Spotted recently on the Parisian catwalk alongside curvy celeb Hayley Hasselhoff during Pulp Fashion Week, Carmina Suzanne is the perfect combination of brains, beauty, and talent. Along with being an editor at Fashion Maniac magazine, she is also a Harvard educated journalist and opera singer and actress. Read on to discover what I did when I interviewed this amazing Renaissance woman.
EM: Why did you choose to become a plus size model and what were some of the challenges you faced to achieve your goal?
CS: Well, I chose to become a model, and I am plus sized – so that part was easy. I was scouted in my early 20s by a famous American plus model, but had to stop for 10 years due to health problems. Only when I was in London for my opera career and my health issues had settled down did I try modeling again. And it’s been a dream come true!
Some of the challenges have to do with the industry in general, but the main problem in being plus is getting designers to make garments. It all starts and ends with the designers – all the booking agents, models, stylists, director, agents, scouts, etc, in the world can want to hire curvy models, but if the designers don’t pony up with the clothing, game over. So the more designers who break through their own small-minded prejudices, the faster the industry will move forward.
EM: How do you feel that your background as an opera singer and actress has helped your modeling career?
CS: For the most part, it’s been a huge help. Modeling and opera singing are very similar – you’re on stage using your body to tell a story, or sell a product. You need to be aware of every inch of your instrument and be in control to sing or model with correct technique. Also, I consider myself an artist, whether my medium is posing for photography or acting or dancing or singing or styling or cooking… it’s all to the same end. And, of course, fashion is a business, just like music, so you need to be organized, efficient, and on the ball, too.
EM: Since, unfortunately, some people still assume that models are beautiful yet stupid, is anyone ever surprised when you tell them you studied at Harvard University? Do you think that has helped or hurt your modeling career? Why?
CS: Yes, sometimes they do! I studied 7 languages, my IQ is in the 150s – and I know other models just as bright. However, some are dumb as rocks and some are in the middle – just like any other facet of life. A fashion marketing executive I knew once said to me “Well, I had brains so I left modeling and went into PR.” I asked her why she believed in that old stereotype… in Latin!
For the most part, it’s helped my career because I use my writing skills for fashion journalism, blogging, PR & marketing, fund raising and other writing-based parts of the industry. Also, since one of my degrees is in Gender Studies, I think about issues of body love and the societal pressures we put on bodies from an academic level.
EM: Who is your favorite designer and why?
CS: I really admire Tadashi Shoji because she doesn’t “ghettoize” her line – it starts at size 0 and goes up to size 24. I dislike when designers make a plus line but marginalize it to the side. The larger sizes should be as vibrant and integrated a part of any designer’s main line. Plus, her garments are gorgeous, flattering, and comfortable. Also, I’m a fan of Carmen Marc Valvo, Comme des Garçons, and D&G’s new Sicilian campaign.
EM: Why do you think so many designers do not want to create plus size clothes?
CS: Yeah, this is one of the dirty little secrets of the industry. Designers will tell you it’s because plus designs are more expensive to pattern block, or that plus garments are cut on the bias, or that they can’t find any plus mannequins, but that’s mainly nonsense. I have a friend in London who is a top designer, and he told me in confidence the real reason: no size 2 wants to walk down the street and see a “fatty” in the same outfit as her. So, many designers would rather keep their small, rich, thin clientele happy than design for 75% of the population.
EM: Having been involved in projects such as Confidence is the Key, do you think they have made an impact on how “beauty” is defined, especially in the modeling industry? Why or why not?
CS: Yes, big changes are happening, more slowly in some places than others. When I left London to return to my hometown of Buffalo, it was like walking backwards 15 years in time, at least as far as diversity in fashion in concerned. In London, I was a diversity advocate, working with The British Fashion Council and some government members to support diversity in fashion (for plus, mature, petite, and disabled models of all colors) but this pugnacious approach doesn’t work in a market that’s not ready for diversity. However, in Paris, plus models are really taking off and I had so much fun participating in one of the top plus shows in the world during Pulp Fashion Week earlier this month. I get letters from people all around the world telling me they hated their bodies, but seeing another model with a similar story really does change minds and hearts. It’s even saved lives in a few cases.
EM: What is your main job at Fashion Maniac magazine and what do you like best and least about it?
CS: I am one of the Managing Editors, and so far I’ve been doing collection reviews – most of the other staff are often out of town shooting all the various Fashion Weeks, so I’m one of the main writers right now. Loving it so far! I like to take my passion for fashion, a flair for writing, and a love of research and combine it into fun, clever, and informative fashion articles.
EM: Does Fashion Maniac magazine ever feature plus size fashion? Why or why not?
CS: Not specifically, although they do strongly support diversity in fashion and that’s one reason I’m glad to write for them. I am going to do an editorial shoot for Fashion Maniac soon as a model, so that will be great! I also write for Volup2, a high fashion plus magazine out of Paris. They feature curvy models of all sizes and colors, some with disabilities, in a very editorial, high fashion context. We need more of that!
EM: What would you say to critics who claim that encouraging women to accept their bodies will add to the obesity epidemic?
CS: Well, first of all, all professional working plus models are healthy. We all work out, we all watch our diets. We have to, that’s the demand of the job. I don’t care what size you are, to hold position on 6-inch stilettos for hours on end, you have to be fit. I do intense Pilates, free weights, tons of squats and lunges, and monitor my diet. So I do not see how that promotes obesity.
Secondly, when faced with this question, here’s what I say, “Can you name one single plus model who died from being obese? No, you can’t. How many thin models have died from anorexia? Here’s a list of 100s…”
That being said, my main concern is health. Not so much size, but shape and proportion. I don’t judge other people’s health from the outside, that’s between them and their doctor. I do think that too big is too big and too small is too small, but I don’t judge what that might be. Here it is; you cannot expect folks to get healthier by hating themselves. Women deserve beautiful, quality, flattering garments in any size. They deserve salespeople who treat them with respect. They deserve to enjoy themselves in the movies, or at the gym, or out dancing without shame and ridicule. When they love and accept themselves, they will become healthier. I think folks have it backwards; I think more self love and acceptance will decrease the obesity epidemic – which I do think is a serious problem, by the way.
EM: What are your hopes for yourself and the plus size fashion industry over the next 5 years?
CS: Some of my hopes for the industry are already coming true. I mean, when Robyn Lawley booked the Ralph Lauren campaign not as a plus model but as a model I really was happy! When magazines and designers and agencies start taking models, rather than specialist divisions, I will be pleased. I want to see more plus and curvy models at the top Fashion Weeks, and not just as a gimmick. Same goes for disabled and mature models.
For me personally? I want to book a major national campaign in the US! To get signed with one of the top agencies and to continue being a role model and inspiration for body and self love. With my health problems, I went through just about every kind of body hatred there is. I never ever thought I’d be this happy, confident, and balanced. If I can get there, so can you! I’ve modeled in London, NYC, Miami and Paris… next, Milano?!?
Find out more about Carmina through the links below!
Photo credit: Stanley Desbas