Precious Lee’s Instagram bio reads, “In the business of making history.” That has most certainly been accomplished, time and time again.
As New York Fashion Week continues, Lee’s star has risen higher with each runway, perfectly constructed ensemble, and breakthrough moment. It may be too soon to cast her as the industry’s next Queen of Curves, but one thing’s for certain: Her mere presence, resilience, and visibility at New York Fashion Week is opening doors for a new generation of women to shine.
On Thursday, Lee was crowned Breakthrough Model at the Fashion Media Awards, hosted by Daily Front Row. Honored alongside fashion industry veterans including Carine Roitfeld, Christian Siriano, and Arthur Elgort, the evening celebrated Lee’s astounding accomplishments, many of which could be seen on display this very season.
Lee began fashion week by both opening and closing the Christian Siriano's spring 2022 ready-to-wear collection, beginning in a bold orange suit and finishing in an attention-grabbing tulle skirt. Siriano is well-known for being the first to prioritize inclusivity in ways other designers fear or avoid. It’s in his DNA, and that’s a fact you can count on each year. For any model, opening and closing such a massive runway show is a major feat. But for Lee, its impact means much more.
Lee is one of only a few curve models taking the industry by storm.
Lee is one of only a few curve models taking the industry by storm. Earlier this month, she appeared on the September issue of American Vogue alongside models Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber, and Yumi Nu. During last fall’s fashion month, she made history as being one of three curve models to walk in Versace’s Milan runway show, later appearing in a campaign for the brand in January.
Her list of accomplishments goes on and on; Countless covers, campaigns, and star moments follow, but this fashion week in particular feels different. As opposed to previous years, where Lee’s presence was an enticing gift, this season has cemented her as a superstar, a supermodel for a new generation.
Lee is not only one of the first curve models to reach such heights, she is also often the first Black women of such size to do so. More often than not, it can feel like fashion week operates on tokenism, with one Black model, one curve girl, and/or one trans woman serving as a brand's way to show they value inclusivity. To have a newly appointed supermodel cross multiple identity lines and stay booked season after season feels like a new broken barrier worth celebrating.
This is not to say that Lee’s journey has been an easy one. On the contrary, as she explained to Allure last December, obstacles abound. “I spent so much time early in my career explaining how I feel, or trying to, in a non-confrontational way. If you aren't smiling, it's a problem. There's that perception that Black women have to come and dance for their time and space. And that's not happening,” she told the publication. "If you call me plus, then plus [is] extra. I'll show you extra; I'm going to go extra hard and do extra shit."
After walking in Siriano’s show, Lee has remained booked and busy, walking for Moschino, Michael Kors, and Prabal Gurung. And she’s not alone: Fellow IMG model Paloma Elsesser has had a great season as well, appearing on runways for Gabriela Hearst, Maryam Nassirzadeh, and Michael Kors. And the IMG girls are not alone: Jill Kortleve, Jocelyn Corona, Veronica Siblesz, and Tatiana Williams of Muse Model Management have walked as well, among others.
Even more exciting is that none of these models are interchangeable. They each have unique aesthetics, looks, and stories, and that diversity of style is essential to placing plus on the same level playing field as straight-sizes.
As someone whose very job has centered on reporting the latest in plus-size fashion for years, what excites me most this season is being introduced to a new wave of curvy models who I’ve never seen prior. That is the firmest indicator of true progress: When the door is opened for more generations behind us.
Measuring progress is a challenging obstacle, as there’s no singular way to do so. Counting the amount of curve models who walk each season seems to cross the line into tokenism, and ignoring the conversation altogether neglects the amount of work and dedication these women put into breaking new ground. For me, personally, progress can best be measured through the means of a quote by former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth: “You can’t change the stories without changing the storytellers.”
The stories on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, and more have begun to change for a reason. Because finally, at long last, our storytellers have broken through.