Jessica Biffi's apartment is covered in gold: chunky gold necklaces hanging from a door handle, spools of gold chains next to a sewing machine, and dozens of playing card sized plastic bags littered across the coffee table, glittering from within.
"I do love the gold," says the fashion designer and former Project Runway Canada contestant, her whole body bouncing as she laughs. "It's kind of disturbing how much I love the gold."
These beads and chains will be twisted and twirled into bracelets, necklaces, and earrings -- pieces in Biffi's new accessories collection, Covet, which she officially launched on March 24th, at the restaurant Brassaii in Toronto. The collection is one of four that Biffi has been working on since last summer.
Biffi will present three more at LG Fashion Week, on the 31st. In addition to her namesake line, she'll showcase two capsule collections she's designed for Addition Elle and its MXM brand, which is aimed at younger plus size shoppers.
After her appearance on the second season of Project Runway, the retailer contacted Biffi and asked if she'd be interested in designing a one-off Jessica Biffi for Addition Elle collection. Knowing first hand how hard it can be to find stylish clothes in bigger sizes, she jumped at the opportunity. "I always thought plus size was something Iâd do, because Iâm plus size myself," she says.
Janice Leclerc, merchandising manager for Addition Elle, says Biffi's size brought special insight. "Being plus size, she knows what can work and realizes some looks will never translate," Leclerc says. "That's a huge advantage."
Leclerc said the team at Addition Elle watched Biffi closely on Project Runway. "As we saw this happening our thought process was, 'This would make a great fit for Addition Elle,'" she says. "She has a personality, talent, and she's plus size. For us it's the best of all worlds."
Before landing a spot on Project Runway, Biffi spent three years working as a visual merchandiser at Addition Elle in Toronto, where she learned about the needs of the plus-sized shopper. "It's not necessarily about taking one style you have and making it for a larger size," she says. "What works for a two doesnât necessarily work for a six or a 10."
Instead, Biffi created the Addition Elle specifically for larger women, shifting the silhouettes and shapes she uses in her namesake collection to flatter larger bodies. In lieu of the tube tops, short shorts, and mini skirts she designed for her collection last season, Biffi's Addition Elle line will feature longer hemlines, empire skirts that direct the eye up, and vertical lines to elongate the body. She also created special pieces that drape over the shoulders and chest -- two areas she knows some plus-sized shoppers want to conceal.
Many plus-sized customers get stuck in the mentality bigger is better, hiding in oversized clothes, Biffi says. "That's a lot about concealing versus celebrating your body," she says. "I'm not in that camp." The key is smart tailoring, she says, and pairing pieces together appropriately to suit your shape. Skinny jeans look great all sizes, she says, but never pair them with a baby-doll tee.
All design should make the customer feel confident, Biffi says. "It's all about making women feel good," she says. "I'm all about power dressing. That's what I keep in mind when designing: will a woman feel powerful in it?"
Since Biffi appeared on the show, many women have contacted her, thanking her for representing larger women on TV and in the fashion and beauty industry. "It's kind of weird being a role model," she says, eyes darting away. "I wasn't ready for that, but I understand it now."
With Addition Elleâs announcement of Biffiâs capsule collection, more letters have poured in. "It's flattering," she says, raising her hand to her cheek. "That means a lot, because I know from experience the feeling of being neglected."
Biffi hopes she can help plus size women feel they have a place in the fashion world, and says the industry has become more inclusive in recent years. Winnipeg's Mark Fast received rave reviews for using plus sized models in his past two London Fashion Week shows and recent spreads in magazines like V and Glamour have featured plus size models, developments Biffi sees as positive. "I'm fortunate to be showing my collection at the same time it's becoming a more open industry," she says.