In an era when racial differences are celebrated and gender preferences embraced, there is a notable holdout in the way the fashion industry looks at their customers. Body size continues to be a tricky topic for brands who conceive and cut their clothes for tall women wearing small digits. The issue is not only that sizing rarely runs above a 10 for many luxury labels, it’s also that each size up essentially assumes a symmetrically proportionate growth pattern—an equal expansion at the hips, chest, and height—when the reality, we all know, is quite different: A 5’3” woman wearing a size 8 is going to fill a dress in a way that is very different from someone who is 5’10”.
Fashion industry veteran Jill Wenger figured it was about time someone tackled this glaring design oversight. So when she launched her label Roucha in 2017, her very first task was to create an innovative sizing system that accommodates multiple shapes and varying dimensions—something that more closely resembles the true diversity of women’s bodies. Without a roadmap to follow, she drew on her experience of owning luxury boutiques. “I spent 15 years working with women in the fitting rooms of my stores,” she says. “The average customer was size 10 to 14. Where could they shop? No one was serving their needs. I understood—I am a size 14. My experience with those fitting rooms guided my decisions.”
After considering several approaches, Wenger settled on a sizing chart that borrows from hosiery. “It’s really satisfying to look on the back of the pantyhose package and see exactly which pair will fit you,” she says. A full body chart proved more complicated than just legs, of course, and the designer altered her system three times in first 60 days based on women coming into the studio, trying on samples, and giving her feedback. Finally, she settled on a formula that works. “Every style we develop is fit on at least three women, all Roucha size C, but with varied heights and figures,” she explains. “Then we fit three other sizes. It’s a time-consuming process, but our core focus is ensuring each style fits comfortably and drapes well on a variety of women.”
Wenger’s versatile designs lean towards modern and minimal with a hint of street, and she has a definite archetype in mind when she designs: A self-assured, creative, intellectual woman who is empowered to live as she chooses. “It’s the woman who wants style without stress,” says Wenger, who emphasizes earthy colors, fluid cuts, and vertical stripes in her fall collection. “It’s about slouchy, oversized pants with a high crewneck sweater—cleanliness paired with something tactile, clothes that are easy to put on and go.”
Despite voyaging into waters that have not always been successful for high-fashion brands in the past, Wenger is unwavering in her belief in the concept. Part of that stems from a been-there-done-that attitude: With a resume of successful fashion ventures, she needed a new challenge. “If I was going to stay in the fashion business, I needed it to be more meaningful,” she says. “Fashion is run by mostly men, designing for mostly women. But how can fashion serve women if it doesn’t fit the vast majority of us? I thought, we can do better. We need a shift away from designing for muses or ideals and a shift toward a realistic understanding of women’s bodies. Redefining aspirational clothing as being more expressive, more comfortable, more unique—not just smaller, taller, more expensive.”
Wenger credits Phebe Philo and Stella McCartney for blazing new trails in this regard, as well as Eileen Fischer and Rei Kawakubo. “Armani was ahead of his time, but really its been the last 15 years—Stella and a few others—who changed the conversation from not just how you look but how you feel in your clothes,” she says.
Roucha, she believes, is the next evolution of this paradigm shift. “Today, we have clothes that can truly be vehicles of self-expression for women,” she says. “Now we need to make it work in a way that fits a luxury category—not just adding a bunch of lycra so it stretches for larger bodies. That’s not style. It’s clothes, but not fashion.”
Changing a conversation with roots in more than a century of design principles doesn’t happen overnight. But Wenger is plenty motivated to continue trumpeting her cause. “I have women emailing me and saying, ‘I haven’t been able to wear pants for a decade—thank you for finally giving me choices’ and that gets me so excited,” she says. “All women are equal and deserve to be treated as equal, whatever their size. It’s about making women feel included.”