Gracing both runway and stage, model and award-winning soprano Isabella Moore talks confidence and the importance of feeling seen.
Possessing a combination of poise, glamour and authenticity, Isabella Moore has years of operatic training and performance in her repertoire. She found a new audience at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019, where she walked for the likes of Juliette Hogan and Paris Georgia, providing welcome visibility for bodies that have historically been sidelined by the industry and media. Now signed with industry powerhouse IMG Australia and local agency Unique, Isabella reflects on style, representation and her interaction with fashion to date.
Growing up, did you feel ‘seen’ by fashion media and brands?
I felt like my body was ‘wrong’. I couldn’t fit the ‘cool’ clothing brands my friends were wearing. I was body-shamed by the lack of diversity into believing that my body wasn’t meant for fashion [and] felt I needed to change my body to suit what I was seeing in fashion media, based on the size of the models in advertising campaigns.
So, I guess you could say that no, I didn’t feel “seen” but also because at the time I didn’t want to be seen due to my lack of body-confidence.
I’m sure I’m speaking for a lot of women out there when I say I felt overlooked and unimportant; that fashion was exclusively for women who looked a certain way and fit a certain size.
Can you describe your personal style? What are you inspired by, what do you love wearing, and how do you approach clothing?
My day-to-day personal style is quite casual. I love denim, cotton, linen and I like to dress quite androgynous. In saying that, because I attend a lot of classical music/opera events I love to dress up for the occasion.
Traditionally when you attend an opera, you would go full glam: gown/black tie. But these days cocktail attire is the norm. I love wearing silky/satin or flowy fabrics. They feel luxurious but depending on the garment can dress it up or down.
Do you think the industry provides enough clothing options across the size spectrum?
Not yet. After my positive NZFW experience in 2019 I am hopeful for the future, but I believe the change is only just starting. Curve models are now being included in runway line-ups, but not for every brand. So far, only a select few have decided to be size inclusive and even then, there are different kinds of curve!
Curvy women are often limited to certain cuts/styles because we’ve been told what is ‘flattering’, but who gets to decide what is flattering? All shapes, sizes, and bodies deserve to be represented. Ideally, I would like to feel confident enough to walk into any store around the country and know that I can find my size, but that’s still not the case.
What role does clothing, appearance and self-presentation play in your career as an opera singer?
I used to feel like I needed to dress a certain way day-to-day as an opera singer; on the dressier side. But, I’m realising that there are no real rules! Working as a model has helped me experiment a little more with fashion. As long as you feel good in yourself and put your best foot forward then you should wear what makes you feel great no matter the industry!
Why is it important to have people who fall outside the traditional “model size” on the runway?
The world is diverse, so therefore fashion should be too. Fashion is for people right? If there was only one type of ‘people’ in this world, the world would be a pretty boring place in my opinion!
It’s empowering to represent the women who were once forgotten purely because they weren’t what society deemed to be “the ideal”. It is about time that fashion diversifies to fit the needs of society, rather than people of our society trying to fit what fashion deems acceptable.
I am very grateful to the designers who share this notion. We need more innovative designers like Juliette Hogan, the Paris Georgia duo, Starving Artists Fund, Ruby & Rain, Augustine, Stella Royal, and Havilah (to name a few) who cast diverse models in their shows! Young Kiwi kids are exposed to the media, and as a Kiwi kid who didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the media, I know from personal experience how it can affect your mental health and self-worth as an adult.
I also have to mention, NZFW ambassador Sammy Salsa and fashion show producer Marissa Findlay whose casting for the Resene Designer Runway show was diverse and inclusive and so refreshing! Without fashion industry pioneers like them, we’d be stuck in the past!
Do you think the fashion industry has improved with regards to diversity and inclusion?
Generally I think [they] have improved since last year’s event, but before that, it was very exclusive; in 2018 I walked one NZFW show for a plus-size brand – which was amazing, but it was only one show! In 2019 I walked 11 times for eight shows, with the majority of those being for standard-size designers who aren’t specifically catering to plus-size [people].
I still have to stop myself thinking, “I’m so thankful to be allowed to walk the runway for ‘standard-size’ designers/brands.” This mindset is toxic because the media/fashion industry has conditioned me to believe I don’t belong on the runway when really I most definitely deserve to be included.
Do you think designers are getting better at casting models that represent a more inclusive representation of our community?
Definitely! At NZFW this year (2019) we had cultural diversity, size inclusivity, and models representing real people in our communities who are often overlooked – like the amazing Paralympian Rebecca Dubber who graced the runway in a wheelchair.
It was so refreshing to see! This NZFW left me feeling like a proud Kiwi. I loved that this year’s casting was leaning towards the individual rather than solely based on the “traditional” model aesthetic.
How can we combat tokenism in the fashion industry?
On my own self-acceptance journey I’ve come to realise that the way you look is the least interesting thing about you; what makes a person interesting is who they are on the inside.
When we start seeing models for who they are I think this will eradicate tokenism. For too long women have been made to feel like their self-worth is largely based on how they look and whether they fit the narrow conventions of beauty. Once we can look beyond the physical and focus more on the person I think the fashion industry will begin to place more value on individualism rather than tokenism, which seems much healthier to me.
Moving forward, what do you think the industry needs to do to further improve diversity, inclusivity and visibility both on and off the runway?
I think they need to look at how they nurture pathways and support diverse designers in the industry. If they employ diverse designers, producers, stylists, makeup artists etc. the outcome of what gets designed, modelled and presented on all platforms as “fashionable” will be a truer reflection of our diverse society. And the people who fall outside the traditional mold need to continue pushing to be seen and heard because we are worthy. I think it also comes down to ‘self-acceptance’. If you accept yourself, then others will too.
Lastly, who inspires you?
My mother Sina Wendt is a courageous, fierce and intelligent woman who I’ve always aspired to be like. [Tongan plus-size model and the first Polynesian woman to feature in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue] Veronica Pome’e is slaying it representing Pacific people internationally. She’s supportive and generous with her time and I’m happy to call her a friend. I’m also proud of fellow singers who continue fighting despite the harsh nature of the industry; opera is a seriously rough industry to crack and I know the struggle.
An edited version of this interview originally featured in Fashion Quarterly Issue 4, 2019.
Interview: Emma Gleason
Photos: Rio Romaine, Getty Images, @isabellamoore_