Those Zeros Keep Adding Uphttp://www.wwd.com/issue/article/109843
By Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Zero could be the new six.
Not restricted to painfully thin runway models, Hollywood celebrities or Tom Wolfe’s famed Social X-rays, size zero is gaining ground with everyday women and designers alike. For some women, being a size zero is something to brag about; for others, even that isn’t small enough.
While some might be all too familiar with what a shopping challenge zero-ness poses, many — presumably larger people — didn’t even know such a size existed until Madrid Fashion Week’s organizers agreed to ban zero-sized models last month. Yet Robert Duffy, president and vice chairman of Marc Jacobs International, recently said Marc Jacobs sells more zeros than any other size in its collection and, truth be told, he has never seen a cutting order for a size 14.
While some designers have aggressively gone after zeros as a way to compensate for the near nonexistence of petite departments in many department stores and major chains, that was not why Lela Rose got into the game. Rose said she started offering her collection in that diminutive size two years ago, when a handful of customers found themselves swimming in her size 2 pieces. To her surprise, zero has become one of her label’s top-selling sizes.
Zero-sized merchandise is doing so well for Nicole Miller that she plans to introduce a subzero size next season for even smaller women. The new size would be geared toward women with a 23 1/2-inch waist and 35-inch lower hip. (That waist size is said to be the one Victoria Beckham has, which also is said to be the circumference of a soccer ball.) Sizes zero and 2 are always the first to sell out in Nicole Miller stores. “Zero is too big for a lot of girls and I wouldn’t say they are anorexic girls. There are many very petite girls and very small Asian women,” said Miller.
Another factor that may be contributing to the zero craze is the prevalence of vanity sizing among some brands. “I’ve noticed that other companies are sizing up. I used to go buy pants and would wear a 6, but they started to be too big. Now a 4 is too big,” Miller said.
Some fashion executives speculated about how the tabloids’ analysis and full-length photos of the extralean frames of Nicole Richie, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Pompeo and other celebrities might play on Americans’ never-too-thin mind-set.
Ed Bucciarelli, chief executive officer and president of Henri Bendel, said, “Clearly, there has been much discussion about models and celebrities being too thin. That’s tabloid fodder. We live in a very celebrity-conscious world, especially in the U.S. Maybe some are trying to emulate the girls they see on the [magazine] covers.”
While Lela Rose, Marc Jacobs, Cynthia Rowley and Nicole Miller may be on board with zero sizing, many high-end American designers are not. Bucciarelli said, “I wonder if it’s an American phenomenon. I don’t know there is an equivalent size in Europe.”
Petite shoppers were up in arms last spring when Saks Fifth Avenue announced it was dropping its petite department. The news caused such an uproar the retailer has since said the department will be reinstated. As things stand, zero is “one of the sizes that sells out pretty quickly” at Saks, a company spokeswoman said. Theory, which also offers items in a double zero, and Alice + Olivia are among the popular labels with size-zero customers, she said.
Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi, a zero-wearing shopper, said she usually checks out Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, but small sizes tend to sell out quickly. Further complicating things is the fact that buyers tend to buy only a few size zeros of a particular style, compared with plenty of 8s or 10s.
“If I find something I kind of like, I feel pressured to get it. I know if I wait, it will be gone. Stores need to carry more small sizes,” she said.
At Bendel’s, zero-sized merchandise comprises about 5 to 10 percent of the total business. The prevalence of superslim silhouettes such as leggings and skinny jeans should only make more women size down whenever possible, said Bucciarelli. Diane von Furstenberg, Sass & Bide, J Brand, Alice + Olivia and LaRok are a few of the labels that are popular for their zero sizes, he said.
Sometimes zero isn’t small enough. Jennifer Hoppe, a zero-sized New Yorker, said she spends “hundreds and hundreds of dollars” annually on alterations. She often finds herself shopping at Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy — sometimes in the children’s department — to try to find clothes. “I don’t have a destination. In fact, that’s been my dream — to open a store for small people, even though I know it’s so politically incorrect.”
The 110-pounder is so adamant about the dearth of diminutive sizes, she once wrote an essay that was published in For Me magazine about the reverse discrimination she faces. “People often think it’s perfectly OK to comment about how I’m really small and the fact of the matter is they would never say that to an overweight person.”
More contemporary resources are offering size zero, said Hoppe, who buys Rebecca Taylor pants and Joe’s Jeans. Wrap dresses are a mainstay in her wardrobe because of obvious reasons.
“I can find things, but it takes me longer than most people,” she said.
Boston-based technology writer Stefanie McCann, who buys zero and double-zero clothes, said finding casual clothes is not a problem, but “the work stuff is almost impossible, which is tough when you are almost 40 and you are really limited to what you can wear.” Suits are out of the question, as their alterations could easily run $150, and dresses aren’t much better. She often winds up shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, Arden B., outlet stores and “even Marshall’s.”
During her twice-a-month business trips, McCann tries to seek out boutiques, which tend to carry smaller sizes.
That means shoppers like McCann buy more full-priced merchandise since they don’t really have the option of waiting for something to go on sale. She said she has mentioned the lack of proper-fitting clothes to salespeople in stores, but they have shown little sympathy. “They’ll say, ‘Isn’t that a great problem to have?'”
New York-based publicist Jennifer DeMarchi also noted that finding jackets is tough because the shoulders never fit properly and sleeves are always too long. “I think plus-size women have more options than zeros these days. Wal-Mart and Target have plus-size departments, but no petites,” she said.
Posted by: isaaph | October 11, 2006