Growing up as the daughter of a seamstress in Alabama, Jodi Arnold was always wired to design. As the creative director and VP of design at Eloquii, Arnold can do anything for women who wear sizes up to a 24, except fail to deliver all the high fashion looks the straight size women get in the kind of quality fabrics women ask for. So the only move for Eloquii to make is to hawk what’s hot and fight the deluge of shapeless one-fits-all garbage with trim faux leather culottes and dresses as quickly as possible, and then make fixes if customers say the sleeves are too tight.
As far as design goes, Arnold is committed to making everything fitted for a range of body types, she has secret elastic tricks up her sleeve, and she pulls no punches about the fact that those geeky Wes Anderson Gucci looks that are back again are not the sexy threads her bombshell customers want to raise hell in. (But of course, when they do, she insists that Eloquii shows them how to wear these trends, including their new shoes, in a “chic” way.)
We called her up to learn about why she feels it’s Eloquii’s obligation not to charge their customers more for a size 18, the technical process of designing for this market, and her theory on why other businesses don’t give women the structured clothes they want.
What do you remember about the first times you were designing for different body types?
I feel like I was doing that often for myself before. I was wearing a 12 to a 14 and most things that I wanted to were an 8 or a 10, so it’s already been something in the forefront of my mind. I myself could not even fit in my own collections. So always my whole life, when I was dressing myself, I was trying to think about different body types because I couldn’t find clothes.
What did you want in your size that you couldn’t have?
I wanted something waisted and constructed, and I always had to resort to things that were draped or straighter in fit. I felt like everything was too tight. I kind of had more of an apple size all my life, and I couldn’t find anything waisted, fitted, and tailored.
Let’s talk about the techniques…the faux leather culottes on Eloquii stand out to me as something in touch with what women want to wear now. Based on what you said, what were some ways you made things that were waisted, fitted, and tailored, but still somewhat roomy without being shapeless?
If something is fitted in the waist, there are still ways inside to give the waist an elastic on the seam that you don’t really see. People think an elastic is one inch wide, but it can be right on the seam to give a slight bit of comfort to someone who might have a larger waist. We use a lot of darts. Those culottes, if you look at them, there’s elastic with two darts in the back of them. Darts can give roundness. If you have a big butt, you have to make a flat piece of fabric go around. We use a lot of darting and seams to mold around the body for the customer who wants things to be molded. She doesn’t want something that isn’t well-fitted to her body, and a lot of that can be done with darts and seams.
Jodi Arnold on her customer, “I feel we have an obligation to give her something within the same price range as straight sizes.”
How does this look from a design perspective?
A lot of times, we put a dress on, it will be very flat and there will be no room to fill it out, so we just cut the dress and the fabric. What you want is for the molding to open up the seam and open up the dart so you remold or refold the dart in places that are flattering and adapt the garment. A lot of knits, you don’t have to do that with. You aren’t draping. There are more structured knits, and if they have give, they have more structure. Stretchy fabrics still need to be molded a lot on the body. We can sketch it once, but once it’s on the model a lot of it’s redone depending on the shape and her curves.
What’s been some of the most illuminating feedback you’ve gotten about fit?
The first thing is that the bicep is always too tight so that’s something we keep in mind. We thought that the size of her bicep is normally going to be a certain size because of her hip measurement, and normally we’re reading that something is fitting too tightly in the arms, or that someone with a stomach doesn’t want something split in a certain place. Fitting the garment is a constant conversation. What we thought would work for most people, we found out it did not, even skirt length. A lot of the skirt lengths we thought were trendy, the midi and the mid calf…a lot of people did not want. You know, it’s about trying the trends and waiting for the response.
Would you say that anything is off limits?
No. We just think everyone should be able to try any trend whether it’s horizontal stripes or large swirls. I think she should be given everything straight fit people are and it’s our job to offer it tastefully with the fabrication that works the best. I don’t think there’s anything she should not do. I think that we need to be giving it to her and showing her how to wear it.
Why do companies keep showing the same shapeless clothes that aren’t fitted for women who wear these sizes?
I think it’s really hard from a business point of view to do this right. It’s much easier to make a garment that’s a size 16 and an 18 in one top or a size 20 and a 22. To make one thing that fits more people is better from a cost perspective, but from a fit perspective, it’s not going to work because it’s not going to fit as well. It’s probably a little daunting to figure it out from a technical design standpoint, and that’s the only reason I can think of…and I guess return rate, which is something we’re always looking at. There’s less return rate if more people can wear that one garment, but is that really what she wants? I doubt it. You’re not going to get one garment that’s going fit different shapes, which is what people are aiming to do. We know a lot of dresses won’t fit everyone so we have an assortment for different body shapes, but people are still approaching it from the point of view that it’s an easier sell if I can do this one square and there’s less of a return rate. But I kind of doubt that it’s the aesthetic that body positive people want.
How does what you see on social media influence the design process?
For me, I’m always eating up any kind of visual thing. I don’t just rely on plus size images alone, I’m looking at what they’re doing overall in fashion and the way that fashion is moving so that the customer should also get the same straight size things.
Should the price of a size 16 be different from the same style in a size 2?
I think whether it should be is obvious. A product takes more fabric and a little more construction, but I feel we have an obligation to give her something within the same price range as straight sizes. That means working with the margins and squeezing and trying to figure it out…what the prices should be. If something uses 30% more fabric, she’s not going to buy it if it costs more. It doesn’t matter. She’s going to pay something similar to what her straight size friend is. So it’s our job to be constantly looking at ways to keep the aesthetic integrity of the clothes and cut it to a price that makes sense. If her straight size friend has a blouse that costs $68, then that’s what she’s going to pay.
What are some challenges you face in incorporating trends for this market?
I’m a little worried about the new retro eclectic things that Prada, Gucci, and Marni show, and that’s what everyone else wants and interpretations of that are odd when they’re knocked off, even though I love it so much. The Victorian romantic trend that we’re seeing isn’t what our customer wants. She does not want mock or high necklines based on the feedback we’ve gotten so far. How many women want a high collar? So many of the things on the Gucci models look so geeky and Wes Anderson. It’s not necessarily what plus-size women want to wear. It’s about the straight size trends that I love…and thinking about..’what is still a sexy way to wear those trends?’…to touch on them. I don’t think plus-size women want a lot of what we’re seeing, the ruffly and the frilly clothes. So how do we take that trend and still have it aligned for plus-size?
People talk about all the aesthetics that need to die in this market. What’s a design trap or a misconception that you’ve seen disproved?
That the crop top trend works for so many plus-size women. I’m always seeing women confident in bold florals and bold colors. You know pushing the envelope with shape, bodycon, and crop tops. It makes me really happy that it’s catching on, and there is a nice way, a nice chic way that you can wear anything on any body type.