6 Questions WITH Alexandra Waldman:
co-founder of fashion label "Universal Standard" on collaborating with Ralph Pucci
Alexandra Waldman, with long time friend Polina Veksler, founded the brand Universal Standard in response to the lack of quality & contemporary style in plus-size fashion. Their mission comes across loud and clear: to offer everyday pieces that fit and function beautifully, for women of a universal-sized average. There is integrity to the clothing that not only speaks of inclusivity, but affordable sustainability as well.
In the release of Ralph Pucci’s latest mannequin collection, SIZES, Ralph Pucci selected Universal Standard to outfit the size 8-16 mannequins for the opening show in December. We sat down with Alexandra to take a deeper look into her brand, and the complex journey of creating inclusivity.
Tell us about how you first connected with Ralph Pucci International, and how both company cultures ended up blending so well?
When Ralph first reached out to me, he started to talk about how the company was going to make these full figured mannequins. Which begged the question, “okay, who’s going to dress them?” and when he looked through the industry, he found us. After visiting our showroom, seeing our clothes up close, he was totally on board. His whole concept is such a great match with what we are all about and what we are trying to do in this industry. And I think we both realized there was a lot of common ground we could take advantage of, creatively. But it wasn’t until I really got to the NYC showroom that the penny dropped. I realized that whatever collaboration was possible was going to be amazing.
Is there an element to this collaboration that you find especially exciting? A kind of special “take-away” you’ll be able to hold onto?
I think what’s so amazing is that Ralph has proven himself to be ahead of the curve, you know, with this project. There’s obviously a matter of him having optimal taste, but he's also really incredibly aware of the changes that are happening in the industry. Everything from the concept of beauty to the commercial side of it to the pace of how fast the markets are moving, he's really kind of ahead of the curve. And looking at what is next is what you have to do in order to be relevant. Because he has that ability to look ahead, we were beyond excited for Universal Standard to be included in this project.
When I look at your clothes, they have such clean lines; there’s a beautiful sense of structure and near-minimalism that definitely works well with the Pucci aesthetic. Can you speak to the inspiration behind Universal Standard’s “look”?
You know, that's very nice to hear. The whole idea behind creating this brand was to make clothes to live in, rather than targeting only special occasions. The “Special Occasion” category is an area that seems to dominate the plus-size industry; there are very few collections out there that are made for the every day parts of life. I guess in that sense, when I think about what I want to wear from day to day, I’d rather keep it simple. Which translates down to the cut and fit as well.
Something we read from your piece on the Today site, is how the environment surrounding Plus-Size sections at major department stores often miss the mark. Can you lend us some insight as to your experiences in this overlooked area?
It’s funny, making the trip to the Plus Size section is something anyone can see. It’s almost like a neglected aspect of retail design. I can speak to this, as can every woman who has a Universal Standard size. I hesitate to use the word humiliating, because in order for something to be humiliating you have to participate in the humiliation. I don’t want to participate in that, because no body deserves it…but it is very disheartening.
You know, it all started when my future business partner and I were invited to an event. She asked if I was going, but I honestly felt there was nothing I had to wear. She said, “Alex, you live a few blocks from Fifth Avenue. There’s got to be something to wear.” So we went to a popular department store, with every floor so beautiful in design. But for me, my sizing was on the furniture level. You walk to the northeast corner of this floor, where they push clothes to the back and have this dimly lit, poorly set up environment.
That was the moment when she sort of went, “Wow. It's really bad”. And because of her business background, and my inspiration to make these inclusive clothes, we sat down, and decided to start Universal Standard together.
That’s so inspiring, yet illuminates a real problem. I’m curious, along with stores creating negative shopping environments— is the “bad selection” problem one that stems from buyers, or just a lack of good designers?
It's a vicious cycle, because there aren't a lot of options out there for buyers. And from a store design perspective, I think “neglect” is the right word. It's surprising, you know, when nearly 70% of the population— the majority of the population— is relegated to the back of some corner on the furniture floor, when they're the ones doing most of the shopping. It’s like there is a certain stereotype for bigger bodies that translates into a biased shopping experience. This is why the fact that, that someone like Ralph doing this amazing thing is almost like a normalization we all have been waiting for; where it's just clothes, it's not you. It’s not “you shop over there because you're like this”.
That step towards normalization is something incredible and we're hoping brick-and-mortar stores will follow suit in giving larger sizes the focus they deserve.
In seeing “body confidence” and the acceptance of curves in fashion as a trend, is there a difference you see in the fashion market now, that hasn’t always been there before?
Yes, I would say it's a kind of a balancing act where there is a norm that is much more inclusive. Being accepted by the market so far is an exciting time to be in, because when you say that this is a time where it’s changing, it’s always been changing but it's never been able to be sustained. What the difference is now, is that there is a shift in attitude and a shift towards acceptance that can keep companies like us in business.
I think what’s interesting too, is as a country we’ve made so much progress in so many areas of acceptance. It’s sort of like, the last acceptable “Prejudice” is the body. Body shaming is still so prevalent and still so out there. People think the strangest things and presume all these factors about your life from a distance. It’s this kind of overwhelming thought where, in a way, you deserve every inconvenience you experience, simply because of the size of your body.
But that’s the reason we exist: as a company I feel that there’s no one else out there creating a space in the mainstream world. The mainstream world being a place where there’s a tasteful selection of nice clothes. In our designs, I don't want to offend or infantilize or sexualize plus-size women. I want to let them have the freedom of clothes that fit well, that look beautiful no matter where they’re headed in their day.
Click above to view the Sizes catalogue
Interview, Styling & Photography, Christy Rappold
Clothing Contribution, Universal Standard
Model & Styling, Abigail Trautwig