Paloma Elsesser is a dream come true woman.
“I’m shooting a Vogue cover as a chubby, short, mixed-raced woman who never imagined this would be her reality,” said Elsesser of the “surreal” moment. That day Annie Leibovitz photographed her for Vogue’s January 2021 issue.
It was a win, and Elsesser created a breakthrough for other women as well.
Vogue’s claims to cover beauty have long been limited to white, tall, and naturally thin models.
When the magazine featured highly regarded Black media personality Oprah Winfrey on its cover in October 1998, editor-in-chief Anna Wintour recommended that Winfrey lose 20 pounds before the shoot.
It wasn’t just Vogue. Elsesser, the curvaceous London-born daughter of an African-American mother and a Swiss-Chilean father, remembered her Paris affair in tears.
In 2015, then 22, Elsesser met makeup artist Pat McGrath for her first eyeshadow promotion.
One day, the model stayed backstage at the Lanvin. As a self-proclaimed tomboy in Supreme, she had never attended a show in Paris before. And her first excited feeling of her vanished into thin air when she saw her cast: white and thin.
She is beautiful, with warm brown eyes and a charming smile. However, broken by her notion of otherness, tears began to well up in her eyes.
“I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t look like anyone here,” she recounted. “Who am I kidding? I’m not a f—king model.”
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Elsesser Went for It
Now, things have changed.
Elsesser is among fashion’s most-coveted muses. Currently 30, she sashayed the runway for European luxury labels from Fendi to Chloe: Shows that matter to the industry like Lanvin.
Furthermore, she has appeared in massive advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Coach, and H&M. Victoria’s Secret, once known for its limited beauty standards, has recruited the plus size model.
With society changing and fashion surfacing “from the dark ages,” demands for plus-size women are through the roof, according to Becca Thorpe, a Next Models agent. (Dark ages was when bigger models faced a huge obstacle for jobs and equal compensation.)
“Clients are paying equal or above what they’ve been paying for traditional models to get access to (bigger models,” added Treanna Lawrence, casting director at Cast Partner.
Plus-size models are those above a size 4 in high fashion and more than a size 12 in the general market. Now, they are essential in the business.
“Once agencies saw there’s a real route to success for a girl like Paloma, they started signing more,” said stylist Carlos Nazario.
“And when brands saw the engagement and attention they receive on the runway and in campaigns, they wanted a piece of the pie as well.”
However, the industry didn’t just give Elsesser’s journey to success to her. Instead, she paved the way for models like her, making the path for others.
“I think a lot of her modeling has been confronting the industry,” said DM Casting’s Samuel Ellis Scheinman.
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Photo: Fem Competitor