Do you know what size you really are? And if you are a size 12, are you the same in every retailer? Are all size charts equal? I don’t think so.
“If I bought clothes according to other retailers size charts I’d probably be counted as plus-size’ says the tall and willowy designer Maria Grachvogal, as we talk about the weirdness of sizing while sat in her Sloane Street shop. Maria’s forensic interest in size and in particular body shape,started early. She says “When I first started designing I measured all of my friends and tried to figure out why the sizes they measured did not equal what the traditional size chart said they were, with no charts seeming to account for difference in height. I figured out then just how important body shape is. Every body is different, even those roughly within the size bracket of say, a size ten, so I started to ignore standard size charts and cut around the body to make a perfect fit.”
If we could afford them, Maria’s clothes could be the answer to those nightmare scenarios in brightly lit changing rooms trying to squeeze our individual bodies into the wrong size garments. She cuts her fabric in the way of couture, ignoring traditional pattern structure, using few seams and engineering the drape of a dress to flatter any body shape. She mostly labels her clothes S M and L, telling customers to think about their frame and height rather than their waist size before choosing. Which makes perfect sense doesn’t it? We’ve already talked about the joy of her magically cut trousers, but if you are a slight, small person, or a tall, larger one, then Maria’s way of cutting is heaven sent, as she totally accommodates all body shapes. Anyone who is used to buying clothes without much hassle with fit, may wonder what is so clever about understanding different body shape, but for others who aren’t ‘standard’, it can be a nightmare getting clothes to fit well.
A clear indication to just how much Maria understands women’s bodies can be seen on her website, where she has a section called Virtual Styling -‘I love my legs/waist/shoulders/back/hips’ and ‘I want to hide or minimise my bottom/hips/bust/thighs/waist/tummy’. You click on your ‘issue areas’ and clothes are suggested to help you out. This has come about through years of listening to customers, who come into her shop wanting to disguise the bits of their bodies they aren’t keen on and accentuate the best bits. “I worried about how we were going to achieve our in-shop service on line, as we train all our staff to really listen to customers to understand what they really want out of their clothes. The ‘I love/ I hate’ idea seems to connect with how people think.”
The only snag here is that Maria’s beautiful clothes are expensive, the wool chalis dress in the picture above, in a print that Maria has painted herself and engineered to flatter the body within the dress, is £995. I suspect it would be money well invested for anyone who has the cash and needs a great dress, but for most of us it’s out of reach. Which is a shame, since as we get older we gain the confidence to understand our bodies better and know just how empowering a great fit can be. it would be nice if a few mid market retailers looked at their size charts and realised a lot of their customers don’t fit.
And to show just how convincing Maria is with her shapes, she’s even got me considering an all-in-one, or catsuit as she calls them. “I love catsuits, they are surprisingly flattering (certainly Maria’s are, it’s worth noting she told me that the areas she usually wants to ‘disguise ‘ on her body are her hips and thighs). I even got married in a catsuit, I didn’t want to be hemmed in with a long gown on my wedding day, I wanted to move about having fun on the dance floor, so i had a catsuit made with wonderfully wide trouser legs swishing about and that for me was fabulous”. She also rates them for adding a touch of unconventional glamour to black tie events.
Maria is shortly to open a new flagship store and studio at 18 Culford Gardens, London SW3 2ST (official opening is on 16th September), Her favourite pieces from the autumn 2011 range, pictured above, are the cashmere maxi coat (coming in September), the Raven catsuit and the wool print Wallace dress.