Designer Collab: Alison Hoenes

I am so glad to be friends with Alison Hoenes, a St. Louis designer, textile creator, and pattern maker. Not only is she a talented fashion designer, but is a loyal and thoughtful human being. In her personally owned small business, Alison helps womenswear brands keep control of their product development without having to deal with the intimidating technical details. Her love for fashion began as a child, when she and a friend would create clothes for their 13″ dolls. Alison created clothes for herself too, out of necessity, never really finding a proper fit for her thin, petite frame in stores.

A few months ago, Alison asked me if I would be willing to help her with a project. She wanted to better understand plus size fit. Many of her clients have extended their size ranges within the last year. In better understanding the fit issues and common sizing frustrations that plus size shoppers experience, Alison will be able to help those clients offer clothes that don’t just have a plus size label in them, but actually have a plus size fit. Trust me, having that knowledge is HUGE. So often when brands scale up a straight size pattern, the plus size version ends up being large in really weird places.

In exchange for my thoughts and opinions on the fit, and using my plus size body as a fit model, Alison wanted to create a bespoke dress for me. I was so excited to help out a friend and have a garment in my wardrobe that was exactly tailored to my body. Of course I wanted to help with the project!

The creative process started by working together to form a design concept. I stopped by Alison’s home office one afternoon in late September. We sipped homemade chai lattes, and scrolled through my Pinterest boards discussing my style POV and personal fit issues. She took lots of notes and finally sketched out a vision of what she believed I was saying that I wanted. We discussed material type, color, and what occasions I planned to wear the dress. Then, she took a lot of measurements, recording them on a technical sheet, listing points of measurement.

We settled on creating a 50’s inspired day dress in cobalt blue. I love vintage inspired looks and want to emulate Mrs. Maisel in my everyday wardrobe. A belted, flared dress looks flattering on my size 22, apple-shaped frame. And as a winter (according to Color Me Beautiful), vibrant jewel tones look best on me. I knew this dress would be something special.

The next step was be to create the dress out of muslin to check fit, before digging in on the final product. A couple of weeks later, Alison called me, saying that she had a mock design of the dress ready. You kind of have to keep an open mind with the muslin version. It is raw and unfinished with a million pins in it, and the color made me look like a safari leader. (Honestly, I didn’t mind that.) But, with a little imagination, you can see the final product taking shape.

In this fit session, Alison asked me a lot of questions about how it was feeling, drew new darts and details all over the dress with fabric markers, and pinned nips and tucks where they were needed. It was fascinating to see a process where a garment was taking shape on me, personally. I have become so used to just making clothes work and moving on. After the adjustments were made, she told me that she wanted to have one final fit session before making the actual dress.

At the last fit session, I was able to see the fabric and get a clear vision for what the final garment would look like. After a few more tiny adjustments, the dress felt like it would be perfect fit. So, the process of cutting and sewing the real dress, and the mystery of waiting to see it in person began. I was so excited to see the final result!

And…. voila! Here it is. My custom designed dress by Alison Hoenes Design!

The dress fits like a glove and moves well with me. It fits well through the arms and shoulders, which will be awesome when conducting the choir at school. I love the thoughtful placement of the buttons so I don’t have any issues with gaping. The skirt is nice and full… perfect for twirling when I need to. I could wear a crinoline under it to give it a more full, vintage shape when I want to wear it in a dressier setting. The fabric is lightweight enough for summer, but sturdy enough to wear in the fall and winter as well. And the color is perfect for so many occasions. I’ve never had a garment that is perfectly tailored to me… it’s a fantastic feeling. I am totally in love.

I really enjoyed the creative process and talking through my frustrations and annoyances as a plus size shopper. I’m really grateful for both the dress and the chance to help out a friend expanding her own knowledge. I really hope it was helpful to Alison in learning how to fit for a plus size body… I really wanted to be a helpful resource. Obviously, ALL bodies are different, but if designers are aware of our common issues, it will make for a smoother and easier shopping experience for all of us. Here’s hoping brands start using designers like Alison to really understand our needs to help us feel beautiful and confident each day!

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