too exposing.

Backstage, after the show, a few models teared up, Mr. Delepierre said, because “they couldn’t imagine they could walk on the catwalk in Paris.”

But the designers emphasized that their casting wasn’t intended as an ethical stance, or by wanting to create some body-confident utopia. It was practical. They needed to show the clothes this way to sell the clothes. (Their largest stockist is Ssense.)

“We have to show how the pieces move,” Mr. Delepierre said.

“It’s about reality,” Ms. Manas added. “It’s not about dreams.”

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