Three words describe the innermost circles of fashion: tight-knit, cut-throat, vengeful.
There is a pecking order. You do as you're told. Whiners and whistle blowers are swiftly banished. No one goes against the family.
And then there's Tim Gunn.
Gunn is the former fashion chair of America's most prestigious design school and the backbone of TV's "Project Runway." He's also enemies with Vogue's Anna Wintour.
Mr. Gunn is on the inside of the circle, but he keeps one foot outside the line.
Which is precisely why people in and outside of fashion are listening to his powerful words on the industry's outright disgust toward plus-size women.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Gunn lifted up the silk canopy and showed us what his designer friends and foes really think about women over a size 12.
"I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them."
This isn't the first time Gunn has blown the whistle on sizeism.
In 2013, he talked to The Huffington Post about the "repugnant" way designers overlook plus-size and petite bodies. "Most designers that I talk to have absolutely no interest in addressing either of those populations," he said.
He also spoke about the dreadful and sparse selections that plus-size women are offered by department stores, calling out Lord & Taylor's eighth floor atrocity, simply called "WOMAN."
But his WaPo decry — published on day one of New York Fashion Week — is so much more personal and eye-opening.
"I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers ... The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different, and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009."
All too recent history backs up Gunn's claims: Remember when Leslie Jones tweeted that no one wanted to dress her for the "Ghostbusters" premiere? And then shortly after that, when model Barbie Ferreira spoke up about designers who refuse to tailor dresses above sample sizes?
Melissa McCarthy, the second-highest paid actress in the world, started her own fashion line because no one would dress her. After years of making her own designs with her stylists and seamstresses, she founded Seven7.
These are all extremely famous and rich women. If they can't find a dress for a party, what the hell is the average woman supposed to do?
"This is a design failure and not a customer issue," Gunn writes as he begins to edge toward what he sees as the solution.
"The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion, and fit, regardless of size or shape," he says. "Designs need to be re-conceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions."
Though his aim is true, there is a whiff of old guard, "flattering fashion" in his proposal to revolutionize plus-size design.
He talks about designing clothes the "right" way, to make women look "taller and slimmer." And he shades "Project Runway" winner Ashley Nell Tipton for designing plus-size crop-tops, see-through clothing, and pastels. He calls her clothes hideous and dubs her win tokenism.
This reveals an even bigger problem: Tim Gunn, one of our most enlightened fashion insiders, doesn't know what's really driving the 100 million American women who wear a size 16 or larger to buy more clothes than ever before.
You can read Tim Gunn's full op-ed for The Washington Post here.