Milan Fashion Week has long been criticized for the lack of diversity on its runways. The dialogue typically centers around race, but the city is hardly known for size inclusivity, either. It seemed like business as usual, then, when supers like Mariacarla Boscono and Karen Elson; staples like Lexi Boling and Adut Akech; and—it almost goes without saying—Kaia Gerber and the Hadids hit the runway at Fendi’s fall 2020 show on Thursday, February 20. But this time around, there was a welcome surprise: They were soon joined by Paloma Elsesser and Jill Kortleve, the first “plus-size” models to walk Fendi in the house’s history.
Elsesser, a regular at Eckhaus Latta, typically walks smaller-scale runways. Kortleve is no stranger to major shows; she started out as an Alexander McQueen exclusive in 2018 and so far this season has booked Rag & Bone, Michael Kors, and Molly Goddard. Still, Fendi marked her Milan debut. “Sometimes I feel like my life isn’t real,” she wrote afterward on Instagram.
Elsesser also used Instagram as a platform to reflect on the experience, which she described as a “monumental moment.” “Thank you to everyone involved. For making me feel protected, safe, and seen,” she wrote on Friday. “This means the world to me, but most importantly to those who have never seen themselves on a runway in Milan.” Industry names like Karlie Kloss and Brandon Maxwell jumped in to the comments with heart emojis, while Bella Hadid went as far as to call Elsesser “my president.”
Backstage, Fendi’s creative director, Silvia Venturini Fendi, told Vogue that “of course” she has felt frustrated with sample size being the standard. “Especially because you talk to me and I am not really a prototype of that shape. So it’s liberating for me to portray these clothes in a different way, on different sizes.” Hopefully, there will be even more than two different sizes next time, though Fendi's picks of Elsesser and Kortleve are especially significant; the two are some of the industry's most vocal when it comes to body positivity.