In May 2007, a few days before my birthday, I went to a Parisian apartment in Montmartre, a historical neighbourhood, for my very first lesson of confidence in curves from a very special woman.
I didn’t know her. I just saw her ad about her selling some plus size clothes in Paris and knew it was worthy to travel hours to attend that event! The woman I saw was Velvet d’Amour. She had been kind enough to let me try on every single piece of her wardrobe. She told me about her life and that she was born in Rochester, NY. I was so surprised to learn that she was a plus size model! I had never heard about plus size modelling before that day! My own plus size revolution had started.
How could I talk about french plus size community life & style without talking about Velvet d’Amour? I am very proud to interview this wonderful woman for SonsiLiving. Ready? Set! Go!
Gaelle: You are a plus size model and photographer. How did everything start?
Velvet: I got into photography when I was a Fine Arts major at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in NYC where I was attending college, as everyone had to take photography basics. When I went to study abroad in Italy for a year, I had the great fortune to study under the amazing fashion photographer James White, and he really encouraged my passion for photography. When I lived in Manhattan I began testing agency models. I had been considered for a popular model agency back in my early 20’s but I was never able to lose enough weight despite getting down to 117lbs. When I learned that Contrebande Model Agency was opening the first plus size model agency in France I decided to offer my services as a photographer to test the models, and I send a photo of myself along, in order to show that I too was a plus size woman, as many models prefer working with female photographers. When the agent saw my photo she asked if I would sign on with them in two different divisions, PLUS and WANTED. Given I was 38 years old and near 300 lbs I was rather astounded as I hadn’t expected that but was very pleasantly surprised to score the lead role of Avida in the Cannes and Tribeca nominated French film AVIDA, as well as many other gigs including taking the runway for John Galliano, and also Jean Paul Gaultier, appearing in French Vogue shot by Nick Knight and Egoiste shot by Ellen Von Unwerth etc. etc.
How long have you been living in Paris and do you notice any differences between living as a plus-size woman in France and in the USA?
I have been living in Paris about 16 years now. Yes, I do think there is a vast difference between living in America versus France as a plus-size woman. In the USA, there is a greater percentage of fat people, and thus that difference tends to be accommodated, be it by the size of the chairs, or having no arm rests on the chairs, the space to get into the metro, the seatbelts, the hospital beds, etc., etc. The biggest difference in my opinion is that in America we have much greater diversity of clothing available to the plus-size consumer. The clothes also tend to be cut closer to the body, as many American women are happy to show off their shape, versus wanting to hide their curves. There also tends to be a more modern youthful edge to clothes there. The fact that so many plus-size people inhabit America means it’s easier to go unnoticed, whereas in France a fat person tends to stand out. There is greater availability for work in America because it would be illegal to ask that someone attach a photo to their resume. Diversity is encouraged in the work place, though prejudice does still exist. Here in France if you are a SSBBW then you most likely have a much greater problem finding work. In USA we have frequent parties which cater to the plus-size community, but in France while we do have the occasional party, it is in no way close to being a weekly affair in every city, with choices of which party to attend, as you would have in Manhattan or London. Also the plus-size community in America, while vast, is quite close-knit and tends to be very supportive of one another. Unfortunately in France there seems to be greater division between online groups, associations, pageants etc.
What do you think about the plus-size fashion industry in France?
I think it has been growing extensively and it is particularly heartwarming to see a number of young women whom I photographed ages ago, moving on to becoming working models or starting their own sites/blogs etc. While I haven’t admittedly purchased any plus size clothing here in Paris, I am happy to see more designers pop up and the community being vocal about the change they seek. We shouldn’t have to go to NYC or London to do our shopping when Paris is meant to be the capitol of fashion!
Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring plus-size models who are reading us?
Yes, I think that women who long to model need to do more than simply desire to be considered a ‘model’, but actively work towards that, should it be your goal. All too often women say they want to model, yet the moment they get in front of the camera they stand there asking what they should do. Yes, it may feel initially awkward, but I, for instance, remember collecting magazine images of different poses and before a shoot say when they were doing my hair, I would look at them for inspiration. I recall Linda Evangelista had an incredible variety of poses and attitudes she could give. But every pose works different on every body so it isn’t just about the posing but knowing how to work your body so that you give it up to the camera. There is an aspect of acting within that as well. If you look at international Vogue magazines in the editorial section you will see that the models are giving with the shape of the body and how they show the clothes, as well as the drama they can create with facial gestures and attitude which can be as subtle as say, holding your shoulder highly high and dropping your look (which is a very Bridgette Bardot-esc type pose). Don’t hesitate to study icons like Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn – they are icons for a reason. There are thousands of examples, but it is your job as a model to bring more than your good looks, that’s the difference between a model and a muse.
Which kind of plus-size shopping advice could you give to a tourist visiting Paris for the first time?
Well, being that I am more a SSBBW, I can’t honestly say there is much available for women my size here, but what you might consider is doing some research on Etsy and find local designers, who are often open to making custom garments. I love flea markets so give the puce (a big, big French flea market) a try, as you can find amazing accessories that way. And VAVA DUDU has some very cool, edgy clothes which fit many, so definitely check her out!
What can we expect next about Velvet d’Amour during the up coming weeks?
As it’s August in the next couple weeks you can expect to see me soaking in the sun on the Mediterranean, lol But in September, you can catch me on the French TV show TELLEMENT VRAI, where they chose to highlight some people who have taken their differences and made them special. I was exceedingly psyched to be approached by a popular French record label to make some tunes, so you can find me in the studio recording! The French/German documentary I was in on ARTE, BIG IS BEAUTIFUL, ended up landing me some interest with a German TV program, so they will begin filming a feature on me. Becoming an Italian VOGUE Curvy Icon recently, led to a couple of highly talented fashion photographers getting in touch to shoot me, so I am always excited to do that! And finally, I have decided to put together a little plus-size magazine of my own, so I shall be hard at work getting that together. Life is great! And I so appreciate positive people like you Gaelle, who have helped to develop the French plus size fashion scene with your hard work and passion! Well done ;o)
You can visit Velvet’s site at http://www.velvetography.com/