Sitting Front Row at Fashion Week Wasn’t the Glamorous Dream I Imagined

Journalist Gianluca Russo shares his experience as a plus-size man at New York Fashion Week.

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Though theCURVYcon has become a plus-size haven during Fashion Week, members of our community are still heading to the official NYFW shows to see the latest collections from major designers. So, we were curious about how welcome (or not) people of size felt on the sides of the runways. We reached out to journalist Gianluca Russo to find out about his experience in the front row.

 

Since the day I started writing, I dreamed about attending New York Fashion Week. It felt like every fashionista’s ultimate goal: to not only attend a runway show, but to sit front row while having your picture taken and imagine you’re in a deleted scene from “The Devil Wears Prada.” But as a fat person working in fashion, that dream was almost crushed by the reality of this sizeist industry.

In the summer of 2018, I attended New York Fashion Week for the first time. I’d been writing about fashion for only a few months at that point, but after going on a Twitter rant about the lack of plus-size men visible at NYFW, an editor at NYLON reached out and asked if I would cover the topic that season. Dreaming of that day for over a decade, I instantly said yes and was on my way to my first Fashion Week.

High fashion was founded in hierarchy—it was founded by rich white elites for other rich white elites, and since the dawn of time, gatekeepers have been trying to prevent anyone outside of that group in—and that certainly reigns true at Fashion Week. Front row is reserved for the icons, celebrities, influencers, and powerful editors who the brand wants to be photographed. Second and third row fall to those with lesser power, and even more so for those who are given standing-room tickets. Knowing that this outdated system is the way fashion still operates, I expected myself to be placed in the back of the room, standing to watch the show. To my surprise—and terror, to be honest—I was sitting front row.

High fashion was founded in hierarchy—and that certainly reigns true at Fashion Week.
fashion week gianluca russo in pink suit and t shirt

Photo: Lydia Hudgens

In theory, sitting front row is a dream come true. In actuality, it can be a nightmare. Before even attending the show, I was filled with anxiety at the thought of being body-shamed—while directly or just from judgy looks. It’s no shocker that the fashion industry is rooted in fatphobia and a strong hatred for plus-size people, so to attend a major runway show and claim space there—figuratively and literally—is much more difficult than it appears. At the same time, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a stand.

Walking to my seat that summer day, I had a choice to make: cower, silence myself, and try to squeeze in, or embrace the confidence I desperately needed, remind myself that I deserved to be there, and make everyone around me know that yes, I’m fat, and I’m proud of it. I chose to do the latter.

To my shock, my plan worked: I sat in my seat, chatted briefly with the people next to me, enjoyed the show and left, all without the experience of being shamed. Unfortunately, that experience was singular.

In the year since then, I’ve attended over 20 more fashion shows. All but four have featured solely straight-size models. At about half of those shows, I’ve sat front row, often to the surprise of many PR agents who assisted me in finding my seat. I’ve been asked to show my ticket again and again to prove I actually had a front-row seat. I’ve been asked to get up so the thin person next to me could take a photo without me in it. I’ve been ignored, glanced at, and judged.

Last season, a PR agent for a straight-size brand attempted to give my seat away to a high-up fashion editor while I was standing right there. With the courage I didn’t even know I had, I made her move. I was not invited back to that show this season.

I had a choice to make: silence myself and try to squeeze in or make everyone around me know that yes, I’m fat, and I’m proud of it.
fashion week gianluca russo in bomber jacket and jeans

That experience was very formative for me. As much as I report on the need for body inclusivity in fashion, these elite high fashion brands at NYFW are not catching on. So what else can we do? The answer was easy: boycott.

While interviewing plus-size model Hunter McGrady ahead of this season’s Fashion Week, she informed me that she would not be walking in shows or attending events that were not truly inclusive. I decided to do the same.

I’m not a fashion reporter. I am a fat fashion reporter, and I cover plus-size fashion. So why do I need to attend shows where designers don’t care about me or my community? Simply put, I don’t. So after speaking with Hunter, I, too, decided to say “Thank u, next,” to shows that were not inclusive. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.

This season, I’ve attended inclusive shows and events like Chromat, 11 Honore, and theCURVYcon that not only represent my community but make me feel welcome, at home, and loved. Finally, after a year of sitting front row in places I didn’t belong, I can breathe freely knowing that the person next to me doesn’t mind if our thighs touch, if we’re pressed up against each other, or if I get a little too excited when Tess Holliday walks down the runway.

It may be impossible to escape the fatphobia entrenched within fashion: Not everyone at these inclusive events is fat, after all, and as a reporter, there are times when I’ll still be put in uncomfortable situations. But in moments like those, it’s vital to remember that I know precisely where to find spaces that accept and celebrate me, as well as places that uplift other fat voices and experiences. When we each find those spaces, not only can we be our true selves, but we can revel in the fact that we know the future of fashion is FAT with a capital F, and no one can stop that day from coming.

fashion week gianluca russo headshot

Gianluca Russo

Plus-Size Fashion Journalist

 

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