If you are not already in the know about Catherine Schuller, I am excited to introduce you to a women with an immense passion for life. Catherine posses the innate ability to leave people happier than when they first met. Her kindness, energy and curiosity draw people. I'm convinced her fountain of youthful aura stems from her eagerness to learn and generous support of others. Cat's accomplishments make her a sought after mentor and advisor but she's not resting on her laurels. She's simultaneously an entrepreneur, hands-on doer, and risk taker. She has helped shape 40 years of the fashion industry and is here to usher in the future.
SRG: Catherine, your rich career spans 4 decades of pioneering in the industry. We can’t wait to know more- tell us about your path and what makes you the woman you are today?
CS: It was a path to self discovery and appreciation. And realizing that this business of modeling hard wires you for self deprecation. I didn’t feel like I fit in, that there was a wall up because there was only one “type” of beauty in the 70’s and 80’s…remember we were coming off the Twiggy era and that super skinny aesthetic. I went to Ford Model Agency and got my first taste of major rejection. I had to lose weight… I lost my way and really felt very inferior after the strict diet, fasting, exercising, etc. and got down to about 139 lbs and that still wasn’t good enough …
It made me realize I had to find my place in New York …so I started to study acting and my teacher thought I was a Lucille Ball type…like Marilyn Monroe meets Imogene Cocoa. Whatever! I came into my own. As a comedienne I had my voice and I used it.
Doing the comedy group The Nerve! was a fantastic growth period for me. I costumed it, marketed it, wrote sketches and songs and it was a great platform for retaliation…
The most ironic thing is that towards the middle of The Nerve! I had a booker come back stage and tell me I should plus size model. I think I said something snippy like, ‘You should write for my act.” Last time I checked modeling was for thin models. She said I would probably have to “pad up”….I was so thrilled. I went down the next week and FORD Model signed me on the spot for plus size SPECIAL size division. That was the point of no return. Finally, things were turning around. I really did have the nerve to stand up to them by this time.
I was so shy in those days. If I could tell my younger self something I learned since, it would be, “Include yourself”. Find a way to fit in and make a place to belong. I sat on the sidelines and that would NEVER happen today.
I guess the rest is history because I had a career for a long time and didn’t stop modeling, acting or taking speaking engagements. When they didn’t renew my contract in 1993, I went to school for image consulting at Parsons School of Design and specialized in plus size women. That is when it came full circle. I learned the jargon and advice to be able to instruct other women about this “applied fashion” that I had learned. This experience lead me in writing the book “The Ultimate Plus Size Modeling Guide”- helping young women who want to enter into the plus size modeling field. Subsequently, I started the MODE Magazine in ’97 as fashion editor, help built the subscriptions to four million readers.
In the meantime, I was plus size image consulting and created a line of clothing for QVC called Shape Shopping with Catherine Schuller. I also was asked to become the Image and Style Advisor for a new charity beginning called Divabetic, it was a great way to teach women that it was important for them to be large but healthy.
Then I created Runway the Real Way which was a fashion brunch at the Yotel for six years…then started hiTechMODA… It all is very authentic and a journey of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, just adding to the bathwater and teach the baby to swim!!
SRG: You have such a rich story, and you are not even close to resting on your laurels! Tell us a one liner that would describe you?
CS: I want to be the person I wish I had met when I first moved to New York.
SRG: That sums it up! I think a lot of people would be ecstatic to have you as their first NYC friend!
When did you know you were first interested in fashion?
CS: I always knew the power of appearance. I had two older beautiful sisters who were into dressing and I watched them get ready… And my mother was a seamstress and made all my clothing. From grade school thru high school…then I started sewing. I wanted variety and I had limited budget so sewing was very inexpensive and she taught me well so things lasted….and were unique. I got measles in 10th grade and had to stay home for five days….I made clothes the whole time…very difficult dress with covered buttons….My mother made dressing up very special. I got the idea early on that life was more fun when you dressed for it. Then I lost weight and got tall and I was modelling for my local dept store and high school was a ripe for fertile fashion feedback. I dressed everyday ….and the 70’s were happening and it was Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Rolling Stones…so inspiring. I was reading fashion magazines and Twiggy was the hot model…I was 130 pounds and she was 100 pounds…I tried but no way could I get that thin….I went thru a period where I felt too fat for fashion…ridiculous….WHAT I WOULD HAVE TOLD MY YOUNGER SELF….???? YOU ARE OKAY THE WAY YOU ARE…DON’T STOP YOUR SELF…
SRG: You have modeled with Ford Models, started with Mode Magazine in ‘97 as a fashion editor, founded your own consulting business, championing sustainable fashion, produce innovative events like hiTechMODA. And in your space time support designers and business like See ROSE Go! What drives your passion?
CS: I enjoy the creativity in people. I admire it in myself and I appreciate and support it in other people. It is the most exciting feeling to think up something, get it in some sort of presentational form and get a reaction from people, either audience or buyers, etc. It is such a thrill.
SRG: Sustainability is a word thrown around a lot today in the fashion industry. What does it mean to you?
CS: Sustainability is defined as development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. This is a fairly general way to say that we need to follow a circular economy instead of linear …nature uses everything in an ecosystem type of way. We have to keep the end of the life in mind as we create the product before we even make it…Waste is a design flaw. We have been taught to value all the wrong things…we live in a totally disposable culture. We need to figure out how to reuse everything. Pete Seeger said it best, “IF it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.”
SRG: Plus size fashion has been a little slower to take on sustainable initiatives making it difficult to find options. How do you see the plus size and sustainability effecting each other?
CS: When I created Runway the Real Way, it was about fashion diversity on the inclusive catwalk. In the 80s, diversity just meant race, but with size it grew to include all ages, sizes, shapes, abilities, genders, ethnicities, persuasions, nationalities …all in the fashion equation. It really means equality in essence. That is about the sustainable development goals …all 17 encompass every aspect of our lives and we should really learn them and use them as blue print to filter all that we do through the SDGs…we only have till 2030 to accomplish them.
SRG: Has your style sense changed this year or how you shop?
CS: Obviously, I am spending a lot more time in front of the computer and living large virtually. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel sometimes. I’m busy but I never go anywhere. I think I have adopted a much more casual lifestyle. I don’t have a chance to “go anywhere” and networking was important because everyone always takes selfies and step ‘n repeat shots that immediately get posted. So, believe me I dressed every day because I had events I went to all the time. Sometimes two a night!! I can’t wait till we have the luxury of gathering and looking at what we are wearing head to toe and see each other looking fab and fly in the flesh once again.
SRG: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Wildest passion and dream and scenarios encouraged!
CS: I am going to keep curating and creative directing. I think this is the job I was created to do. It uses all that I’ve done and allows me to put things together with an eye toward symmetry, thematic grouping…just a fancy word for editing or collecting. I am going to do an event that combines fashion, cosplay and a competition with catwalk. Elevating the art form and adding the fashion presentation element. Now, we have to have those events again! There is always virtual, but it is hard to get a sense of audience with the virtual event space…it can be done and I’ve seen some great epic productions and felt like they do a good job of personalizing and engaging the emotions. My husband always said to leave your industry, the world, better than you found it. That’s one of my goals. It is a lofty goal, but something that if you stick with your profession and keep reinventing yourself within it, you can find ways to stay relevant and talk the talk/walk the walk to the improvement and integrity of the planet….all the way paying it forward with finding ways to remain curious, creative and contributory.
Like Cat's outfits?
Fantastic story and commitment.