Big Is Beautiful, Large Is Lovely, Size 16 Is Sexy—and Two Models Cash in on the Trend

UPDATED 07/09/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/09/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

Most of our customers," Calvin Klein once sniffed, "are smaller than size 14." That kind of attitude—which extended to most name designers—is changing, and on behalf of some 25 million overweight American women, nobody is happier than size-16 supermodels Ann Harper and Lyne Pedola. Portly designer Geoffrey Beene may still insist that "Thin is in," but Ann and Lyne have shown that stout can be stunning too.

In the past year both have become top models for Eileen Ford, who is "devastated with joy that there is business for my little darlings." At rates of $100 an hour, Ann, who is 27, and Lyne, 28, have been photographed in jeans by Gloria Vanderbilt and Pierre Cardin and other designs by Joseph Picone and Pauline Trigere. "Large-size women are no longer looking at themselves from the neck up," says Ann, who is 5'9½" and 165 pounds. "They are finally given a fashionable choice."

The daughter of a onetime Greenwich Village nightclub owner, Ann confesses, "I knew I'd never be a skinny person, but I decided I wanted to be a model anyway." In a family where every member tended to be heavy, weight made little difference. "Mother always rewarded us with sweets," Ann recalls. After graduating from Bennett College, she started at the very bottom—modeling for pantyhose packages in New York—but quickly moved up to catalogues. As part of her fat-is-fun philosophy, she nods in recognition as Lyne declares, "I'm not afraid to wear a bikini now. Life is great."

Although Lyne was always photogenic, she had to be goaded into modeling. "My family believed the thinner you were, the better life was going," she remembers. "The first question my relatives always asked was, 'How much do you weigh?' " The daughter of a well-to-do real estate investor in Toms River, N.J., Lyne was an enthusiastic athlete—swimming, sailing and tennis. Her mother, a registered nurse, insisted, however, that she was overweight and urged diets, pills and thyroid treatments. None worked. After graduating from Syracuse University, Lyne settled into an office job before deciding last August to give modeling a fling. Now, at 57", a contented 154 pounds, she says, "I'm tired of living up to a Playboy image of what I should look like." To prove it, she recently threw a bash for all her friends who had supported her through thick and thin—"now that the thick is paying off."

Because Lyne and Ann do have to maintain their proportions, dieting, ironically, is as much a part of their lives as those of streamlined colleagues. Lunches are usually salads, and both agree, "We don't binge on junk food."

Meanwhile, in the marketplace, the trend toward bigger sizes is accelerating. Next month Saks Fifth Avenue will open a designer boutique, "12 Plus," where the large woman can choose in the 12-20 size range. "Already," says Saks vice-president James Shaw, "we have 100,000 customers on our mailing list." On the West Coast a regional fashion magazine, Big Beautiful Woman, went national in June. Its editor, Carol Shaw, declares: "We're tired of the mother-of-the-bride clothing available to us."

Thus Oscar de la Renta, who once joked, "I don't reupholster furniture," and Ralph Lauren, who shrugs, "I cannot be all things to all people," will be watching the emergence of a new breed of customer. "I think Madison Avenue is finally beginning to realize," says Ann, "that the world doesn't consist of 17-year-old gorgeous-bodied girls only. It's about time."

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