Ashley Graham on Her Dressbarn Collab & Why She Wore That Revealing Oscars Dress

Ashley Graham wears one of her creations from her Dressbarn line to dinner. (Photo: @theashleygraham​) 

Ashley Graham’s 2016 has gotten off to an amazing start. The 28-year-old model is positioning herself as a major force in the industry, with her killer curves and a message of body positivity and acceptance that’s making even the most strait-laced folks sit up and listen. 

After kicking off the year with a historic appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue — as the first plus-size model to ever grace the magazine’s swimsuit cover — she went on to stun everyone at the Vanity Fair Oscars party last weekend in an ultra-revealing orange-red Bao Tranchi dress, for which she received both praise and criticism

And now, Graham is moving on to her latest project: her very first ready-to-wear collection, created in collaboration with retailer Dressbarn, which has been steadily upping its fashion credentials over the past year with a huge rebranding and the launch of its ‘Dressbar’ collection. Available in sizes 4 to 24, Beyond by Ashley Graham for Dressbar offers dresses and kit separates that start at $48 and top out at just $66. Already, Graham’s collab is expected to continue into 2017. 

The model says she wanted to work with Dressbarn in part because of its tradition of inclusivity. “They are a company that is not only fashionable, but they’re affordable,” she told us at a dinner feting the line on Thursday night. “I knew that I would be able to come in and not be told what to design but asked what to design. My mantra is ‘beauty beyond size,’ and I wanted to live that through a collection, because you go from a size 4 to 24. I wanted to design for every type of woman, and that’s exactly what I got to do. That’s what Dressbarn has done from the get-go. They’ve never just had a straight size or a plus size, and they never altered the clothes or the styles.” 

But designing for such a wide range of bodies didn’t come without its challenges. Women of all sizes have unique requirements and needs when it comes to dressing, and Graham knew that in order to satisfy as many people as possible, she needed to pay close attention to detail. “That’s why we did so many different types of dresses. Not every girl is going to pick all of them. She’s going to curate it for her own closet,” Graham said. “But that was the No. 1 challenge. The fit model would come out, and we would have to say, ‘Is this going to look good on a 24?’ or, ‘Is this going to look good on a size 4?’ Yeah, the dress might accentuate her curves, but what if she doesn’t have dramatic curves? You can still be curvy at a size 2 or 4, but a basic black dress may not be as powerful on someone that size. That’s why we put these on there [pointing to the drawstrings on her dress] to ruche it up and create more of a silhouette on your body. It was really about details, silhouette, fabric.”

Ashley Graham looking like a dream at the Vanity Fair Oscars Party. (Photo: Getty)

Graham also wanted to make sure she put forth a selection of dresses a woman could wear with or without body shapers. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to wear Spanx with every dress. I wear Spanx every day, so I was like, can I make a collection where I don’t have to wear any?” 

It was also important that the line appeal to women of all ages. Dressbarn’s target customer has traditionally been a bit older, so Graham wanted to bring a bit of youthful flair to the mix — which, for her, means the addition of a crop top ( which she wore on Good Morning America on Friday) in the collection. 

Of course, dipping her toes into design is far from the only thing on Graham’s plate. When we met, she had just gotten off a flight from Paris, where she walked in H&M’s much-buzzed about and extraordinarily diverse fashion show, gracing the runway in a fierce pair of snakeskin thigh-high boots. It was definitely a memorable show, and Graham did not take her part in it lightly. “I knew it was going to be big because it was H&M, but I didn’t know how diverse it was going to be. That was so exciting to me. Amber Valletta and I are like BFF now — I love her. Pat Cleveland is so cool, so amazing. It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Holy cow! I’m representing for so many women in this show. What an honor.’” 

Indeed, it seems the fashion industry is finally beginning to address its diversity problem — and while it sometimes seems like change is far away, Graham says it’s definitely on its way. “I’ve done a couple campaigns now where they included me with the ‘straight size’ models. … I don’t even know what to call ’em anymore, there are so many labels on all of us! I think we’re headed in that direction, where I’m not ‘the other,’ or the tagalong. I think it’s going at a very slow pace still, but it’s great working with people like Dressbarn. Change is coming. Slowly. Hopefully in the next year, you’ll see a lot more of it.” 

Perhaps most importantly, Graham wants to stress the fact that beauty and sexiness is not limited by size — and even that Bao Tranchi dress she wore to the Vanity Fair Oscars party was a conscious decision to spread the message. “People look at a girl my size and they don’t think I’m going to wear what I wore at the Vanity Fair party,” she told us. “I think I made a statement by saying that “girls my size want to be sexy, girls my size can wear things that are just as revealing, just as cutout as the other girls. I think the biggest conversation that I saw was, ‘That’s so distasteful, she’s revealing so much.’ But honestly, there were other women there that were showing a lot more skin than I was, and it was all because of this [outlines her curves] that some people were upset.” 

We will forever be bewildered at the thought of people being offended by curves, but with women like Ashley Graham around breaking down barriers in the modeling industry — and now the clothing biz, as well — we can look forward to a day when this isn’t an issue. We’ll get there.

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