Ahead of the curves
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau () - March 12, 2008 - 12:00am

Plus-sized women don’t have it easy in the Philippines. We are called many things, most of them unacceptable. Some examples: mataba (fat), malusog (healthy), buntis (pregnant), matronic (matronly). If you don’t want to get on our bad side (and with our “healthy” arms, believe me, you don’t), the proper terms are “well-endowed,” “voluptuous,” “sexy,” and “curvy.” “Rubenesque,” if you’re artistically inclined, and “realistically sized,” if you’re not.

One problem is that we barely have any curvy Filipinas to look up to. There’s Jessica Soho, who projects a really smart, professional image, but in her line of work there’s little call for her to wear anything trendy. Personally, my favorite curvy celebs are Nigella Lawson, who really knows how to work a sheath dress under a cardi or cropped jacket, and Jennifer Lopez, who, at a size 6, is not so far out of reach that we can’t aspire to be as bootylicious as she is.

Ten years ago, if you were plus-sized in the Philippines, you were plain out of luck. You either had to shop for clothes abroad or have your own kustorera here, who could sew something larger than a size 10. Even now the definitions of “plus size” are hazy — in the UK it means size 12 and above; in the US size 14 or 16 and above.

Larger clothes were also scarily style-deficient back then. Your choices were limited to dusters, shapeless tents of fabric masquerading as dresses, and men’s polo shirts that were shrunk to fit women.

Today it’s a vastly different story, thanks to a few Filipinas who were savvy enough to notice a gap in the market and visionary enough to fill it:

Maxine

The lowdown: At present, my most favorite place to shop for clothes is Maxine, which recently opened its first stand-alone boutique in TriNoma. Owner Shirley Enriquez is fearless about following trends, incorporating Japanese and European influences and making it work on her clients while also offering enough basics to satisfy the most conservative shopper.

Cool finds: Only at Maxine could I find a tweedy swing jacket a la Chanel, a Paul Smith-style striped shirt for women, a perfectly proportioned A-line dress … and skinny jeans or leggings to wear under it!

Who wears it: Coney Reyes-Mumar and daughter Isabella; Philippine Idol Mau Marcelo

Sizes: From size 10 to 22

Prices: From P699 to 1,099 for the whole range. Dresses can go up to P1,299. Jeans are P899 to P1,099.

Fabric story: Knits that flow well; cool and comfortable cottons

She has history: A fashionista all her life, Enriquez worked in retail for 17 years, selling regular-sized clothing under the label Gayak. It was she who started Maxi in 1999 in SM’s fledgling plus-size area, which eventually evolved into Maxine: “I wanted a younger feel to the line, and Maxi was just too ‘shouting big.’ I wanted the name of a beautiful girl.”

Design philosophy: More colors (not pastels but deeper hues) and youthful, au courant styles. “A lot of our women don’t like to experiment. They like stripes, they like basic colors,” notes Enriquez, who excels at translating runway into real-life. “We’re not just trying to sell clothes but an attitude. Whatever’s trendy we’ll make sizes for you but in safer styles.”

Least-exposed body part: Arms

Insider tips: First, know your body type, whether apple or pear. “If you’re proud of your lower body, we have shorter skirts that show the knees. If you like your upper body, we have plunging necklines.”

Don’t be afraid to try on new colors and styles. “A lot say don’t wear bright colors because all the attention will be on you and you don’t want that, but I want the attention to be on bigger women,” declares Enriquez. “You can actually look good with brighter colors — just wear the right style and always get the right fit.”

Next ambition: Once plus-size women are open to experimenting, Enriquez will do sexier stuff like bathing suits and lingerie. “More than the profit, it makes me really happy to see somebody wear my clothes,” she says.

Where to buy it: The Maxine boutique is located on the ground floor of TriNoma. Maxine is also available in the plus section of Robinsons Department Stores.

Faro

The lowdown: Faro specializes in more classic plus-size clothing. Though they lean more heavily towards basics, many pieces walk the fine line between essential and fashionable. “Before, plus-sized women had a hard time buying clothes because regular brands didn’t have their size,” says Yvette Ilagan, CEO of Faro. “Some shopped when they traveled; others bought overruns during bazaars, while others found the styles too matronly, so we wanted to give them that option.”

Cool finds: Pique shirts in not just polos, but a whole range of styles and colors, from puffed-sleeve to sporty to embroidered; kimono and bandeau tops; mid-rise jeans that fit well; wide-leg capris

Who wears it: “Sometimes mother-daughter teams buy if they’re both big,” observes Marissa Mendoza, Faro’s COO. “A comment we often hear is they try to shop in trendy stores but nothing fits them, so they’re happy we’re trying to gear our designs towards more trendy, fashionable stuff but also find a balance with conservative stuff.”

Sizes: Size 12 to 24

Prices: Casual shirts are P699, blouses are P799 to P899. Dresses are around P1,100.

Fabric story: Pique and wovens, which are more forgiving because they’re tailored; jerseys that skim the body and don’t cling

They have history: Ilagan and Mendoza launched Faro in 2003. From experience they found the line sold better within department stores, so now they’ve found a permanent home at Rustan’s. They’re also partners in Lime, a boutique that specializes in jersey pieces, while Ilagan’s family and friends recently launched Religioso, which features upmarket, ultrafashionable clothes.

Design philosophy: Lighter colors (a lot of pastels) and a more casual, sportswear feel, though there are dressy items as well. “When we say plus size it’s not like in the States where it’s really big,” Ilagan says. “Here we’re focusing on irregularly shaped bodies: big tops, big hips, not totally proportionally big.”

“Some want sexy cuts — a low V-neck or something a little tight,” adds Mendoza. “Because our customers don’t want to wear prints and loud colors, we have to find a balance.”

Least-exposed body part: Arms

Insider tips: Be comfortable with your body. “It’s not really the size, it’s your general outlook,” Ilagan says. “Rather than being conscious about being teased, be confident.”

“Embrace color, embrace light,” advises Mendoza. “Don’t always wear black or brown to be in the background; be happy and if you want to wear red or fuchsia, you can wear it.”

Where to buy it: Faro is available at the plus area of Rustan’s Department Stores.

A sur-plus of offerings

Need a treasure map to find clothes that fit in a country full of bony beeyatches? Here we point you to more shops with style, reasonable prices, and most importantly, a full range of sizes.

• Marks & Spencer. A favorite haunt for professionals and corporate types, Marks & Sparks is also a one-stop shop for the curvaceous with its lingerie, sleepwear, shoes, cosmetics and accessories.

• Debenhams. Another department store that originated on the British high street, Debenhams offers both hot-off-the-ramp trends and more classic, in-house basics. You can find couture-worthy party and prom attire in plus sizes here.

• Liz Claiborne. Long a haven for working women desperately seeking more generous sizing, today Liz Clairborne still stands for upscale American sportswear and classic elegance.

• Criselda Lontok. Rustan’s in-house designer offers cocktail wear, party dresses and full-on gowns for more mature women.

• Rustan’s Department Store. For more casual, everyday apparel, Rustan’s has a plus section with brands like Faro, Big is Beautiful, and Verve.

• SM Department Store. SM has a spacious, nicely designed plus department with labels like Ladies Circle for nice knits, JUS (“Just Ur Size”) for cool tees, and Savie for dressier, semi-formal outfits.

Robinsons Department Store. RDS has seven brands that offer up to triple XL. Hipper labels include Maxine, Biggie and Fashion Series; for more mature ladies there’s Boyet Fajardo, Francesca, Rouchelle and Women Plus.

MAXINE PLUS SIZE
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