The inaugural Cultivate Award honors BIPOC, plus-size designers. But luxury fashion still has a long way to go.

By Emma Moneuse.

As luxury fashion faces calls for more inclusivity, the industry is finally starting to listen. Earlier this year, plus-size fashion brand Eloquii teamed up with The Curvy Fashionista, an online media platform for all things plus-size, to create the Cultivate Award, which spotlights BIPOC designers of plus-size fashion. While other established awards like the LVMH Prize and CFDA Awards have increased representation in the past few years, with finalist lists including more international names and designers of color such as Sindiso Khumalo, Lukhanyo Mdingi and Christopher John Rogers, plus-size fashion designers are still notably absent from such recognition.

The Cultivate Award was created by The Curvy Fashionista to grow the plus-size fashion community. This week marked the announcement of the award’s inaugural winner: designer Melissa Mercedes, who will receive a $10,000 grant, one year of professional mentorship and an opportunity to launch a collection with Eloquii.

Mercedes, an L.A.-based independent designer of Dominican descent, is entirely self-taught. Her creations range from sizes 8 to 28 and have been seen on the red carpet and in Vogue Italia. Mercedes credits fashion’s lack of representation in dresses for women of all sizes as the inspiration behind the brand.

The Cultivate Award presents a step forward as luxury fashion begins to slowly embrace more plus-size representation. Versace had its first plus-size models, Precious Lee, Alva Claire and Jill Kortleve, walk the runway in its Spring/Summer 2021 shows last year; Donatella Versace said in an interview with Vogue Business that people can expect to see more size inclusion at Versace. Fendi also included plus-size models for a second season in row in 2021, while Lee and other plus-size models graced the cover of Vogue Italia’s September cover series.

But even as runways and magazine covers continue to diversify, there is still a huge lack of extended sizing online and in stores for a majority of luxury designers. With approximately 70 percent of U.S. women considered plus-size, fashion prizes like the Cultivate Award are crucial for ensuring representation for all women in the future of fashion.

Image credit: LVMH Prize