Inside Milk Studios, a marble building here on North Cahuenga Boulevard, waiters passed sushi rolls amid racks of dresses, bags and T-shirts. Outside, a starlet posed on a red carpet by a reflecting pool, wearing a crimson scuba dress overlaid with black lace. It had all the trappings of a Hollywood branding soiree, announced by a neon sign hovering overhead: “Welcome to the Rebelution.”
But the starlet in question was no blushing waif. She was Rebel Wilson, the Australian actress and comedian known for her ribald turns in “Bridesmaids” and “Pitch Perfect.” She was there to promote her new plus-size collection for Torrid, a design and retail company that caters to sizes 12 to 28.
The line, which arrived in stores Nov. 1 and features about 30 pieces from $16.50 to $98.50, embodies the idiosyncratic moxie known to Ms. Wilson’s fans. There are T-shirts printed with gangster koala bears (nods to Ms. Wilson’s home country and her love of hip-hop), jackets stitched with varsity letter R’s (a homage to her boarding-school days) and sweatshirts emblazoned with her first name.
That Ms. Wilson has entered the fashion game signals not only her unconventional stardom but also how far the plus-size industry has evolved in recent years. As the mainstream fashion world has continued to neglect women of larger sizes, often relegating them to upstairs corners of department stores, a lively alternative industry has sprung up to fill the gap.
It has its own supermodels (Tess Holliday), its own magazines (PLUS Model), its own runway events (Full Figured Fashion Week) and even its own power bloggers (Gabi Gregg, of GabiFresh), who give voice to grass-roots demand.
Its ethos is equality. “Plus is no different than anybody else,” Lisa Stanley, Torrid’s vice president for marketing, said at the Rebelution party, adding that two-thirds of American women wear a size 14 and up. “Girls just want to wear what everybody else is wearing, but they want it to fit them and make them look sexy and beautiful.”
Now the plus-size world has its own “celebpreneurs” to rival the likes of Victoria Beckham and Gwen Stefani. Ms. Wilson’s line comes three months after Melissa McCarthy started her own collection for Seven7.
Torrid seemed a fitting match for Ms. Wilson. An outgrowth of Hot Topic, it casts itself as a trendy alternative to Lane Bryant, the century-old chain that dominated the market for decades. At her first meeting with company executives, Ms. Wilson arrived with detailed vision boards that included Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters.
“I always try to wear tracksuits on the red carpet, but my stylists always convince me to wear a dress,” Ms. Wilson said at the party, her hair in an Adele-style beehive ponytail. “My natural state is elastic waistbands.”
Surveying the scene from a couch was Tiffany Kaelin-Knight, the editor in chief of the online magazine Skorch, which covers alternative plus-size fashion. (She’s also the daughter of Kato Kaelin.) Dressed in a silver faux-leather jacket, a crop top and a sheer maxiskirt, she eyed Ms. Wilson’s designs approvingly.
“It’s another win for plus-size fashion,” she said. “No exceptions. No frumpy cover-up. You’re out, you’re proud, you’re fat, you’re happy.”
By all appearances, Ms. Wilson personifies the “you’re fat, you’re happy” spirit that has animated the plus-size movement. Her breakout character, in the a cappella comedy “Pitch Perfect,” is a college student who calls herself Fat Amy, so that skinny mean girls “don’t do it behind my back.”
In that movie and its sequel (with a third on the way), Ms. Wilson combined non sequitur humor with brazen sexuality, at one point wiping her own underarm sweaton the character played by Anna Kendrick, to pass along some of her “confidence.”
In person, Ms. Wilson is less flamboyant than coolly calculating. The day after the party, she had lunch at the Chateau Marmont, where Randy Jackson greeted her from the next table with a high-five. She wore a T-shirt from her collection, with a pocket crest bearing the words “revinco eam” — her own Latin approximation for “crushed it.”
Over a Caesar salad and falafel, Ms. Wilson described her overnight stardom with an air of inevitability. Within months of moving to Hollywood from Australia to become a star, she landed a part in “Bridesmaids,” written especially for her after she auditioned for the role ultimately played by Ms. McCarthy.
“If it wasn’t ‘Bridesmaids,’ I was close to about three or four other films at that exact same time,” Ms. Wilson said. “It was going to be one of them.”
During her offbeat childhood in the Sydney suburbs (her siblings are named Ryot, Liberty and Annachi), her destiny was less clear. Her parents were dog-show handlers who bred beagles, and she describes her upbringing as “bogan” (Australian slang for “uncouth”) as evidenced by a family diet that included McDonald’s and “trashy frozen pizzas.”
Growing up, she planned on being a lawyer or a politician. She hated shopping, because nothing stylish ever came in her size. As a young woman, she said, “I remember not going to a lot of people’s weddings, purely because I didn’t have an outfit that was nice enough.” (She now wears a size 16 or 18.)
The story of her acting origins is almost too cinematic to believe: In a gap year after high school, she traveled to Africa as a youth ambassador and caught a severe case of malaria. Laid up in a hospital in South Africa, she said she had a medication-induced hallucination, in which she envisioned herself winning an Oscar and giving an “acceptance rap.”“I said: ‘I’ve got to go back to Australia. I’ve got to enroll in acting school.’ ”To please her parents, she studied law and acting simultaneously. The pressure didn’t help her keep her weight down: She binged on candy while studying for law exams, she said, convinced that the glucose made her smarter. (“If I’m hungry, I can’t think.”)
Meanwhile, she trained in drama (she saw herself as a Judi Dench type) until another, more unsettling epiphany arrived. One of her first jobs was a play at the Sydney Theater Company. “I thought I was playing a serious role, but then I came on and people just started laughing,” she said. “I got visibly quite angry that people were laughing at me. And then people would laugh more.”
Rather than crumbling, she reassessed. “I thought, fat is funny, in a weird way. Or even in a scientific way. People find it easier to laugh at bigger girls. And I thought, that’s going to be my game plan.”
She hit the Australian comedy scene hard and, thanks to a scholarship funded by Nicole Kidman, studied improv with the Second City in New York. Back in Australia, she made her name in the TV series “Pizza” and “Bogan Pride,” turning her generous physique from a liability into an asset.
By the time she moved to Hollywood, in 2011, she was in talks with the Australian branch of Jenny Craig to lose about 50 pounds for a weight-loss publicity campaign. She was some 22 pounds in when she began filming “Pitch Perfect.” Her movie contract forbid her from radically changing her appearance during the shoot — and besides, she had been cast as Fat Amy.
She parted ways with Jenny Craig and continued to hone her saucy persona. On the advice of her stylist, she gave up her red-carpet tracksuits for plunging V-necks and skimpy sleeves. “You don’t really want to cover up just because you’re bigger,” she said. “You still want to show off what you’ve got, but in a classy way.” (Partial to flats, she stumbled through ahigh-heel obstacle course earlier this week on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to promote her new line.)
As her unlikely star rose, she hit some bumps. She created her own series for ABC, “Super Fun Night,” but it was canceled after one season, a result, she says, of sparring between her and network executives, who cut all the risqué jokes. The lesson, she concluded, was that “I might not be appropriate for network TV.”
Last May, as “Pitch Perfect 2” dominated the box office, an Australian tabloid published an article saying that Ms. Wilson had been shaving years off her age. (Official records, dug up by The Sydney Morning Herald, showed her to be 35, instead of the 29 that entertainment media outlets had previously said.)
Ms. Wilson responded jokingly on Twitter (“OMG I’m actually a 100 year old mermaid”) and now attributes the incident to “tall poppy syndrome,” the Australian penchant for cutting down overachievers.
She insists that she never gave a false age, or any age at all, and that entertainment reporters had somehow assumed she was 29. “Maybe I was guilty of being a bit mysterious, just like what Mae West did,” she said, adding, “I just found it all very coincidental, on the weekend when ‘Pitch Perfect’ is No 1.”
If the fracas smacked of sexist preoccupation with actresses’ ages, it also dented the centerpiece of Ms. Wilson’s persona: her brash authenticity. Nevertheless, her fan base seems less interested in her age than in her brio, which she has linked explicitly to her size. That, more than anything, is what has positioned her as a face for the plus-size movement, one that eschews apology as fervently as it does muumuus.
After lunch, Ms. Wilson was due at a styling session for magazine cover shoot with Chris Hemsworth, the hunky Australian film star. They had been selected as two of the most intriguing people from Australia.
“He’ll be topless,” she said, with a hint of Fat Amy’s deadpan libido. “It’s going to be a pretty good afternoon.” She stood up, revealing a pair of punky faux-leather jogger pants (from her collection, of course). She added, by way of goodbye, “Well, now I’m going to get beautiful.”
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