Exclusive: Nancy Upton Takes On Size, Style, and American Apparel

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Nancy Upton is not American Apparel’s “Next Big Thing”. And she couldn’t care less. Instead, this Dallas girl’s attitude and actions snagged her a whole lot more attention than any internet contest ever could. Here, Nancy models luxe fall looks from Dallas’ hottest boutiques – no spandex or legwarmers, thank you. Plus we’ll get her candid take on her fifteen minutes of fame.


“Calling curvy ladies everywhere,” read the announcement for American Apparel’s “Next Big Thing” modeling contest. “If you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next XLent model, send us photos of you and your junk to back it up.”


Promising prizes including a “bootylicious” photo shoot and new clothes, the oft-embroiled retailer solicited head and body shots from aspiring plus-sized models late this summer to promote its new XL-sized offerings. Hardly blinded by the prospect of internet fame and free “disco pants”, Dallas-based actress Nancy Upton read between the pun-filled lines.


“American Apparel was going to try to use one fat girl as a symbol of apology and acceptance to a demographic it had long insisted on ignoring,” she later wrote of her take on the company’s underlying motives in an article for The Daily Beast.


A size 12 herself, Nancy decided to act upon her ire by entering the contest – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. She rang friend and photographer Shannon Skloss, and the two took to snapping. One rotisserie chicken, a cherry pie, and a few dozen bottles of ranch dressing later, Nancy became a bona fide viral sensation. Her revealing photos, lampooning American Apparel’s flippant phrasing, took off like internet wildfire. (Check out the full gallery here.)


Coverage from New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Jezebel (Gawker), and the Today Show ensued, among many, many others. Whether audiences agreed or disagreed with Nancy’s take on the “Next Big Thing”, her actions struck an immediate and personal chord with men and women around the world.


Around this time, Nancy launched a personal blog to chronicle the media whirlwind in real time.


Coat by L.A.M.B. ($495, Elements), Boots by Rachel Zoe ($395, Intermix)


As of September 5th, an overwhelming majority of votes ranked her number one among 991 entries in American Apparel’s model search.


And about ten days later, Nancy was officially denied the grand prize. In a long-winded letter, American Apparel Creative Director Iris Alonso went out of her way to highlight the fact that the contest was all in good fun, and that her company tries not to take itself “too seriously”. Thereafter, her prose strayed from the topic at hand into a near-evangelical novella of support for “great executive director and American Industrialist” Dov Charney.


Alonso’s letter concluded, “Regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants…whom we will be proud to have representing our company.”


As a consolation prize, Nancy was then flown to American Apparel’s headquarters for an ill-fated visit.


Fast forward to October 4th, and the same Ms. Alonso was considerably less loquacious in her follow-up email after what Nancy believed to be a successful visit, full of open exchanges of opinions and ideas with the American Apparel team.


Alonso’s wrap-up read, “… amidst all of the late night fun and cream puffs … we can hardly remember what was said at all.”


And with that, a disappointed Nancy declared, “I wish the people I met all the best, and for me, this subject matter is closed.”


But her story doesn’t end there.


After getting to know Nancy, we here at DFW Style Daily hatched a plan to showcase her beauty and sass in a glamorous, full-on photo shoot, featuring clothing, shoes, and accessories from Dallas’ top retailers. A sampling of the shots can be seen here. Click here for the complete (and frankly, amazing) editorial gallery.


Right now, indulge in our exclusive Q&A with Nancy Upton. Here, you’ll learn her take on this whole “surreal” experience, plus what she thought of her first official modeling job – “gorgeous fake boyfriend” and all.


Vintage Velvet Dress ($88, Uptown Consignment), Wedges by Casadei ($760, Tootsies)

DFW Style Daily: When you look back on the past few weeks, what is the first word that comes to mind?

Nancy Upton: Surreal. I feel extremely lucky to have had such interesting travels and met such incredibly talented people, but it still doesn’t seem like it actually happened. I’ve been very detached from it in that way. From an artist’s perspective, the joy I feel is overwhelming. Finding the right ways to reach and relate to people is always a challenge for me, and I’m so happy I’ve succeeded in this case.


After you returned from your visit to American Apparel’s headquarters, you wrote, “This subject matter is closed.” Does this mean you won’t be associating with the company at all in the future?

I have no plans to become a customer of theirs, and I doubt I’ll be receiving more emails from the company. It’s a subject I may still approach in the right setting, but I’m trying to move away from it and look to the future.


Moving on to your DFW Style Daily editorial shoot, how did wearing these luxurious clothes and shoes make you feel?

They made me feel so powerful and in control! It was definitely an assertive mix of pieces that reflects my own style in a lot of ways. I also felt a little nervous. I was terrified I was going to misstep and rip a dress or scrape up a shoe!


As we shot these pictures, what thoughts were passing through your head?

I tried to imagine what I looked like from the angle of a camera and then turn my face or body accordingly. I also had a lot of moments where I thought, “How did I get here? How did I end up sitting in this gorgeous location, wearing a gorgeous dress, with a gorgeous fake boyfriend?”


What did it feel like to be a model for the day?  More fun or less fun than you had imagined?

Getting my make-up done and getting to wear all of the different outfits was even more fun than I thought it would be, but modeling really does require a level of creativity that we might not realize.



Shirt Dress by Helmut Lang ($265, Intermix),

Jeweled Satin Heels by Valentino ($1195, Stanley Korshak), All Jewelry from Intermix



What does “style” mean to you? Why is it important?

Style to me is the feeling you get when you’re wearing your favorite pieces of clothing. It’s a sense you project to those around you, showing who you are and what you love. Style, for me, is embracing who you are and finding ways to let that shine through.


On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the shopping situation for full-figured women in Dallas? How would you suggest improving it?

Well, I’ve only been living here full-time for about 4 months, but for my size, I’d set it right at about a 5. I don’t know of any boutiques or local stores that market specifically to the plus-size woman, only the national chains that carry office wear and styles that are a bit too old for me. I think a plus-size-specific store that carried more fashion forward items would have a lot of success in Dallas.


Finally, what are your plans moving forward?

I’m going to be working on a book about body image and the way it shapes a woman’s life, and I intend to keep working in theater and film, both as an actor and an administrator. I’d also like to continue researching and writing about the fashion world. Also, I’m not quite sure yet if I’ll continue modeling, but it has definitely been a fun experience!



Photo Credits:

Photography: Sylvia Elzafon
Styling: Jim Duran

Location: Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Showroom, Dallas
Make-up: Waylon Tate
Styling assistant: Jay Grishby
Male Model: Adam G., Wallflower Management


Lead photo: Dress by Alexia Admor ($416, Elements), Python Heels by Christian Louboutin ($1395, Stanley Korshak), Bracelets from Uptown Consignment ($42, $24)


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