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We Wear Our Clothes In Order To Tell A Story

Posted by on August 29, 2015

What is your story?


“We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, . . . to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I’m poor, I love myself.”–interviewee.

My friend tipped me off to a thoughtful, multimedia book called Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, which could also be titled We Wear Our Clothes In Order To Tell A Story. It’s pretty thick so I’m taking my time reading it. I love learning about the intimate history of my friends’ wardrobes and how the act of dressing is their way of becoming into character. Women in Clothes reads loosely as a melange of confessional stories from a diverse pool of women on the discourse of clothing and identity but is also very “meta”: there are also transcripts of loopy Skype conversations as the editors discuss how they want the book to turn out just as we try to assemble ourselves everyday for self-presentation. You’ll even read interviews with Lena Dunham, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, Molly Ringwald, and many other women. As much as I enjoyed reading others’ experiences, I was particular drawn to the survey at the very beginning of the book which covered every question I could have of fashion possible. Apparently 639 women responded to this survey but their website also has an ongoing survey where women can still post their answers to their favorite questions. I’m posting the full survey here of the 50+ questions as a jumpstart to see what IGIGI women have to say on their own personal stories with clothing. Please share your story! We would love to learn more about you.


* What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?

* With whom do you talk about clothes?

* Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
* Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
* Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
* Would you say you “know what you like” in the area of fashion and clothing? If so, do you also know what you like in other areas of life, that is, are you generally good at discernment? What would you say you like in other areas of life, that is, are you generally good at discernment? If you’re not so sure about your clothing choices, would you say you’re better in other areas, or the same? Can you say where your discernment comes from, if you have it (or where the lack comes from, if you don’t have it), and why?
* Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style have been passed down to you or not?
* What is your cultural background, and how has that influenced how you dress?
* Did your parents teach you about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing, or style? What lessons do you remember? Did they tell you things directly, or did you just pick things up?
* What sorts of things do you do, clothing-or make-up or hair-wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
* What are some of the things you admire about how other women present themselves?
* Many people say they want to feel “comfortable,” or that they admire people who seem “confident.” What do these words really mean to you?
* Do you care about lingerie?
* Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice? What sort do you tend to admire? If not admiration, what is the feeling that a compelling woman on the street gives you?
* If dressing were the only thing you did, and you were considered an expert and asked to explain your style philosophy, what would you say?
* What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
* What do you consider very ugly?
* Are you generally a good judge of whether what you buy will end up being worn? Have you figured out how to know in advance?
* When you look at yourself before going out, and you are trying to see yourself from the outside, what is this “other person” like? What does she like, dislike, what sorts of judgments does she have? Is this “outer eye” based on someone you know or knew once?
* What’s your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
* What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
* What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
* If you had to wear a “uniform,” what would it look like?
* What would you say is “you,” and what would you say is “not you”?
* Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Can you describe it and what it was all about for you?
* What sorts of things do you do, clothing-, make-up, or hair-wise, to feel professional?
* How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?
* How do institutions affect the way you dress?
* Do you have a dress code, a school uniform, or a uniform that you wear for an extracurricular activity?
* Are there ways in which you conform to or rebel against these uniforms?
* Is it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?
* Was there a moment in your life when something “clicked” for you about fashion or dressing or makeup or hair? What was it? Why did it happen then, do you think?
* Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
* What are some dressing rules that you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but that you follow?
* Are there any dressing rules you’d want to convey to other women?
* What is an archetypal outfit for you, one that you could have happily worn at any point in your life? What do you like about it?
* Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body? Was there ever a time in the past?
* If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
* Do you consider yourself photogenic?
* When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
* Send a photograph of your mother from the time before she had children, and tell us what you see.
* Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
* Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?
* What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try to achieve?
* Have you stolen, borrowed, or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
* Have you ever successfully given someone a present or jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
* Were you ever given a present or clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
* If you were totally comfortable with your body, or your body were a bit closer to what you wish it was like, what would you wear?
* When do you feel at your most attractive?
* Is there anyone you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
* Do you like to smell a certain way?
* What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
* What’s the situation with your hair?
* Please describe your body.
* Please describe your mind.
* Please describe your emotions.
* What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
* How does makeup fit into all this for you?
* What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
* Is there a certain look you feel you’re expected to like that you have absolutely no interest in? What is it? Why aren’t you interested?
* What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc.?
* Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing- and jewelry-wise?
* What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
* Tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it?
* Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in, and if so, why?
* Looking back at your purchases over the past five to fifteen years, can you generalize about what sorts of things were the most valuable to buy?
* Is there an item of clothing that you once owned but no longer own and still think about or wish you had? What was it and what happened to it and why do you want it back?
* If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
* If you were building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
* What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
* Was there ever an important or paradigm shifting purchase in your life?
* What item or clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
* Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
* Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
* Do you address anything political in the way you dress?
* Did you ever buy an article of clothing without giving it much thought, only to have it prove much more valuable as time went on? What was the item, and what happened?
* Did you ever buy an item of clothing or jewelry certain that it would be meaningful to you, but it wasn’t at all? What was it, and what happened?
* How and when do you shop for clothes?
* Do you have any shopping rules you follow?
* How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
* How does money fit into all this?
* Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
* Is there an article of clothing, some makeup, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
* Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?
* Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?
* Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
* In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

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Keeping up with our fashion publicist: PR Girl Camille Schmidt

Posted by on August 7, 2015





Get to know our PR girl, Camille.

When Camille isn’t volleyballing to a litany of body positive queries via our social media channels or scouting out fashion brands to add to her arsenal of outreach, you can find her cherry-picking from her wide selection of trendy juices, armed with a delicious cranberry chocolate power bar for sustenance. If you happen to catch her before she zips away to her next meeting, you also might hear the guttural sermons of 2Pac and Biggie Smalls a la “Gangsta Party” blasting from her speakers. Hey, they’re (2Pac) both from Marin county. Camille always knows her affiliations but she keeps up with dressing the part. Her clothing suggests a high appreciation for femininity but her level of conversation outside of her profession is often cheeky, thoughtful, and discerning. Camille was kind enough to allow us some time to let us chew in on what she does in her highly coveted role as a Fashion Publicist.

Jane Yu: What are some of the challenges of being a PR consultant? Why did you decide to branch off into your own business instead of working with an agency?

Camille Schmidt: One challenge is that many brands don’t have a cohesive vision so it’s my job to really implement a cohesive vision, especially a vision that people will enjoy and that will get the attention of press because those are two very separate things but those are critical to my being good at what I do. I prefer to be called a publicist over PR consultant because I’m like the sixth man in the company. I’m usually pretty integral like an employee but I like to have independence as a consultant.

JY: What are the deciding factors you consider before working with the brand?

CS: For me, it’s really important to be successful. First, it’s for a brand to be open to making changes. And also I need to see the potential for success available. They need to have a good product.

JY: Have you had a lot of clients approach you?

CS: I have. I have multiple clients. I have about six or seven clients at a time and sometimes I’ll see a client and I’ll consider working with them but I just don’t see their model working out. For me, it’s important to have a steady paycheck. If I don’t think the brand’s going to be successful then I can’t work with it.

JY: Your profile mentions that you’re a fourth-generation fashion industry veteran. How has your family tree been involved in the fashion business?

CS: My mother’s grandfather came to New York in the early 1900s and created a dress business. He started out selling apples in Manhattan and then he moved to having a high-end women’s dress business.

JY: What kind of dresses?

CS: Formal women’s dresses. Things that you could wear. My grandfather and his brother ran the business for about fifty years and then my mom started her lingerie and sleepwear business thirty-five years ago. She was one of the first importers from China at the time.

JY: What are the steps that led you into becoming a fashion publicist?

CS: I always had a love of fashion and I grew up in my mom’s office and trade shows. I always designed my own clothes. My aunt would make me clothes and I would design them.

JY: By drawing?

CS: Drawing them, yeah. That’s what I did when I was in my mom’s office—draw clothes. So I always thought that I’d have some position in the fashion industry. I actually went into public relations, hoping to be in politics. But my mom said that I was always so concerned with what I was going to wear that I should probably use my skills in fashion as well.

JY: What made you not go into fashion design, then?

CS: You know, fashion is a hard business in terms of making money. I’d love to do that in the future but I don’t sew and I don’t plan to learn. Also, it’s really just about development and the costs of development are really expensive so for me, it made a lot more sense to use my skills in writing and people and influence design from my perspective with the press.

JY: What makes your expertise very rare and sought out?

CS: I think I have an understanding of social media especially that people of an older generation don’t understand. I really try to take things from a personal perspective and try to see things from other people’s eyes. That’s what makes me good at PR and social media—it’s ‘cause I know what people want. I try and make personal relationships with either my social media community or the editors I’m pitching to.

JY: How do you flex your business and creative skills synergistically?

CS: In terms of creativity, sometimes I take over. I’m a Virgo and I’m very detail-oriented. Sometimes I care about a project and take more time than I need to which isn’t necessarily great for my business. But I always get my work done—that’s what’s most important. Getting my work done and getting it done right. I think that having both creative and business skills and not letting one take over is really important ‘cause a lot of PR people are just in it for the paycheck and for me it’s really about the creative methodology and making sure that the brand is the best that it can possibly be.

JY: How would you describe your own personal style?

CS: I would say feminine. I like classic things but I also like a little flair. I tend to feel like I’m a kindergartener as an adult so if I can have things with bows and sparkles or pink, then I will. But obviously I have to be a little bit more professional in the working environment and stuff because I’m a very young consultant or publicist in my field. I’m also in a high level for my position so I have to be taken seriously. Sometimes I have to dress up and be a little more mature ‘cause of that.

JY: But in your personal life you prefer pastels.

CS: Absolutely. When I’m bigger I don’t want to necessarily do that all the time but you know, I like things that are quality. I look at textiles and I look at fabrics. Full cuts. I like things that have a classic appeal.

JY: If you could have a clothing business, would you design it like what you just described?

CS: Absolutely. I think that if you try to go outside who you are, then it’s definitely not cohesive. I think that the best brands have a vision and a creative director that have a similar style to what they’re creating. I think that’s why things are changing here at IGIGI. Erena is really adding her sense of style into things.

JY: What’s your alternative career?

CS: My alternative career would be to be a reality star ‘cause I would love to just talk shit on TV for a living.

JY: All your observatons?

CS: Absolutely. I would love to be a host on “Best Week Ever,” when that still existed. I would just like to comment on things in my own ironic sense. I think that I have good points to make about things and that I’m observant. That would be really fun for me.

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Makeover Candidate through Catherine Schuller’s Y.E.S.S. #2 — Denise Mercedes (Instagram leader)

Posted by on July 8, 2015


by Catherine Schuller, AICI, CIP

Makeover Candidate:  Denise Mercedes, Instagram Celebrity

Like any modern friendship these days, I met Denise on social media last year and was impressed with how well she “got it right” when it came to her ensembles. One of my pet peeves as an image consultant is how wrong some of the
influential bloggers are with their ensembles. You know my mantra is “Just ’cause you can button it doesn’t mean you should buy it.” It has become more and more apparent that proportion, balance and fit are not the major criteria used
when assembling outfits and placed up on social media these days. Forget about looking in the mirror and snapping selfies willy-nilly. If someone has a natural aesthetic and a personality that leaps off the screen, I’m engaged. Obviously I am not alone as Denise has amassed over 26,000 (yes thousand) followers in the past few years. It has been a meteroric rise by anyone’s standards, and I am amazed at her natural sense of style and ability to edit looks that really work for her. I chose her as my next makeover participant because she gets it right most of the time in her posts, even in light of her challenges: She is 5’5”, a petite curvy woman, size 16W – with a full bust measurement of 42”,  waist 33”,
hips 48” (a true hourglass) and shoulder width of 19” (not overly broad)….Denise probably represents the majority of plus women out there in the world since most of the U.S. is 5’4” and size 14. However, that’s far from the going size and height of most models in the plus divisions of agencies today. Denise expressed her disappointment at being rejected by most agencies because of her height but instead of slinking away into the shadows, she took the cyber-bull by the horns and marketed her uniqueness. She now realizes (in the truest sense of the world) that she is a role model for her fans who find her shape and height similar to theirs and therefore much more relatable. It’s a testament to social media that everyone, no matter how far outside the accepted norm, can find a growing number of followers who admire them for their differences.

Denose is twenty-three years old, born and raised in Jersey from a Dominican family. She’s currently studying psychology and hoping to obtain her bachelor’s degree in a few years. She is great at reading people and has great
listening skills. She is an avid lover of animals and actually says she has telepathic conversations with dogs! She would have become a veterinarian in another life. Eventually, she turned from reading animals to reading people. I asked her about her beginning days on Instagram, the platform where she truly shines. We live in a world now where a picture tells a story and is worth a thousand words.  She began on a weekly basis, taking photos of herself in a favorite outfit in the park with her friend and posting them regularly on Instagram. As soon as she began posting on IG she started to get followers, first a few at a time, then more and more over a relatively short period of time. Her followers started to grow so much so that she was encouraged to do it more often – sometimes three times a week. Consistency online is key these days–meeting expectations and delivering on a regular basis.  She was thrilled when her followers provided positive feedback. Her fans would tell her how much they loved her images that showed a curvy petite woman who wasn’t stopping herself because of her height and size “limitations.” The irony of her story is that she started taking photos of herself out of her feeling rejected from the plus-size model agency world. It’s a lesson about changing the pot, not the chicken! She was shy and insecure but believed in herself and wanted an expressive outlet. Unlike her counterparts who don’t really know their appropriate style, she knew what looked good on her and was willing to share it out there in the world in hopes that she would simply see herself as a model on some level, even if what she was modeling was clothing from her own wardrobe and her campaign platform message was “self love.” Other women even told her that she had saved their lives! That’s when she understood that her positivity was truly beneficial.

One tip I learned from our time together is that she never uses a camera phone to post.  She uses a Nikon camera with a zoom lens and her pictures are clear and well lit and have a depth that a selfie cam shot simply cannot deliver. She said
that her fans deserve the best visuals of her and respond in kind. A beautiful shot is a thing to behold, worth the investment. With 26,000 followers, she is quite inspirational and her fans are very vocal about it. Yes, she was shy and insecure, but she luckily didn’t have low self esteem…that was the difference. Since she can remember, her mother was a constant disapproving nudge about her weight. She was very thin and couldn’t understand why her daughter, Denise, wasn’t the same way. It seemed as though her mother badgered her because she was trying to shame her into skinniness, but we all know that always backfires. Her mother chose the worst possible shaming device ever – comparison. She had size 0, 2, 4 cousins and was constantly reminded by her mother that she needed to look like them.  Thank goodness that her cousins didn’t jump on the bullying bandwagon!  She was amazed that her cousins actually said she was beautiful, that her curves were gorgeous and that they weren’t perfect either – certainly not worthy of Denise feeling inferior around them. What cool cousins!! They encouraged and protected her, not beating her up any more than her mother already did! That fact was her saving grace…imagine if her cousins had been “mean girls” and fed the fire of her mother’s fat fanatic frenzy. I told her that she is truly a role model, turning obstacles into assets
and overcoming the feelings that she wasn’t good enough because of her mother and the rejecting New York modeling agencies.  I can only say, “You go, girl!” It was my pleasure to IGIGI-ify you. It was a delight to get to know you, to
assess and dress you and hopefully your fans will love the results from our encounter.

Her Y.E.S.S. assessment resulted in her style being Dramatic and Alluring. She loves magnetic dressing, showing off her curves and cleavage. She knows that it’s about appropriateness and IGIGI has just the right body conscious clothing that work for her petite plus silhouette. Add sexy heels and a necklace and she’s ready for the world! With her extreme curves, she needs a dress that flows and emphasizes her hourglass figure.

Note:  She took the quiz online and actually met me for the photoshoot a day after she had a terrible incident with her boyfriend’s ex girlfriends and friend who wound up confronting her and taunting her by saying, “So you think you’re a
model??” In an ice cream shop, they kept teasing and taunting until her friend said, “What is your problem?” They literally came at both of them and wound up yanking Denises’s hair and pulling a clump of it out and even snapping and hurting her neck in the process! I was appalled at her recounting of this episode that had just happened the night before. I also had a newfound respect for her. Even Shelia Gay Robbins of She She’s Closet who came along to add her gorgeous jewelry to the shoot was shocked when she heard the story. We wanted to pamper Denise as much as possible and make her feel amazing. Even with a boyfriend of three years, the ex-girlfriend isn’t leaving it alone. Denise still fights battles and with exposure comes disapproval and jealousy. A role model, indeed! IGIGI styles reflected her Dramatic and Alluring nature and She She’s Closet jewelry pieces, the perfect accent. I am so happy that we helped her feel like a pampered queen for a day at least! Her style was always there, maybe a bit on the exaggerated or even too casual style. Our focus on Dramatic and Alluring gave her a sophisticated and glamorous look which she embraced.  She was a great model with wonderful instincts allowing her to access that deep emotional space that expresses
how she feels– “fierce and fabulous.” It shows in her face and eyes!  I was impressed with her instincts and model potential. I would love if she could help me at F.I.T. when I teach. She could certainly be a shining example of the
women’s petite market….a much needed inspiration for my class as well!!






mercedes 10

Blake Dress in Bombay Teal

denise mercedes 2

denise mercedes 3

mercedes 13Charmaine Jumpsuit in Black (no longer in stock)

mercedes 5

Think you’ve got what it takes to take my Y.E.S.S. Style Assessment Quiz [take yours here] and let me “IGIGI-ify” your look?  Contact me at catschuller1@gmail.com. Send me a few jpegs of your face and body in your favorite outfits and you may be next!

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Makeover Candidate through Catherine Schuller’s Y.E.S.S.

Posted by on June 2, 2015

Makeover Candidate: Nicole Flores

Profession: Blogger, Writer, Spokesperson, Social Media and PR

Interests: Art, Hip Hop, Music and Entertainment

Photographer: Jose Pagan

Makeup Artist: Nicole Flores

Styling and Accessories: Shelia Gay Robbins of She She’s Closet

Nicole Flores lives in New York City and the backdrop of the arts scene is exactly what feeds her creative soul. She is passionate about everything to do with artists who perform, write, paint, draw, sing, dance, or express themselves through their art. She is a dedicated supporter and liaison of the art, music, fashion, business and beauty scenes in New York. Being a curvy woman, she has the same challenges in finding great outfits to wear to various art events in an about town. She is aware of her persona and how she presents herself in public. She is often dashing around the city, from morning to night, flitting among the art openings, gallery exhibitions, music and dance performances, and fashion shows. It’s this adrenaline rush that fuels her desires and motivates her on a daily basis. This is a high energy city and she is as dynamic a creature as you’ll find, curvy or straight.

Nicole is a beautiful Latina woman with a curly mane of hair and a smile as wide as her arms. She is one heck of a cook and a fabulous single mother. She works tirelessly and is all about empowerment, so she seemed like a great first candidate for my Y.E.S.S. blog post. We met when Nicole just started her Xponential Curve blog, which has grown in popularity over the past three years. She now has many followers and has become a writer, speaker and a heavy influence in social media. I have grown quite fond of this downtown diva with her Bronx roots and heart of gold. We became quite close over the past two years of my doing Runway the Real Way at the Yotel Hotel. With our having done over sixty shows at that venue, she has become a contributing member of the family, helping in a myriad of ways that make her indispensable to me each weekend. She assists with makeup application backstage and keeping the social media buzz going, not to mention rockin’ the runway with many of the plus-size designers who present in our show.

She has become my curvy confidante and I seek her advice, counsel and wisdom every week. You know you have a lot to say when a phone call goes on for an hour and you’ve barely scratched the surface. She is a wonderful mother, too, and in that regard I was honored to help her bump up her image and “IGIGI-ify” her current style. I chose Nicole for my first Y.E.S.S. candidate and am proud to make her my lovely lady of this first launch. I believe she personifies the very reason why I created this blog with IGIGI. I’m going to choose curvy women who have their own established style (although they may not know exactly what that is but as long as they know “what they like” and why). With Y.E.S.S., I’m going to help her pinpoint their style type, define what comprises that look and then have her choose an Igigi dress that best reflects who she is and more importantly, where she’s going.

After tallying the results from the Style Assessment Quiz [take yours here], we determined that Nicole has a Natural/Sporty core style but also has secondary characteristics (because no one is one dimensional, after all) in Dramatic/Alluring and Romantic/Feminine. For the most part, her style is casual, comfortable but creative. She wears a lot of pants and jeans because she “doesn’t like her legs” and has a hard time finding flattering dresses. IGIGI is known for its stunning array of dresses, so when I mentioned she’d be wearing a dress, she was a little hesitant at first, but I wanted her to try something that would reflect her appearing mores sophisticated and mature but not sacrificing her need for comfort; I certainly did not want her to feel self-conscious about her legs. “Style is being yourself on purpose,” I always say. We definitely discovered and tweaked her style; we used a few more flavors to complement and reflect her former style restraints, freeing her up to move into her more romantic and flirty side.

BEFORE: Here she is in some looks which she wore over the last few years…

nicole flores 3 beforenicole flores 4 beforenicole flores in ADIR BELT WAVENicole Flores 2 beforeNICOLE FLORES 1 BEFORE PIC

Her past looks were only a mere fraction of her style capability in my estimation. I chose the Kelly Dress in Noir Rose dress and the Francesca Dress in Tuberose because they are easy, breezy comfortable, but the message being communicated is Dramatic/Alluring with a touch of Romantic/Feminine. Something that was lacking in her wardrobe of yore. We have to examine how our style choices can show the world what we are moving away from and moving towards. She loves her new IGIGI-fied persona. We did her makeup and hair and added some fabulous jewelry which IGIGI dresses are MADE for fabulous accessories from She She’s Closet to coordinate with the colors in each dress and voila – instant glam!!

Then, with the spring weather in all its glory, we had the very talented Jose Pagan capture the new Nicole. How ironic that it was in the courtyard of The X Collective art studio where she was holding a gallery viewing during a Sunday afternoon. When I got her look all together and we were walking outside to start shooting the final result she put on the dress, spun around and said gleefully, “I feel so PRETTY!” Now isn’t that saying YESS to the DRESS???

AFTER: Natural/Sport, Dramatic/Alluring, Romantic/Feminine

Igigi Edited Igigi Edit2

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Meet our #MODELIGIGI Contest Winner: Nicole Simone, a Modern Day Mae

Posted by on May 1, 2015





I await Nicole Simone at the IGIGI headquarters but she arrives ten minutes early, which she tells me is her personal standard for any appointment: “I’d rather be early than late.” Over our morning chat, Nicole has an upbeat, girl-next-door kind of mien, but the kind who’s also effulgently well put-together. Her red lipstick is perfectly painted on her bow lips and her hair, which was swept in waves in her #MODELIGIGI photo, is now a perky chin-length bob. The outfit she smartly wears is very French: she’s dressed in a black-and-white striped shirt, tan cardigan, a black circle skirt and leggings with Fluevog black lace-up booties that turn out to have replaceable soles. The aspect of her stage persona is suggested by her graceful swoops and gestures. 

Nicole’s enthusiasm in winning #MODELIGIGI’s first successful campaign extends to all the other areas of her life. She tends to her goals the way someone peacefully waters plants on a rainy day. Her confidence “at any size” (she says her weight fluctuates and she’s at the largest she’s ever been, but her response is merely, “Bring it on!”) and optimism go together like bread and jam, undoubtedly her amulet for scrutiny from others that someone else with less resolve might find overwhelming. She’s started her own hashtag #anysizeconfidence to add to the lexicon of the #pluspositive movement. Nicole specifies that she doesn’t care for labels or numbers; she is a model regardless. Despite her cheerful aura, her awareness of the challenges of the plus-size world is apparent. For her part, she admits to having had an existential crisis of sorts in her youth and not knowing where she really “belonged” after letting go of her dream of going to college on a softball scholarship (she was that good: tensile arm strength). Her gateway drug was Plus Model Magazine which she credits on her professional website website as having opened up her eyes to a world in which she could inhabit comfortably. She connects the dots explicitly for all the signposts that led to her current success: cousins who are models, body awareness and dexterity through sports (specifically baseball: second and field positions), fluctuating dislocated knee, award-winning belly dancing, Plus Model Magazine. Nicole is a humble team player but you definitely want her on your team. –Jane Yu

Jane Yu: Tell us about your background.

Nicole Simone: So I have always had an interest in modeling. It’s something that runs in my family. I’ve had two successful cousins who are models. But I’ve always been on the curvier, thicker side so…

JY: Where are you from?

NS: I was born in Sunnyvale (California), down south for twelve years and moved back up here to the bay. Pageants were huge in my family. My aunt and uncle were huge players in the Hawaiian Tropics pageants for thirty years. I’ve always been around it but I just never really thought, “Oh, it’s something I can do” because in the fashion industry, you just didn’t really see girls who were curvy like me. So I kind of put that dream aside for a little while and in 2000, I started getting into belly dancing so I’ve been belly dancing off and on for like, fifteen years. And that’s really where I started gaining my confidence within my body and accepting myself, my curves and having the passion to perform and everything. In 2012 I actually stumbled upon Plus Model Magazine. Then I saw that, I was, like, “What is this vibrant world of curvy women?” I felt like I hit a goldmine! I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to pursue it. Because I’ve always wanted to do it and now I’m gonna do it.” And I did. In 2012 I just started booking with photographers and started shooting and building my portfolio and yeah, I just haven’t stopped since. I used to work in corporate sales for, like, twelve years and I decided… I actually knew for a long time that I wasn’t happy in that industry. It just wasn’t my passion and especially being an artist and going to college for art–fine art, photography–I didn’t finish college but I knew since I was young I’ve always been an artist. So I just knew that’s where my passion was. I said to myself, I’m going to take a risk, live a dream. Every year it tends to get a little better for me. I keep getting more opportunities or more people are noticing me. I feel like as long as I keep working towards it, really hard, and not giving up, not giving up on myself, that something will come eventually.

JY: Are you a full-time model right now?

NS: Yes, I work at the Academy of Art as well as a life model so I do that. I also model for designers here and there. One in particular, up in San Francisco: Dark Garden and Unique Corsetry. They’ve been around for over twenty-five years making custom and couture corsets so I was modeling for them as a plus-size.

JY: What’s the experience of being a life model versus a commercial model?

NS: Life modeling work is kind of hard. It’s really taxing on your body. You know, having to hold poses for twenty minutes and then getting a short break, twenty minutes. It’s one of those jobs where you get into a pose and you think the first three minutes, “Oh, this is comfortable. I can hold this.” But then, like, ten minutes into it you’re thinking, “My limbs are going to fall off.”


JY: But you’re allowed to sneeze.

NS: Well, you can fidget a little bit, but for the most part you have to be professional and stay still. I like it. It’s really fun. It’s beautiful to see the work that the artists create of you and then sometimes you don’t want to see the work that they create of you. [laughs] Because you’re like, “Oh no, that’s how you see me…” But it’s fun! It’s a different medium of art.

JY: I think it’s great.

NS: Yeah, I enjoy it. I’m one of their only curvy models at the Academy of Art so…

JY: What about the others?

NS: They’re thinner, they’re older… I think I might be the first younger of the curvier. But all the instructors and students really love me. They’re always, like, “We want Nicole Simone back!” so it’s kind of fun. I enjoy it. It’s good. It’s a good experience and it pays the bills so that’s nice.

JY: What were you like before you discovered dancing and the confidence you gained through it? Did you have another outlet?

NS: Yeah, I just wasn’t sure where I belonged, you know? I was just kind of here, existing, not really feeling a part of anything. I have a background of being an athlete and playing sports and I’ve had knee injuries so I’ve kind of had to let go of that dream ‘cause of the recurring injuries I have on my knees and so, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I loved playing sports so much and it was a great way of keeping me in shape and thick and hot.

JY: What sport were you into?

NS: Softball. Yeah, softball and swimming were my two things. But then in 2000 I stumbled upon belly dancing and thought, “What is this magical performance art? These women–they’re all different shapes and sizes and they’re loving their bodies and it’s like a sisterhood.” I was, like, I get to be a part of this.


JY: Does belly dancing encourage a diversity of people more than other dance forms?

NS: Well, belly dancing is definitely an art form that is accepting of all sizes and shapes. I think what I’ve really enjoyed about doing it is that it didn’t put too much stress on my knee. I could be free to express my emotions through movement and know that I was in a safe place, that no one would judge me. Actually, it’s almost like the curvier you are, the more beautiful the movements are because it’s a lot of hips and shimmying and it’s just really beautiful to see that. It’s just been something… I haven’t been able to do it for a little while because I’ve been focusing a lot of my time on modeling but I’ve slowly started training and taking dance classes again. I’ve been doing it off and on for fifteen years so I feel like it’s always in me, to just come back! [laughs]

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JY: How did you discover IGIGI?

NS: I would say about three years ago through Plus Model Magazine actually. I thought, “Wow, these clothes are beautiful.” I needed a dress for a wedding so I was looking and saw the Ambrosia Dress in black. I just was in love with it. I had to buy it. It’s still one of my favorite dresses today. The one thing I did notice is that the clothing sizes run actually big. Generally… right now I’m 18 but I can fit into size 12. So I noticed that they do run a little bigger but I mean, hey, I still fit it. I don’t care. A number’s just a number to me. What I care about is the fit on my body and how I look. I think the quality of the material is fantastic. When I go to spend the money before the outfit, I don’t feel like I’m spending too much on something that isn’t quality. I think the quality matches the price.

JY: How would you describe your own personal style?

NS: I’ve always been drawn to the pin-up style. The very form-fitting pencil skirts, cute tops. It’s still something I always lean towards. I try to step outside of the box and try new things, like half-circle skirts. I’m always afraid… I think, “Isn’t that going to make my hips look bigger?” but then it’s like, you know, I’m going to try new things.


JY: Do you mean the pin-ups of the 1950s?

NS: Like, ‘50s. I like of the era styles. I mean, I really love the ‘20s and ‘30s but the outfits on those eras aren’t very shapely so I tend to go a little more to the ‘50s with the cute cigarette pants, the pencil skirts and the high-waisted belts. I think it’s just a very flattering style for my figure. I feel sexy and confident in it but I also feel I look classy, too. Like, I could go to a corporate job if I was still working and wear that outfit but I could also go out.

JY: Do you follow any style icons? Does belly dancing influence your style at all?

NS: I would say belly dancing influences the jewelry I tend to wear. I love that tribal, bohemian… the heavy jewelry.

JY: You wear it with your pin-up clothes?

NS: Sometimes I do. But the way I’ll style it will look like it just goes. I always have a mix of everything I like infused into my style. But the belly dancing… usually my style comes out on stage, you know, in my costume and my designs. I’m very influenced by old Hollywood actresses like Mae West. She was very curvy for her time. I’ve been kind of getting dubbed as this “Modern Day Mae” with some of my new photos. I did a photoshoot last year and I did an ode to Mae West. I kind of had the whole look of her and everything. I actually did a belly dance performance where I was Mae West on stage. She’s someone I really admire and I love the way she dresses. The dresses she wears–oh my god. She’s quite the saucy woman. But, you know, I follow styles… I’ll get inspired by that show, Mad Men. Christina Hendrix. I love the way she dresses and I always look outside of the show to see what she wears on a daily basis. I always tend to look at women who shaped like me because my waist is so small and my hips are so much larger. I’m always looking for women who have a figure like mine that I can see how they wear clothes and how their clothes look on them.


JY: Do you have any tips for other women with your body shape?

NS: I would say for me, I always dress in what is form-fitting. What I try to never do is hide my waist because I feel like my waist is the highlight on my figure. It’s small in comparison to my chest and hips. I tend to wear form-fitted shirts and skirts that are high-waisted that I can bring up or maybe accentuate with a belt. I tend to wear just a lot of pencil skirts or cigarette pants or dresses like the Ambrosia (that I wore for the #MODELIGIGI contest) that are just super elegant, sexy, and form-fitting. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try new things. I’m still trying new things–full skirts, half-circle skirts to play. I think half-circle skirts would look really nice, too, because when you look up it’ll still make your waist look smaller.

JY: What else would you like to share with our IGIGI audience?

NS: Confidence is key no matter what size you are. I think if you just own who you are and continue to work on yourself, whatever that may be… Confidence is the number-one thing to keep you happy. I think balance for me is really key in life. To keep my ego in check, to be compassionate, to stay balanced and I think being just well-rounded in all those areas–self-love comes naturally. I don’t fight that. I really try to live this “Zen” motto, I guess. That keeps me away from a lot of the negativity that the world wants to, like, shoot at me all the time and I think that way I’m just constantly working on myself. If you have self-love you have confidence, you know? It kind of comes hand-in-hand. I’m at a point in my life where I’m actually the heaviest I’ve ever been and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful. It doesn’t mean that I can’t still model or pursue my dreams. Someone out there is going to appreciate me. So I just continue to work on myself and work on my path but continue to have the confidence all the way through. Keeps me happy.



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