Wilhelmina plus-size model Hayley Hasselhoff walks the runway in her first straight-size show for Australian label Eder+Berk during New York Fashion Week, Sept. 10, 2015.
Wilhelmina plus-size model Hayley Hasselhoff walks the runway in her first straight-size show for Australian label Eder+Berk during New York Fashion Week, Sept. 10, 2015.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–When Hayley Hasselhoff walks the runways, she tells a story with every step. The plus-size Wilhelmina model, who wears a size 14, wants women to get the message: The best thing you can do for yourself is to love your body.

“It’s all about body confidence,” Hasselhoff told Women’s eNews in an interview at a Hey Gorgeous! presentation of plus-size designer clothes during New York Fashion Week, which ended Sept. 17.

“Some people say, ‘Drop the plus.’ I’m not that person,” she said, referring to the #droptheplus debate over whether the plus-size label is appropriate. “The average size in the world is a 14/16.”

Hasselhoff will be back on the catwalk this weekend, on Saturday, Sept. 26, in the Curve Fashion Festival in Manchester, England. Coming right after London Fashion Week, the event features fashion shows, celebrities, pop-up shops for plus-size clothing brands and parties galore.

“Overseas, they’re much more advanced” in their approach to plus-size fashion, Hasselhoff said, adding that there are so many more brands available, including High Street names like Evans, SimplyBe and others. “Here in America, you’ve got a brand for teenagers and you’ve got a brand for adults.”

Hasselhoff, 23, signed with New York-based Wilhelmina Models, one of the world’s top talent management agencies, about two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, she’s worked the catwalks from New York to London, Paris, Berlin and beyond.

At New York Fashion Week, she scored a milestone.

“I was privileged to walk in the Eder+Berk runway show. This was my first straight-size show,” she said, recalling her work for the Australian designers, Anna Eder and Meri Berkopec, who put her in a cobalt blue silk dress. “It was very empowering for me as a model.”

She left that night for London, where she walked in the U.K. Plus-Size Fashion Weekend show.

‘Baywatch’ and Body Confidence

In January, pictures from her first lingerie shoot surfaced, attracting a media storm. Life and Style Weekly magazine asked her about how she overcame bullying as a pre-teen girl and “how she came to love her body.” Inevitably, reporters ask what her famous father, the actor David Hasselhoff of TV’s “Baywatch” beach show, thinks of her modeling career.

“I did some ‘Baywatch’ things when I was a kid,” she told Women’s eNews. “I started modeling when I was 14. He would drive me to my model castings. He’s happy that I’m so passionate about what I do. I love it that my parents are proud of my work ethic. I’m a very hard worker.”

After signing with Ford Modeling Agency at 14, she became the celebrity spokesmodel for Torrid, a U.S. brand whose trendy plus-size clothes are popular with female teens. (In May, Torrid announced a partnership with actress Rebel Wilson of “Pitch Perfect” fame to offer a limited-edition clothing line.)

During her teens, Hasselhoff juggled her modeling work with acting. She co-starred with Nikki Blonsky in ABC Family’s 2010 series “Huge,” about teens at a weight-loss camp. This year, she’s starring in “Fearless,” a musical comedy movie about teens at the beach.

“Body confidence, for me, comes through fashion. I’ve always loved clothes. It’s about body image. The lingerie and the swimsuit; it has to be a great piece for me to feel confident in it. I’ve designed clothes,” she said, noting that she met with the dean of the Fashion Institute of Technology when she was 16 after graduating early from high school.

In February 2014, Hasselhoff made her debut on the London runways and her modeling career took off. She went on to headline three of the world’s biggest plus-size fashion events, including Paris Pulp Fashion Week. She was named Best Plus Size Model at the 2014 British Plus Size Awards. This year, she’s up for Best Plus Size Model again and Best Celebrity Female.

Models for All Shapes and Sizes

Marissa Muscari, who is Hasselhoff’s agent at Wilhelmina in New York, said she has seen the fashion landscape change for models of all shapes and sizes.

“There has been a shift to more acceptance, more openness of designers to have different body types in their shows,” Muscari told Women’s eNews in an interview during New York Fashion Week.

Women who wear sizes above the fashion runways’ range of up to possibly an 8 “can’t really buy clothes (based) on a body type that doesn’t look like them,” Muscari said. “There’s a public demand” for models and clothes that look more realistic.

In the United States, an estimated 67 percent of women wear a size 14 or larger. They often have a hard time finding fashionable clothes that fit; a situation that’s created an audience for style bloggers such as Nicolette Mason and her BigGirlInASkinnyWorld column in Marie Claire magazine. The NPD Group, a global retail consulting firm, pegged U.S. sales of women’s clothing in size 18 and up at $17.5 billion for the 12 months that ended April 30, 2014; an increase of 5 percent over the previous year.

Aimee Cheshire, co-founder and president of Hey Gorgeous!, an online plus-size fashion retailer with a New York showroom where customers can try things on, said she’s watched the demand for plus-size models soar in the past five years.

“It’s a booming industry. Rates have gone from about $700 a day in 2010 to more than $2,000 a day” now, Cheshire told Women’s eNews in a phone interview. “There’s so much commercial work. That is what’s paying the bills.”

This year, Hasselhoff became the face of Persona, the youthful new line of Marina Rinaldi, the luxury plus-size label owned by Italian fashion house Max Mara.

“It’s the more attainable price point for the young professional,” Cheshire said of Persona, which is carried exclusively by Hey Gorgeous! in the United States.

Persona’s clothes for Fall 2015 include a royal purple hooded coat and a deep green faux leather sleeveless dress. The prices are around $250 for a tailored dress, more in line with a career woman’s budget, compared with Marina Rinaldi, where a quilted puffer jacket goes for $605 at an upscale retailer such as Saks Fifth Avenue.

‘A Dream Fit’

Hasselhoff’s attitude and shape make her “a dream fit” for Hey Gorgeous! and its fashion message for a plus-size clientele of over 3,000 women in 34 countries, according to Cheshire and her business partner, David Wechsler, co-founder and president of the New York-based start-up.

“I want to share Hayley’s confidence with the world – and my success,” Cheshire said, adding that she worked briefly as a plus-size model before starting her retail career about 10 years ago. “For me to have my own business was my personal dream, and then to have kids at home, you don’t often see someone of my figure represented” in success stories, she added.

At 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Hasselhoff is shorter than the typical runway model. Most are 5 feet, 10 inches – “the magic number” as Cheshire put it.

Hasselhoff’s shorter frame and curvy figure are easier for many women to identify with when they see her modeling clothes, instead of the tall plus-size models that many brands and retailers use in their ads and online, said Cheshire. “She’s a true size 14 and that’s not shown enough in the plus-size world,” Cheshire said.

The best-known adult plus-size brand, Lane Bryant, launched its #PlusIsEqual marketing campaign during New York Fashion Week with billboards and events. It kept up the momentum with prime-time TV commercials during the Emmys broadcast on Sunday. The commercials showed six plus-size models walking confidently in sexy clothes – a mini-dress with over-the-knee boots, for instance – to a percussive beat with the voiceover: “Nobody’s ignoring us anymore. Plus is equal.”

In perhaps a sign of things to come, designer Marc Jacobs sent Beth Ditto, indie rock’s plus-size poster girl, down his Spring/Summer 2016 runway in New York in a low-cut white gown with a thigh-high split and a white feather boa.

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