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Big is beautiful

RISING STAR: Jerri is of the in-demand models on MCUK’s books

IT’S FAIR to say that the only models you are likely to see on the front covers of magazines or on catwalks are women with stick thin size zero frames.

However, in recent years the fashion industry has changed, giving greater visibility to many more fuller figured, ethnically diverse plus size female models such as Philomena Kwao, Chenese Lewis, Teiko Dornor and Toccara Jones to name a few.

Fashion brands and designers alike are recognising that there are wider definitions of beauty that can be incorporated into the work they do.


Among those leading this trend is entrepreneur Theodore Ilori who, through his company Ms Curvaceous UK, (MCUK), is celebrating the beauty of women wearing size 12 and above hoping to create greater visibility for them.

MCUK is one of the UK's leading plus size model management companies.

The women on its books have gone on to feature in publications such as the Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan, and Love It.

Others have worked with recognisable brands such as George at Asda, River Island and Simply Be.

MCUK also hosts the biggest live modelling competition in the UK for plus size models.

“Initially, we started out to create more representation for plus size women who had no visibility in the fashion industry” recalls Ilori. “But since 2011 we have grown to do so much more. We run the MCUK Final Show & Model competition every year. The fashion show has a unique fusion of entertainment and modelling where contestants work the runway and showcase fashion collections.”

BEAUTY: Hannah

And according to the entrepreneur it is inspiring to see the effect on the women who take part in the show.

“It’s beautiful to see the confidence in all the models who participate” he says. “And we often find that the audience often change their perspective on standards of beauty and fashion as a result of watching the show. We also find that many spectators who thought being a model was once unattainable, become motivated to give it a go themselves, and end up joining our next cohort the following year.”

This is exactly what happened for Cerise Cross, winner of MCUK 2015.

She went from thinking she would not win, to being featured on Vogue’s website, published in Slink Magazine – one of the leading plus size magazines in the world - being part of a modelling campaign for Scarlett & Jo, working with a renowned choreographer Royston Gooden-Legore who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé and Usher, and is now launching CeCe Prestige Hair Collection, a collection of short and bold hairstyles, with luxury hair company Pride and Prestige.

“I went into Ms Curvaceous with no confidence, but with an open mind” says Cross, 23. “I honestly did not think I’d be able to make it as a model because of my size. I thought the best thing I could get from the experience would be a professional picture. I had no idea I would seriously go on to win the competition.”

TOP MODEL: Ceriss Cross MCUK 2015

She continues: “Winning the competition changed everything for me, I didn’t believe I would ever get this far. I just watched America’s Next Top Model and hoped for the best. My experience with MCUK has given me the opportunity to feature in Zimbabwe Fashion Week and Graduate Fashion Week, which then led to my picture being featured on the Vogue website and it’s just been an uphill celebration since then. This whole experience has taught me that nothing just comes, you have to work hard for whatever you want, but as quick as it comes, it can also go the same way. A challenge I have experienced is the downtime in the fashion industry, as it is heavily dependent on seasons, so from time to time, I might not have any work. But that hasn’t stopped me. It’s been inspiring to watch everyone’s journey and I feel that MCUK is something that everyone should take part in.”

This year’s final will take place in November.


And the model from Birmingham has some advice for women who were in her position last year, wanting to try some modelling but struggling with their confidence.

“The best way to succeed is to be yourself” she says. “At the start of the competition, I think I tried to fit in with everyone else and that didn’t work for me. It didn’t feel genuine or natural. But the moment I was myself, things became a lot easier. I am my biggest critic and we as girls like to self-criticise a lot and it’s not helpful. We need to continue to love ourselves daily. What I do is look in the mirror and find at least one thing I love about myself. That helps me to practice appreciating myself and strengthening my self-love, instead of comparing myself with others.”


As well as the impact on others, MCUK gives the models in the competition further exposure and opportunities to become more successful in the industry.

All participants are trained to a very high standard by renowned coaches and experts, which in turn helps the models to leave with enhanced modelling skills and a higher level of motivation to pursue a career in modelling. They also gain opportunities to network with key decision makers and influencers within the fashion industry.
And it is this approach that Ilori hopes will keep MCUK growing.

VISION: Theo Ilori

“We are a friendly brand that understands the needs of people who are underrepresented. MCUK is not a beauty pageant, but a modelling competition. We pledge to be significant in revolutionising industry standards and highlighting a widely under represented demographic.”

He continued: “Since the start of the competition this year, there have been over 5,000 applicants, which is a demonstration of the positive work we are doing with MCUK. We don’t believe in limitations, but seek to encourage others to become the best version of themselves - both inside and out.”

There are two stages to the competition. Up to 40 contestants will undergo editorial, commercial and urban photoshoots.


From there the MCUK team pick 20 contestants with the help of public votes. The second round will then consist of a catwalk showcase.

Judges such as Rivkie Baum, Royston Gooden-Legore, Chauncea Carothers and Gifi Fields, all of whom have worked with the likes of Michael Kors, Channel, and London Fashion Week will deliberate to choose who goes through to the final stages of the competition.

Each finalist will be given the chance to compete for a model management contract with MCUK, £500, and a chance to feature on the front cover of a high end magazine.

Ilori believes that the company’s modelling competition is slowly helping to make a difference.

“Although the fashion industry is changing, it is happening very slowly. But with a variety of brands and labels having a plus size range we hope we can continue to create longstanding careers for top class curvaceous models. With the digital element that we’ve added to the competition this year, we will be streaming the final internationally across USA, Africa and other continents. This gives all our participants an even bigger audience and platform to showcase their skills and talents.”

MODELLING COMPETITION: Contestants at MCUK 2015 [PIC CREDIT: Karlton Chambers]

He added: “Our aim is to introduce successful full figured women who are sizes 12 and above to act as role models in the mainstream media and fashion industry, so that younger women growing up - who don't fit the size 8 to 10 profile - have someone they can relate to and won't feel pressured to make any unrealistic or unnatural changes to their bodies.”
In addition to the success of the modelling competition Ilori and his team are working on a range of other initiatives.


“We host regular body confidence and modelling workshops, providing a platform for aspiring plus size or fuller figured models and partner with brands who embrace our vision” he says. “It is our purpose to empower women worldwide by redefining beauty standards and boosting confidence and self-esteem in women. By 2020 we aim to empower 1 million women directly or indirectly through our work.”

MCUK has also worked with B-eat, a national charity based in the UK that provides information, help and support to people affected by eating disorders. This is something the company hope to replicate in the future.

In the run up to this year’s final, MCUK will be delivering body confidence, modelling and beauty masterclasses in Leeds and Birmingham throughout September.

“People often leave us armed with a network of strong and useful contacts, enhanced skills and a real passion to continue developing themselves,” says Theo.

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