Fashion Reverie looks back at the career of British plus-size top model Sophie Dahl. In an era that celebrated the waif look of British supermodel Kate Moss, Sophie Dahl took runways by storm with her zaftig proportions and what some fashion captions defined her as “Sophie and the giant peaches.” Dahl’s breast size was the non-standard model size of 38DD.
Discovered by British stylist and fashion eccentric Isabella Blow, the 18-year old Dahl, who at the time was attending secretarial school, was signed immediately by Storm Models. ”She [Isabella Blow] got out of a cab in a Philip Treacy hat and a McQueen corset, sat down next to me, and said ‘Wow, you can be a model!’ So we went off to find my mum, who was, of course, sooooo annoyed. I was so smug about the entire thing,” says Dahl in an interview with Kira Cochrane in the Guardian.
Soon followed campaigns with Versace, Alexander McQueen, Pringle of Scotland, Patrick Cox, Boucheron, Gap, the 1998 Pirelli calendar, Aubin and Willis, and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium. Dahl’s Opium campaign ad, art directed by Tom Ford and photographed by Steven Meisel, had Dahl posed nude on black satin with cherry red hair was so controversial that it was removed from UK billboards with complaints that the ad objectified women.
Renowned fashion photographers Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Peter Bailey, Steven Meisel, and Peter Lindbergh have photographed Dahl. And Dahl has also graced the covers of British, French, German and Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, I-D, Visionnaire, and V magazines.
Though most female fashion journalist’s loved Dahl’s curves, there were those fashion critics who felt that editorials that emphasized her voluptuous body, objectified women. “My size wasn’t something that I’d ever spent a huge amount of time thinking about —I guess at the age of 17 or 18, you don’t. You know, I just wanted to be reasonably the same shape and size as my friends so that I could borrow clothes from them. It was as simple as that. So to suddenly have what should be a private time, when you’re working out your relationship to your body, made very public was just extraordinary. It used to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Those photographs that should be fuel for tender family moments, or jokes between you and your best girlfriends, are suddenly all out there on the internet, for everyone to see for as long as they like,” detailed Dahl in a Guardian interview.
An accomplished writer, Dahl is the author of four books, The Man with Dancing Eyes (2003), Playing with Grownups (2008), Miss Dahl’s Voluptous Delights (2009), and From Season to Season (2011). She has also been a regular contributor to American Vogue, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, and the Saturday Times.
Dahl now lives in the UK with jazz singer husband Jamie Cullen and two daughters and occasionally models.
—William S. Gooch