One of the strengths of the Australian modelling industry, say industry insiders in New York, is its extraordinary versatility. "You cross every section - you have sexy, you have edgy, you have androgynous, you have it all” Elite Model Management's Doll Wright tells frockwriter. Add curvy to that list. Twenty-one year-old Robyn Lawley has just pulled off what no other plus-size Australian model has thus far managed to do: score the cover of an international fashion title. Here is Lawley on the cover of French ELLE’s ‘Spécial Rondes’ issue, which has just hit the newsstands. She also appears on 10 other pages inside the issue. Even more exciting: on Monday and Tuesday this week in New York, we can reveal that Lawley, an Australian size 14, shot an editorial and cover try for the June issue of far more prestigious European fashion title, with one of fashion's biggest photographic names. Yes, the shoot was for a plus-size story. But give her time.
Already, the world’s most high-profile plus size model, Crystal Renn, is ranked world number 21 on models.com’s Top 50 Women list, alongside the biggest so-called “straight size” names in the business. The latter include Australia’s Catherine McNeil, who is ranked #24.
Models move up and down on the list, pending how “hot” they are in the business – and their "hotness" factor can be impacted by whether or not they have gained weight.
Renn's rapid rise in the fashion industry has seen her recently book advertising campaigns for Jean Paul Gaultier and Jimmy Choo, shoot editorials for Vogue Paris and now her first Vogue cover, Vogue Mexico.
Many have argued, however, that Renn's 'high fashion' ascent has coincided with a dramatic fall in her BMI. Although Renn concedes that she has recently stepped up her exercise regime, she insists she is a US size 10 - an Australian size 12. This is still significantly bigger than most other models with whom Renn is competing for mainstream fashion jobs.
Lawley’s story is not unlike Renn’s – as documented in Renn's 2009 book Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves.
Originally from Sydney, but now New York-based, Lawley began modelling at the age of 14, when she was a size 8-10 according to her Australian agent Chelsea Bonner at Bella Model Management.
One of her first jobs was for Dolly magazine, an editorial accompanied by a headline that would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least in the skinny-obsessed modelling business: "Super Size Me".
At 186cm (6’2”), however, it wasn’t only Lawley’s height that spooked clients.
As Lawley matured, she had difficulty maintaining that size 8-10. Although she did try various diets, unlike Renn, she never developed an eating disorder according to Bonner.
At 18, Lawley gave up trying to fit in to the mainstream modelling business and joined Bonner at Bella. She never looked back, booking editorial work with Madison, Cosmopolitan, The Australian Women’s Weekly, New Idea, Woman's Day, US Glamour, Germany's Flair and advertising campaigns for Autograph, David Jones, Myer, Calvin Klein and, recently, H&M.
At New York Fashion Week in February, Lawley was the solo star of the One Stop Plus show, which was broadcast in Times Square:
But if fashion is – very gradually – starting to include larger models, this apparently does not mean that agents like Bonner want to help facilitate any size 22s getting up on that runway.
Bonner reports that she often fields complaints from consumers that her models “aren’t big enough”.
“What is big enough?” she asks. “Big enough to us at Bella is if you are within your healthy weight range for your height and bone structure, that’s big enough. You shouldn’t be above that. With size 22 models, the garments don’t fit right. And it’s not healthy. I’ve not yet met a woman who is a size 22 who is healthy. Of course, there are also a lot of girls who are far too thin”.
all images: supplied by bella management