Before there was Christian Siriano, there was Tadashi Shoji
When Bebe Rexha revealed on Instagram recently that many designers refused to dress her for the Grammys because she was “too big” at a size 6/8, her fans immediately called on Christian Siriano to swoop in and save the day. So did Megan Mullally’s followers when the actress sounded off on the difficulty of finding an outfit for her SAG Awards hosting gig in January.
It’s easy to see why Siriano’s widely regarded as something of a style superhero these days: The 33-year-old “Project Runway” alum has made it his mission to outfit stars who have been overlooked by other fashion houses, whether for their size, race or age.
But while his diverse approach to celebrity dressing has earned Siriano miles of well-deserved press coverage lately, 71-year-old Japanese designer Tadashi Shoji has been quietly doing the very same thing for decades with far less fanfare.
“We’ve been doing plus sizes for the past 23 years, only we call them ‘queen sizes,’” Shoji, who launched his namesake line in 1982, told Page Six Style. “It wasn’t so much of a big deal for us. It’s just our point of view: Whoever comes to us asking for a dress, we welcome them, whether they [wear] petite, plus or straight sizes.”
The designer’s commitment to “catering to all kinds of figures” has won him scores of famous fans, including Michelle Obama, Mo’Nique and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom Shoji’s been dressing regularly since her critically-acclaimed turn in 2011’s “The Help.”
“When Octavia’s stylist asked us about dressing her, we, of course, said yes,” the designer recalled. One of their early red carpet collaborations was the lavender draped gown Spencer, 46, wore to the 2012 Golden Globes, which swiftly landed her on all of the night’s best-dressed lists.
For the 2012 Oscars, the two decided to step things up. “She asked us, ‘Can you make me a goddess dress?’” Shoji said. He created a custom cap-sleeved ivory gown awash with shimmering silver sequins, which Spencer would go on to wear while accepting her Best Supporting Actress statuette for her performance as Minny Jackson.
“She was literally crying,” Shoji said of Spencer’s reaction to seeing her finished Oscars gown for the first time. “I had never experienced that kind of reaction over a dress.”
It’s especially noteworthy because unlike Siriano’s designs, which are often marked by extravagant tiered skirts and eye-catching architectural silhouettes, Shoji’s tend to be quieter. His dresses rely on figure-flattering draping and ruching to draw the eye away from areas stars might wish to mask — and play up those they love most.
In fact, despite having dozens of red carpet hits under his belt, Shoji admitted that he’s still surprised and delighted whenever someone hits the red carpet in his clothes. When Mo’Nique stepped out in a cobalt blue gown from his collection at the 2010 Oscars, where she scooped up the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “Precious,” the designer couldn’t quite believe it, in fact.
“We didn’t make that specifically for her,” Shoji explained. “She’d had a custom gown made [by another designer], but wound up wearing one we’d sent her stylist instead. When I was watching TV and saw her, I thought, wait — that looks like my dress! It was a huge surprise.”
And while Oscar winners can likely commission custom looks from any number of fashion houses, for up-and-coming stars of all shapes and sizes, like “Glow” actress Britney Young — who looked smashing in a bespoke Shoji jumpsuit at the SAG Awards in January — it’s a trickier matter.
“No!” Shoji exclaimed. “Making a dress is like painting on a canvas, and the figure is the canvas. You just have to change the proportions, that’s all. Whether it’s a big canvas, a small canvas, a narrow canvas — if the proportions are correct, the painting will come out beautiful.”
And Shoji has taken pains to ensure that he nails those proportions each and every time. “Most brands will make different sizes by automatically grading up or down, but we don’t,” he explained. “We have three different fit models, including plus- and petite-sized models. We fit everything on them, to make sure it all looks good. But maybe, you know, some designers don’t want to do that.”
In fact, Shoji wonders why fashion’s sudden interest in inclusive design didn’t come earlier. “Everyone is talking about plus sizes, and I’m wondering: why now? It’s a good thing, but why now?” he said. “Our motto since the beginning has been that women deserve to feel comfortable and confident.”
After all, he added, “Men have always been able to do this — why shouldn’t women? It’s about time.”
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