Marina Bulatkina: Dancing Queen

Posted by on February 27, 2015





It’s winter in San Francisco but it’s possible to go outdoors and stay warm from walking while just wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Relaxed with tousled, blond hair, Marina Bulatkina has a sweet, angelic face that compulsively breaks into laughter. As she furnishes her portfolio to share an array of her photography, it becomes clear that she has a disposition well suited for adulthood: self-embracing, principled, open, and prepared. Coupled with a relaxed inflection in her Russian accent, the effect is lovely. The interview moves simply with sensible points in a way that Marina picks and chooses to keep on track. Her calm, leonine trait surfaces throughout our interview as she explores the duality between her academic background (both of her parents have PhDs in math) and her visual, artistic aspirations. Dancing is her credo (or “church,” as she likes to put it. “Dancing church”). Marina gets to split her life between Russia, where she grew up, and New York, where she moved in 2007 to kickstart her fashion career. 

Making your clothes
Marina notes that her mother taught her the importance of knowing your figure and knowing how to make your own clothes. As she was endowed with height and muscles from skiing and ballroom dancing, it was difficult for her to find clothes that properly fit: “[My mother] was always creative. She has the same body type as I do so she taught me how to sew clothes.”

The right moves
“Dancing was my hobby. It was my escape. Escape with my time, time for myself. I danced with a partner, I danced by myself. I competed as a ballroom dancer with my partner. So it was something very important. I started at the age of nine and I trained three times a week. So, I moved here, age of 21-22. I even teach on the side. It really built my confidence ‘cause a model has to be confident. There is no unconfident model, especially plus-size. How you sit, how you hold your posture. That’s very important for a model as well. Second, it’s the moves. I learned how to move my body. I learned how to do poses. And when I did my first shoot, like my really first shoot with a professional photographer, my agent, my first agent was there and she’s like, ‘Oh, my god. You move perfectly. Like you did it for a long time. You need to work on your faces.’ [laughs] That’s something that I had to learn, you know.”

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Staying upbeat
When asked about how she feels about the plus-size modeling industry, Marina remains positive amidst the melee of the fashion world: “You always hear something bad, a controversy but people want to talk about everything. It’s [usually] not related to the real situation. The real situation is really good and I’m happy. I’m very happy with my agency, Muse Management.”

Support for local artists and designers
She has a no-barred admiration for small entrepreneurs who are starting off: “Yeah, small entrepreneurs bring some new, crazy ideas that work. It amazes me how they bring changes. They bring new, fresh air to the industry, such as new photographers. These photographers, Rafael Clemente and Victoria Janashvilli, were my favorites to work with.”

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Following your instinct

“Follow your guts. Follow what you love to do. Follow what you love to try ‘cause I didn’t make it from the first year as a model. I didn’t make it. Of course it was challenging. There were always ups and downs. Sometimes you feel like, ‘Oh my god, I booked this job. I booked a magazine cover. Oh, it’s so great and I made it. I’m on the flight.” Other times you feel, ‘I don’t think I’m pretty at all.’ It happens in everybody’s life. We are all like that, even models. I talk to other models and they all, even the most successful ones, feel that way sometimes.”

Personal compass

Sometimes it’s in your family, the spirituality. Or religion is, kind of. My parents are scientists so… [laughs] I go dancing. That’s my church. I call it my dancing church. I definitely feel better when I go dancing, when I go to the gym. It brings you back on track, to the right mood. Also, sports and reading good books. I think it’s very important to continue reading books.”

–Jane Yu, staff at IGIGI

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Catherine Schuller: A Self-Made Woman with Music in her Steps

Posted by on February 20, 2015




igigi blue dress cs

It’s the kind of rainy day that qualifies for an umbrella when Catherine Schuller arrives at IGIGI’s headquarters, swaddled yet luminous in a black trench coat, scarf, and a topped cowboy hat with a feather, the latter (borrowed from her driver) matching her ensemble with the same rightness as a monocle bestows on a detective. She shakes off the mist outside as if dusting off lint and we finally greet each other after a few months of correspondence for IGIGI’s signature styling program (coming soon!). A hug, pecks on the cheek. Despite a five-hour flight from New York, Catherine looks pulled together, stepping in a languid yet confident pace. She channels a mystical energy from the multitude of jeweled rings on her fingers to the saucy, sunlit waves fanning her face like a sleight of hand. American Hustle comes to mind and if the way we walked were a testament to our prowess, Catherine carries the spirit of music. I can’t help but murmur, “You look great,” as I take her all in, standing nearly six feet tall in high heels.” She beams. “Thank you.”

As she picks out IGIGI clothes for her two seminars in San Francisco that weekend, our customer service manager, Brandi, joins her and the two are delighted to re-connect. Like any image consultant, Catherine has loads of advice about styling and body awareness. The right fit is key. Activating your style comes with knowing your figure first. Don’t hide your best parts. Her definition: style is being yourself on purpose. Herein lies the charm. In practice, all of this translates effectively as she offers solutions and methods without platitudes or cheerleader rah-rah. She looks at you seriously in the eye and you also feel a similar reverence for your body as a temple, one that deserves the same thoughtfulness and loving attention you’d give to arranging succulent plants for a wedding. Physically demonstrative, Catherine gestures to Brandi about what works for her body type and identifies the correct kind of drape and material to enhance her curves. As equals, they look together for outfits that Brandi can model for Catherine’s seminar.

Catherine is what some would call a magnetic force field, with a crescent smile and Joan Crawford-like cheekbones. At 18, she voyaged to New York, a place she frequented during her college years for a drummer boyfriend. Educated but with an ear to the street, she had a rolodex of friends in the Warhol crowd and proliferating music scenes where she eventually met the nascent frontwoman of Blondie. Yes, that punk band. Don’t let me give you any more spoilers, though. Although the structure of this interview is a Q & A, Catherine writes like Jack Kerouac, narrating her adventures in an honest, moving, and loosely confessional way. She has the right amount of self-examination and momentum, switching gears when it’s the right time. The manifesto of her life unfolds generously and we hear, emphatically, how she staked her multi-dimensional success from her initial setbacks.

1. You initially started off wanting to be an actress and a comedian but had to pave your own way and ended up into the fashion industry instead. What were the reasons for your wanting to pursue a career in media in the first place? Did you have any hesitation because of the lack of “ordinary” representation at the time in terms of body size and diversity?

I originally came to New York City with my then-boyfriend from Pittsburgh, PA. Billy O’Connor was the best drummer in my hometown and I was tired of going to hear him play cover tunes at mixers and frat parties and weddings. He was too good and was considering a career in music and we talked about going to NYC to audition for a few original bands. I took my dad’s car for the day and drove like crazy to NYC and dropped him off at a friend’s loft in Greenwich Village. He managed to get a few auditions for new and upcoming bands and finally landed a spot in the Stillettoes, an early punk band before punk was punk. One of the girl singers was Debbie Harry who quickly dominated the group and soon became lead singer and changed the name to Blondie.

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(Bill and Debbie, 1989)

It was an exciting time in NYC. CBGB’s was just forming and Max’s Kansas City and all the bands who came out of that were playing nightly around the downtown scene. I was instantly addicted to the creativity and self-made aspect of what they were doing. The movement caught on and everyone was coming down to check out the bands. I was the first person to see the Ramones play and I thought they were awful. However, the next night, David Bowie came down to check it out and said, “This is going to be the next BIG THING!”  I thought, I’d better pay attention if Ziggy Stardust likes it….I was hanging out with all the Warhol people and got to know Debbie pretty well and all the different players were so fascinating at that time. I thought I had better not just be “the drummer’s girlfriend.” I started to study acting and put my portfolio together, but I knew I was not your typical model body type. I also played the violin but not well enough to join a band. Also, I was still in college as a junior and visiting Billy on a regular basis every month, watching him rehearse and play. I was trying to figure out how to get to NYC after I graduated so it was important to see how he was progressing as I thought he’d be my way in upon finishing college. I had actually auditioned for Debbie when she was putting the girl group aspect of the Stillettoes together. I asked to join and she said, “Too bad you have to go back to Pittsburgh.” I don’t think my mother would have understood my quitting school to join the NY punk rock scene! I shouldn’t have stayed on the sidelines when Debbie decided to form Blondie. We liked each other but I was ten years younger than she was and too reticent to really “include myself”….Too bad I didn’t become a photographer, grab a camera and start archiving everything I saw in those early years.  I would be a millionaire in archival footage because I was in all the right places.

debbie with david bowie      Blondie1977

(Debbie and Bowie, 1989)

When I did finally graduate in May, I moved up to New York in June and started taking acting classes and putting my portfolio together. I was told at every turn that I had to lose weight as I was 5’10” and 160 pounds. Every agency told me that I needed to get down to at least 120 and my body just wouldn’t go below 140. I went to Ford and one of the bookers in the agency told me to lose 50 pounds and turned around. She literally told me I was “too heavy” and walked back to her desk, leaving me dumbfounded and ashamed. I tried to do what they wanted, but it was a real struggle and even though I was taking dance class and doing everything I could to diet, it was frustrating. I was taking acting classes at the time and got into a few plays and realized that without the demon camera reminding me of my size, I could play any role I was suited for as long as it was my character type. I also learned that I was funny and could make people laugh. Comedy became my forte and I met a few fellow actors and we formed a group called THE NERVE! I thought up that name because I wanted to find the nerve to be myself. I realized that my outcast state of size rejection probably was counterpart to a lot of people not “finding their place” because they didn’t conform to what was the flavor of the month in the entertainment business.

I quickly learned that being yourself is the best way to go ….get known for being who you are and you will define your own category. Debbie Harry was 5’2” and look at the style icon she has become over the past forty years! She etched out her own niche and became the only one of her kind. Much better way to go. So, I was piecing all the lessons together and comedy writing and performing were something I enjoyed because they were creative outlets and something I could control. Build it and they will come. We performed for about six years and I was asked to become a model at Ford during my time on the stage. When they told me I should model I said, “You should write for my act!” But I did check out the possibility and went back to the same agency that had rejected me three years ago, went one flight up to the Special Sizes Division and was signed immediately. I asked them why the booker downstairs hadn’t told me about the plus-size industry that was just forming. Teresa Zazarra who everyone called “T” simply said, “She probably didn’t want to offend you…” Oh yeah, telling me to go lose 40 pounds wasn’t offensive??? Any way, I was well on my way to creating my own path and I never looked back.  I even had to pad up for a few jobs…got my portfolio together and the clients were rolling in to the industry. I was one of the first models for the A&S Department store launch of the Liz Claiborne line, Elisabeth. I could see the future and it was looming large…

I was acting and modeling and doing my comedy review. I moved into Manhattan Plaza, the artist’s complex on West 43rd Street, continued dancing and auditioning. I joined Screen Actors Guild and was on my way, carving out my journey. I realized I was a role model early on when I walked the runway and women would stand up and really cheer for me….especially when I was walking with the straight size models. I felt like an underdog, though, in the overall fashion industry. But we were the darlings of the industry because the retail world was in a recession and they realized that 45 million women were being underserved.  They started to design clothing that was proportioned just for us…Liz Claiborne was an important first because that was truly a designer who was paying attention to potential customers who she could have felt would bastardize her brand. But she also saw the money on the table and it was realized when her numbers improved 14% immediately upon doing the Elisabeth line.

catherine_and_tom_full_length_duo    catherine 1989 purple ensemble

(Catherine Schuller, 1989)

2. Do you have any advice you’d like to share about body standards and acceptance? What was the environment you grew up in and how were you able to refine your own confidence?

We had a very narrow ideal about what was acceptable as a model’s size. Twiggy was a huge phenomenon and actually was much thinner than the models at the time… I think the designers embraced the straight up-and-down body (it was much easier to design for someone with no curves in the way) and somehow it was acceptable to starve yourself to fit in. It was the days of trend dictation; everyone was wearing the exact same thing in the exact same way. Designers were very powerful and had immense clout in the ’70s. It was difficult to get them to see another standard of beauty. You could just feel the prejudice. Like, as if we would lose weight if we wanted to be accepted. That we “let ourselves go” and were out of control. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I dieted and exercised, took dance classes, rode a bike around Manhattan, and the best I could do was be a size 14. Well, go figure!! I was raised in an environment where my mother did not want me to be obsessed with my outward looks and she felt my eating disorder was something she didn’t want to deal with and never spoke to me about it. Of course, she was of the generation that didn’t discuss sex with their children, any emotional issues, any “problems” one might have had. It wasn’t dealt with, you were just supposed to conform as best you could and not think about the ramifications. I was fortunate I had wonderful sisters and aunts who were role models for me. They told me I was smart and pretty and funny. My brother, on the other hand, always teased and bullied me. I had a lot of mixed messages in those days. I said I emerged victoriously late in life, almost in spite of all the negative comments I was forced to endure. I said I was “bullied into greatness.” I spent a lot of time enjoying the art in myself and learning to be my own best friend and didn’t really need anyone’s approval and started saying that I enjoyed my own company. People love people who love themselves first. I learned that I was very non co-dependent and that was probably my most attractive trait. I had zero neediness.

3. How have you managed to whittle down all the different styles women can have into 5 categories? Do you think it’s important to stay consistent in your style or to change it up?

I actually came up with five different body shapes first because my mantra was “Know Your Shape, Show Your Shape.” I realized that women needed to understand their figure types before they could achieve balance and proportion in their clothing choices. The style types emerged because the clothes needed to have a message that was consistent with the inner spirit of the wearer. The full-figured woman was really my target for my early image consulting work and I realized that all I had studied at Parsons School of Design after my modeling career was about the missy customer. No one was addressing the plus-size client as a fashion icon in her own right. You know what they say about riches and niches. Once I found that the woman I was as a model was as forgotten in the fashion world as the modeling world, I became a role model and an image consultant, empowering my clients with image based principles that helped them work with who they were inside and out and what they wanted to achieve in their careers and lives. I always create these little sayings that act like laser beams into the psyche.  I said that, “Style was being yourself on purpose” and I was helping women discover what their purpose was. My first company was Emerging Visions Enterprises and the acronym was E.V.E.  My press kit said, “All About Eve.” I figure she was an iconic woman who wasn’t a size 6 and certainly wasn’t afraid to take a bite out of something!!

So, the five style categories grew out of the studies I did at Parsons with the brilliant book program Style Source and the Universal Style program. That platform identifies the modern styles for women and even men. The approach has a lot to do with your personality, your goals, how you see yourself within the world. It helps define and align who you are and what you want. The five styles are Natural/Sporty, Traditional/Elegant, Romantic/Feminine, Dramatic/Alluring and Creative/Artistic. There is an assessment that you as the image consultant give the client and their style type emerges from the answers they give. No one is just one style for the most part. We are three dimensional creatures and we have hybrid styles that are a combination of the core classic and subcore traits. For example, if you have a casual lifestyle but enjoy showing off the contours of your body, you’d be Natural/Sporty (core) and Dramatic/Alluring (subcore)…there are a lot of different combinations with identifiable traits from the garments so that one’s clothing is truly reflective of what their style is. It’s a fascinating system and makes wardrobe building and pairing a lot easier once you do everything with those guidelines. Just as you should always complement (not cover up) your shape, you should complement your inner spirit by wearing what’s appropriate to your lifestyle activities and goals.

I have always been a Dramatic/Alluring and Creative/Artistic type. I never feel comfortable unless I wear clothes that speak to that style. So, I change up my look but if you notice it’s always based on a combination of those styles and has been that way since I first moved to NYC. I may dress for a role that could be Traditional,  but my true essence is more eclectic, free-spirited and unique.

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(Catherine wearing IGIGI)

4. You’ve really done a lot of things–fashion design, modeling, image consulting, comedy, etc. Which form of self-expression makes the most sense to you and who you are?

That’s a great question.  Someone asked me what I do and I said, “On which day?”  I find that as I’ve gone through all the various phases of what I did, I had the umbrella of “plus” to contain it under. And I didn’t throw the baby out with the bath; I just added to the bath water.  Like, I used to tell people if you want change, that’s good, but take yourself with the change and don’t change the chicken, change the pot! I now am a Fashion Curator and created an entity called Runway the Real Way… just like what it sounds like–fashion for the rest of us.  This job is the sum total of all I have studied and experienced.  It’s a combination of modeling, styling, inventing, writing, always keeping myself upbeat and lighthearted all through the trials and tribulations.  ‘Cause none of this should be an excuse to beat yourself up more.  I wouldn’t be a very good role model if I didn’t walk the walk, and talk the talk. I am constantly trying to TRUST more and not plan too much. I get it organized and then let ‘er rip. I find that leaves room for the universe to surprise me and send a few daily miracles my way. And I LOVE NEW YORK…it’s always been my sandbox and playground. I get a kick out of how challenging it can be, but how worth the lessons you learn are. Like the song says, “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…”

5. Can you give us an example of how your own personal style evolved? Is there a stark contrast from how you dressed then to how you dress now? What were some of the styling methods you honed and how did you figure out what worked for you and what didn’t? Did it take several years?

My mother was a great seamstress and I used to sew my own clothes and that freed me up to be very creative.  My favorite pastime was to look through pattern books in the department store (the stores had fabric departments in those days) and buy remnants for next to nothing and make my own clothes. I had the most amazing wardrobe; I shopped thrift shops and put together these really inexpensive funky looks that were so interesting. High school was just a big fashion show for me. I learned a lot about image and perception. I had people asking me to shop for them and do their makeup when I was 14…. It just came naturally to me. I really wanted to go into fashion and move to New York and go to a fashion school but my guidance counselor met with my mother and told her my grades were too high to go into fashion. I was crestfallen. I had to go to college, so I studied Psychology and Music.  I feel like those were wasted years, but I really graduated when I moved to NYC and took advantage of the life my boyfriend was living (and I had helped him get to NYC, so I felt justified…) I always had a personal style and had my clothing reflect that. Clothing was hard to find then, too, cause I was plus-size – all of 145 and 5’10”….and the pants were too short, etc.  So, sewing was a great way to make things fit properly.  And then I started plus modeling and hardly ever wore clothing in those days that expressed who I was and what I was trying to do in the world.  The plus-size stuff was caftans, muu muus and not tailored at all….some brands were great like Tomatsu but I could fit into straight size 14s so I mostly shopped large missy sizes.  I felt as though the plus-size industry didn’t realize this customer was younger. The clothes were so matronly in those days…and like I said before, no one thought we were fashionable because their notion was, if we really wanted to fit in to the fashion scene, we would have lost weight…

6. What are some of the takeaways from your seminar in SF (for the people who weren’t able to make it)?

I taught two seminars over the weekend…. One on helping image consultants understand who the plus size image client is and how to service her. I basically taught my Figure&Fit and Shape Shopping program (horizontal proportions) and taught them about the Fashion Fit Formula (which is the vertical proportions) as well as exposing them to sizing chart differentials, shopping and retail resources, and the overall philosophy and approach to wardrobe building for this double digit diva. I gave an overview of my journey, my career and how I made it work to help educate and elevate this customer. I said in the past we would Segregate and Elevate the plus-size woman, telling her to come into the plus-size department and put her up on a pedestal and tell her she is different and special. But now we are in the age of Integrate. I love what I am doing with my Fashion Curating which I’ve named Runway the Real Way.  Innovative Integration, Fashion Diversity on the Inclusive Catwalk. All ages, sizes, shapes, genders, heights, ethnicities, nationalities, persuasions. We all need to celebrate our individuality and that fact that we embrace our differences and highlight those as assets, not fitting in to some drab conformity that we don’t understand even.

Teaching them about who this woman is really fascinates me. I’m talking about respect and honor and acceptance and seeing a different interpretation of beauty because style has nothing to do with size. Especially opening them up to shopping for shape and style across the current brands. Sizing charts are confusing, measuring is sensitive, etc.  I ended the first day with a mini fashion show using two models, one woman’s petite size 18 and 5’3″ and Brandi, who works in the Igigi headquarters, who is a beautiful, tall size 24/26.  The image consultants really appreciated seeing IGIGI’s clothing and how it was designed with details to emphasize and detract from figure features… I had just finished doing a review of the points of illusion dressing and how you can use vertical lines, convergent and divergent stripes, pattern placement and minimize volume and streamline and take the eye where you want it to go when you are dressing for all the differentials.  It was a great tie in and illustrated the points of my talk beautifully…


(Model wearing IGIGI)

The other seminar I taught was on Runway the Real Way and how to produce fashion events for fun and profit. I have produced over 60 shows and realize that diversity rules… not only in the style of clothing, but in the models themselves. I have a very ecumenical approach and it is really so far away from the one-size-fits-none mentality…. we are individual and unique and we should learn to complement, not cover up. The Curvy Cooperative is something I’ve always wanted to start. The motto is “Because Unity is a  Plus”… it occurs to me everyday and I put it into practice in my daily life and my philosophical meanderings.

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–Jane Yu, staff at IGIGI

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Who’s that woman? The Layered Charms of Naimah Terry

Posted by on February 6, 2015





A viewer’s first impression of a model is always based on his or her ancillary looks and not necessarily what lies beneath. Although Naimah delivers well in her modeling career–you know her sunny face from the lookbooks for IGIGI’s website–as raw material, she is also a professor’s dream: industrious, resourceful, grounded, and well, lovely to behold. Naimah graduated from Rutgers with a BA in Public Planning and Policy, concentrating in Community and Real Estate Development. She is pro-active in community development where her portfolio boasts a successful modeling career alongside other key areas she’s focused on, such as education, youth programs and leadership mentoring. She is humble yet confident in her own skin, parlaying her intelligence and resolve in an almost discreet approach to fashion. In fact, even her website is a call to action for community development and raising political awareness whereas other model portfolios often focus only on what the model is known for: her surface.

We picked Naimah’s brain via email which she courteously responded to. Instead of flinging around opinions, she gave us her honest thoughts about the term “plus-size” as well as navigating the industry.

1. Do you consider modeling your side career or your full career? What are some challenges you’ve faced as a model?

Modeling is my career. I’ve been professionally modeling for about 2 years now and I love it! I’m at a point in my career where I see endless opportunities and I’m preparing my body, my mind, and soul to get ready for the next level. One challenge of being a plus-size model is finding the right balance of cardio and weightlifting workouts that keep me healthy and toned, but also allow me to keep my measurements consistent. My print clients hire me at a certain clothing size to represent their brands and my fit clients hire me at very specific measurements for producing their garments.

2. What is something that you wished you knew about modeling before you got into it? Did you hesitate in your decision to becoming a professional model? If so, why?

I only wish I would have known that I could be a professional plus model earlier. Once I realized this could be a career I went full force with networking, developing myself, my portfolio, and my skills and never looked back.

3. What do you think about the distinction of the term “plus-size”? Do you wish the fashion industry didn’t make this distinction and just called you a model?

I embrace being plus size and the use of the term! It’s all I’ve known! Growing up I went from a kids 14 to women’s 14… There was no in-between for me. So from a very young age I can remember shopping in a little section of the store for my size and I never saw any advertisements of models who looked like me! However, just last week I walked into Newport mall in my hometown of Jersey City, NJ and the first advertisement I saw hanging from the ceiling was Julie Henderson for Lane Bryant in active wear. Then I walk into Macy’s and see Ashley Graham. The level of excitement and how proud I am to be apart of a movement that is so empowering is un-explainable at times. Regardless of what we call it, I’m so happy young girls and women are starting to see women who look like them so they can be confident in who they are.

4. As your portfolio shows a strong education background, what policies would you implement if you could influence fashion education?

Honestly, I think there are companies who are getting it right, like IGIGI, that know how to design for a woman to look and feel confident and beautiful!  However, images we see in the media affect how we view and love ourselves. The marketing issue today is that companies need to show a wider array of body types in their clothing. This way, all customers can relate and feel comfortable purchasing clothing, no matter their size of body shape.

5. How does your spirituality (you said in another interview that you’re a Muslim woman) influence your fashion? Does it liberate or restrict you in some ways?

I dress modestly! While I don’t wear a hijab or other traditional attire, Islam has taught me that my beauty and confidence should radiate from within. While I do love a good body con dress, I dress appropriate for the occasion and I don’t wear mini shirts or show a lot of skin. I wear lots of layers because my body temperature is comparable to a woman in menopause (laughs) but I like to be covered. Honestly, modeling dictates my attire the most because most of my days are running around from fit client to fit client in NY so the most important part of my outfit is my seamless nude undergarments and black tights and a tank. When I attend print castings, I wear something that shows off my body type, but is also conservative and classy.

–Jane Yu, staff at IGIGI

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Behind the scenes: Denise Bidot

Posted by on January 9, 2015




She looked like someone I wanted to know. 

Her name was Ms. Paola and I felt a pang of yearning when our class was divided and I was assigned to another teacher. What I really wanted was to look at her, look upon her perfection without hurry, now a difficult wish since I wasn’t her student. With her elevated cheekbones, golden complexion, full figure, and stick straight, milk chocolate-y hair, she exuded eternal sunniness in the way a fountain self-replenishes but beguiles us into reaching for its full outpouring. In other words, she glowed. I was so shy around her beauty that I couldn’t really look at her when she walked past me during recess, and so maybe some of what I’ve come to remember of her is from my imagination. As I carried on past second grade, into the complexities of adulthood, Ms. Paola has forever remained mysterious and alluring, a celebration for my child lenses, when I didn’t measure beauty but took in its essence, unfiltered. 

It is now December 17th, 2014. I don’t know Denise Bidot before entering the room at the Hotel Majestic where the photoshoot is going to take place. I hear her voice–smooth with a hint of mischief–before I really see her face. There’s something authentic about a disembodied voice, where all you have to take in is the rhythm of the person’s cadence, and I like the way she talks. She sounds like a woman who has a lot of strong friendships. Her hair cascades in curls which the make-up artist teases into a relaxed French twist. I fan myself out on the couch and have an informal banter with her while looking up at the ceiling, where we both toss up questions of when breakfast or lunch is coming. When she adjusts herself on the chair and into the morning light, I catch a better glimpse of her and feel a jolt of nostalgia. I am struck by the immediacy of her beauty. 

We do end up getting layered sandwiches for lunch and I catch my opportunity when we’re all sated. The second session is underway and amidst the chaos where photographer and director wax aesthetics, Denise is still goofy and unfazed, letting the conversation happen organically. When our time is up, I thank her for making the process so easy. She laughs and shakes her head. “Oh, I could talk all day.”  –Jane Yu, staff at IGIGI


Jane Yu: What were your thoughts on the fashion industry before you began modeling and were doing freelance makeup for photo shoots? How have your thoughts on the industry changed?

Denise Bidot: Well, it’s been almost a decade. I just feel like growing up it’s very easy to interpret the fashion industry as just being one-sided and being petite. So when I was doing make-up, and I was approached to go into modeling, and I was asked, “Have you ever thought of being a model?” obviously the natural response was, “Absolutely not.” I’m not necessarily extremely tall. I’m not petite in frame. So I just couldn’t believe that there was a place for me. Like, I never knew about plus-size modeling. I had no idea it existed. I had no clue that it could be something that I would fit into, and so it worked out amazingly. It’s been eight years. It is a great industry, and it’s changed so much in the time I’ve been in it. I remember when I first started it was all kind of, like, you got older and you got bigger. That was almost the interpretation. But so much, you know, the average American woman being a size 14 has showed people that you’re not only bigger when you’re older. There are young girls… and we want to be trendy, and we want to be fashionable, and we want to be able to look and feel good. So, I ‘ve seen such a  huge change in the eight years that I’ve been a part of it. There are cool, trendy options for us, and high-end designers are now starting to design for plus sizes. I had the opportunity to walk in the New York Fashion Week. Also, I travel the world living a dream that I had no idea I have ever wanted. So, it’s been a complete blessing. The fashion industry totally shocked me because as superficial as I’d originally thought it might have been growing up, it’s the complete opposite. I found myself through fashion, and I learned to be confident through it. You know, I saw pictures that people saw, and it made sense, and so I’m very thankful to my fashion industry.

JY: You’re a pioneer.

DB: It’s like, it molded me into the woman I am. I don’t know who I would be without it. It’s crazy.

JY: How would you define fashion then?

DB: Well, it’s hard to define fashion because fashion is ever changing. I don’t think there’s ever, like, a real, proper way to define it. I feel like style is something different, though. Style is like the way you carry yourself, and the way you feel in your clothes. Part of being a powerful woman is finding your own personal style and really, just, owning it and being confident within it.

JY: I do see that people’s styles evolve as their personalities change. Do you also see a transition in the clothing you wore prior to your being a model?

DB: Oh my god, yeah. I’m from Miami and so it’s… Miami people, like, match everything, from their shoes to their purses and their belts and you know, I definitely grew up with that full Spanish mentality. Moving from Miami to LA, I learned a lot about being more minimal and finding things that suited my frame better. And then moving to New York it’s all, like, cool and stylish and classy but edgy, and so I like the fact that I’ve gotten to travel the world because I’ve gotten to see the world’s fashion style, if that makes sense. I’ve definitely gotten cooler through being in this industry. I was not so cool before. [laughs]

JY: Clothing as transformation?

DB: You know, I feel like, I’m a woman. I found, you know, my voice and my confidence throughout fashion, and so of course now, I feel a little bit different in my own skin which changes the way you feel about fashion and style as well.

JY: How would you describe the difference between a girl versus a woman?

DB: Well, you know, girls are… I feel like there’s always a constant growth process, and you’re always ever-changing as a woman. Even when you think you’re a grown woman you’re not really ever grown or fully matured. There’s always something to learn or adventures to be had, and lessons to be learned. But, I truly believe that transition happens, and you don’t even notice it. I remember that recently I was just talking to my friend about it, and I looked in the mirror, and I felt like a woman. You know, I don’t know what it is. At some point you lose your baby fat and you start…

JY: What age was this?

DB: Like, a few months ago.

[Both laugh]

DB: Like, recently, girl. And I remember telling my mom, “Oh my god. I feel like a woman.” Like, it’s the first time I looked at myself, and I didn’t see like, a growing little girl, or someone who was just kind of like, insecure or not sure about what her actions should be. I felt like for the first time I was like, fully aware of who I am, what I wanted and how to do it. I think that’s kind of where it starts. And then you go through that, and you grow within that, and all of a sudden you are a powerful…

JY: Woman.

DB: Lady. [laughs] And I think there’s something really special about discovering your potential because we’re powerful as women.



JY: Any role models you look up to?

DB: I’m really biased. I love Jennifer Lopez. But I think that’s just a part of my upbringing. I’m really happy to have that many role models who I felt like not only represented the Latina women but also like, the curvy Latina woman. So people like her and Penelope Cruz and you know I love Drew Barrymore. I think there are just so many women who are awesome ambassadors for just being yourself and being cool and doing just all sort of different things. I just admire a funny, confident, sassy woman and hopefully I’m that person. [laughs]

JY: You embody all that, definitely.

DB: I think there’s something really sexy about being funny and being quirky and weird. I think we’re in a generation where we’re accepting weirdness and individuality, and I think that’s the most important part.

JY: Have you seen the step away from conventional beauty?

DB: Absolutely. I mean, I remember you know, you have… it was very black and white. And you’ve seen so many models like Kara Develingne who’s like a straight size model. She’s got the big, bushy eyebrows, and you’ve got the girl who’s got the gap in between her teeth. I think people are really starting to embrace things that wouldn’t normally have been thought of as beautiful and realizing that those things are exactly the things that make you beautiful. The imperfections are perfect. Yeah, and so…

JY: Cool. If you could fill this out, what would you say: People think I’m ‘blank,’ but I’m actually ‘blank.’

DB: People think I’m cool, but I’m actually a nerd.

JY: What are you nerdy about?

DB: I’m just really goofy and silly, and I think like a boy and so, I’m kind of like the girl who likes to watch, like, ‘Family Guy’ and basketball games but still really loves heels.

JY: Speaking of… I overheard you saying earlier that you have a high arch so you prefer walking around in really tall heels.

DB: Yeah. I really have a high arch, so I think I was meant for fashion. My feet hurt when I wear flats. It’s terrible.

JY: So I looked at your past, and it looks like you were initially more interested in acting. And now that you’re modeling… how are you able to translate that perspective into modeling?

DB: Well, I think you couldn’t really be a great model unless you were a good actress because so much of modeling is really you bringing out whatever character or dimension the client wants. And if you don’t really have a personality, or you don’t have a way to get into character, you’re not really going to do a good job on that.

JY: Were you shy at first?

DB: I wasn’t necessarily shy, but I was kind of in a transition period where I had wanted to act, and I was told no because of my size. Then I went into make-up, and so I was kind of trying to find myself. So when I started modeling I had no clue what I was doing. I just used to play music, and I danced around, and I initially was just… trial and error. Yeah, I saw pictures that didn’t look good, and I realized why, and I never did that again. And I just continued to grow and learn like the women who were out there doing it. Yeah, I’m always… and you know, I’m really sassy and confident when I’m in front of a camera but in the real world, I’m quite shy.



JY: Really? How about this setting we’re in?

DB: I’m really quirky and shy. No, we’re on set. It’s a different dynamic. I know I’m here to do something, and these are people that I also know. When first coming and meeting someone without all of this it’s totally different. I’m a mom. You know, I’m realistic, and I’m running around and content in my own bubble. Especially when I meet a cute boy, I’m the shyest person in the world. Look, I have like, zero game.

JY: I don’t know if we believe that.

DB: Zero game. Tell that to my four-year long single streak. When have you ever seen me have a boyfriend?

JY: But then I feel like you’re… you just don’t want a boyfriend.

DB: I’m just shy and awkward. I have no game. Like, you know that game thing? Like, I don’t have that. Yeah, this is it. This is a set ‘cause it’s an act. You know, it’s acting. I enjoy it but…

JY: I know your daughter is still budding but what parallels do you see between her and you already?

DB: Oh my god, she’s as sassy as I am now but at her age. I was really weird then, you know, at, six years old… I was like, super awkward. And so she’s not. She gets to travel the world with me, and she gets to meet all the people, and she’s been coming to set since she was like, a month old. That’s when I started working again. She’s gotten so much ability to grow and see life in a different way that’s so exciting to me to witness. Um, but yeah, she wants to be a pop star, so I’m pretty sure I’m screwed when she’s… when I’m…

JY: She wants to be a pop star?

DB: Yup. And she wants to be a “model-er.” A modeler. A six-year old model. That’s just her thing. She’s going to become a model-er. So I love it. She’s learning a lot and if anything, like more than her at all wanting to be in the business
or allowing her to be in the business, I feel like she’s got the opportunity to really learn about beauty and size diversity and how…

JY: What kind of things do you say to her about beauty? Do you feel conflicted?

DB: Well, she gets to be around me. She gets to see things like this go on and my line of work, and she goes to all the castings and sees the models and sees them, you know, on the billboards and the magazines, and I think it’s really opened her eyes to see, you know, how much of a piece of art it is. Because it’s not one person, it’s a collaborative effort. She sees, you know, the lashes and the hair extensions and the make-up, you know, and she sees that it’s a façade. You know, it’s a look. It’s not real. Where I think so many people are looking at magazines and believing that these women really look like that when there’s a team of people to make them look like that. So I think for that sake she’s learned a lot. Like, I’ll come home from work and she’ll go, like, “Mom, you’re beautiful just the way you are. Take your lashes off.” And I’m dying ‘cause, like, how do you get it at six years old?

JY: Yeah, kids are precocious.

DB: And so for what it’s worth it’s amazing to see that. I think it’s the best industry that I could possibly be in having a little girl.

JY: Interesting. What artistic medium best expresses yourself? Do you think it’s modeling or do you still want to get into acting later on?

DB: Well, I have a… Oh my god, I’m a jack-of-all-trades. I’m the type of girl who has a million and one ideas and goals and plans in the works. Like, I’ve planted my seeds everywhere, so there’s not a single creative outlet that is better than the other. It’s just… all of them are pretty awesome. I’d love to direct. I’m in the process of possibly writing a children’s book, and so there’s just so many things that I’d like to do, and I’m in a wonderful position to be able to explore those pretty soon. So I’m just working on it. Life is a growth process. I’m just kind of growing as it happens.


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Plus Size Blogger Spotlight | The Adelle Dress

Posted by on October 30, 2014


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Check out the always chic German plus size blogger Ela on her youthful and ever-inspiring blog Conquore, reviewing one of IGIGI’s best selling dresses the Adelle Dress with an A-line silhouette and black checkered overlay.


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