Milan Fashion Week has slowly but steadily been making progress on one of its greatest faults: a lack of diversity. The city’s fashion week has long been behind New York, London and Paris on the matter, but it was only last season that the focus branched out from race to include size inclusivity. Earlier this year, Paloma Elsesser and Jill Kortleve became the first “plus-size” models to walk Fendi in the house’s history. And thanks again in part to Kortleve, the (relative) progress has continued. Versace hit the same milestone on Friday, after casting Kortleve, Alva Claire, and Precious Lee alongside runway fixtures like Joan Smalls and Irina Shayk.
Versace was actually Kortleve’s third show this week, after walking Etro and Fendi. But for Lee and Claire, Versace was especially momentous, marking both of their Milan debuts. And since both typically walk in New York, at it also marked their second and third shows, respectively, in Europe to date. (Lee is a Christian Siriano and Tommy Hilfiger regular, while Claire got her runway career started with Savage x Fenty last year.)
On paper, Kortleve, Claire, and Lee’s inclusion shouldn’t have come as a surprise. “Plus-sized women shouldn’t think of themselves as a size,” Donatella Versace told Time in 2008. “They should think of themselves as women with rich goals in life. Size doesn’t mean, really, anything. You can carry your size with pride and dress in a way that you like.” But it wasn’t until this Friday, 23 years into her tenure, that the runway reflected those views. In 2011, she reportedly canceled a Versace for H&M shoot because the models looked like “real women.” That may have been tabloid fodder, but her track record came under scrutiny anyway—like an interview about not wanting to do a plus-size line in 2009. (“I guess some styles lend themselves to being scaled up, while some others just don’t work,” she said at the time.)
But this season’s casting seems to affirm Donatella’s views—and indicate a greater shift. Last November, Lizzo appeared on the cover of British Vogue wearing custom Versace. Donatella eagerly took credit: “I’m so proud to dress such an unbelievably talented woman,” she captioned an Instagram. She kicked off the year by again dressing Lizzo, this time for the Grammy Awards (for which the singer received eight nominations). To the stylist Shannon Stokes, Lizzo’s white Atelier Versace gown was “the best fitting garment” she’d ever worn. Donatella took her praise even further. “Perfection,” she captioned her Instagram of the look.