According to a popular German carnival song, “fat girls have pretty names.” Perhaps, but what’s abundantly clear is that heavier models have much prettier faces than their gaunt, undernourished counterparts.
Any visitor to last week’s Curvy is Sexy expo in Berlin could see that. During the simultanous Fashion Week, stressed-out, expressionless stick models, many with sunken cheeks, were parading size 0 German fashion on the catwalk in the Brandenburg Gate tent while their more ample counterparts over on Französische Straße were a lot more relaxed.
“We get a lot of valuable customers here,” says expo head Stephan Sonn. What he means is that the people who come to the Curvy is Sexy event actually want to buy — or order. That’s in marked contrast to many of the Fashion Week events that draw young bloggers and fashion freaks who just want to be in the know but aren’t really consumers of what’s on display. Curvy is Sexy is only open to the trade, and its mission is to get fashion for fuller women into the stores.
But perhaps “fuller” is the wrong word. “Most women in Germany wear German size 42 (U.S. size 14 or UK size 16) or larger,” Sonn says. “Our fashion starts at size 38 (U.S. 10 or UK 12), which shows you the absurdity of the situation.” The expo also caters to “normal-sized” women who just don’t happen to fit into a 34 (U.S. 6 or UK 8) or a 36 (U.S. 8 or UK 10). The market is vast.
And yet what’s shown here is geared to significantly larger woman, those who can’t go into typical stores and find clothes that fit them. These are the women known in the fashion industry as “the problem cases.”
“Our customers want to wear normal fashion, the kind they see in catalogues and all around them,” explains Chantal Smits of the Amsterdam-based Yoek label. “They just want the clothes in bigger sizes.”
Which is why the Dutch designer develops her designs from current trends. Right now, that means a lot of sequins and very bright colors. The Yoek brand is about femininity and the joy of life, says Smits, and the message has certainly penetrated The Netherlands, where the company now has 100 stores. Overweight women are tired of hiding, she says.
Some habits die hard
Not all the exhibitors are as dedicated as Yoek to making fuller women feel really comfortable in their clothes. There are still a lot of dark colors. Black has always been the traditional fashion for fuller shapes, but that emphasizes hiding rather than showing. Many customers are just relieved to find many selections in their size.
Ilse Nemec of the brand Ulla Popken is an expert on fashion for the overweight. In fact, Ulla Popken was the first fashion brand in Germany that targeted this market deliberately and exclusively without shame, although it was something of an accident. “At first we were aiming more at moms-to-be and baby fashion,” says Nemec, head of shop-in-shop retail.
Then they began to notice that some of these supposedly pregnant women were ordering things like eight pairs of slacks, and it became clear that many of the customers weren’t pregnant at all, just fuller-figured. So the company moved to meet the needs of its customers, and now has some 600 branches in over 30 countries around the world.
More stretch fabrics, long sleeves, longer skirts. The focus of fashion for the fuller-figured is not the slim waist but the lush décolleté. Some brands increasingly offer — in stores but also on the Internet — exactly the same fashion they make in smaller sizes.
But do clothes designed for slim figures work in large sizes? Not really, says Nemec, who was serving canned Prosecco and colorful calorie-bomb candy snacks at her stand. “Many people think it’s enough to simply make small-to-medium-sized clothes in large sizes. But that’s not enough. It’s a whole other market.” Making the same dress to fit a size 34 and a size 58 U.S. 30, UK 32 quite simply doesn’t work. The larger sizes just won’t look good.
Most of the 54 exhibitors at Curvy is Sexy expo were still showing their “Plus Size” (the official fashion world term) clothes in the spirit of what overweight women have become accustomed to for decades: stretch black, capes to hide the curves, long blouses in discreetly patterned fabrics, single-color slacks with high waistbands.
Yet slowly but surely there are signs of fashion that embrace larger figures instead of feeling the need to camouflage them: brighter, more attention-drawing looks, and a lot more of them. S. Oliver has developed his own brand, Triangle, for plus-sized customers. Anja Gockel calls her line “Woman I am.” Sallie Sahne only makes clothes in sizes that run from average to plus.
Brigitte Models, an agency for plus-size models, was also represented. Fashion magazine Brigitte has switched back to using normal-looking models on their covers and in the spreads. None of the cheerful young women at the expo corresponded to the fashion industry’s ideal measurements.
A couple of hours earlier they had modeled in a fashion show that had the audience clapping frenetically. It was nothing like the measured response given to the size 0 models in a neighboring tent. The enthusiasm also had a bit of a “sticking it to them” feel — as if the audience were telling the fashion industry where to get off. As if to say, “No, I don’t fit into your fashion, and I’m just right anyway. Exactly the way I am.”
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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