Nancye Radmin, Pioneer of Plus-Size Fashion, Is Dead at 82
Nancye Radmin, a plus-size fashion pioneer who ran an upscale chain of stores for two decades, the Forgotten Woman who served a group of women otherwise overlooked by high fashion, died at her home on December 8th in Lakeland She was 82 years old.
The death was confirmed by her son, Brett Radmin.
For most of her life, Ms. Radmin hovered around a size 8, preferring to wear fine fabrics like cashmere and jacquard. But by her second pregnancy in 1976, she had gained 80 pounds and was 16 years old. When looking for new clothes in her favorite Manhattan stores, she was shocked to find that there were only polyester pants and boxy sweaters her size.
“Fat,” she told Newsweek in 1991, “was the F-word of fashion.”
“There was absolutely nothing stylish available,” she added. “I just knew I wasn’t the only fat woman in New York.”
With $ 10,000 borrowed from her husband, Ms. Radmin wanted to start her own business – a boutique stocked with the kind of high quality clothing she wanted to wear.
In 1977 she opened Forgotten Woman at 888 Lexington Avenue on the fashionable Upper East Side. The name of the store was indicative of their clientele, women who wore sizes larger than most fashion designers – and perhaps a culture they overlooked.
Prices were high: a Searle Persian lamb faux fur coat was $ 595 and a dazzling pink silk Kip Kirkendall gown was $ 1,850.
By 1991, it had 25 stores across the country with annual sales of $ 40 million.
“People forget that the older and taller women usually lead elegant social lives,” she told the New York Times in 1983. “She is the mother of the bride, she goes to formal dinners with her successful husband, and she can remove pearls.” and bright colors that could flood a little woman. “
Plus sizes generally start at size 14, and today the average size of US women’s clothing is between 14 and 16. The plus size market for women was valued at $ 9.8 billion in 2019, according to market research firm Statista.
In the late 1970s, the concept of plus size fashion was an anomaly. Still, Ms. Radmin’s shop spoke directly to the emerging idea of body acceptance, a product of the women’s liberation movement of that decade.
“If you look at the fashion history of taller women, it was either invisible or ghettoized or incredibly grumpy,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, professor of history at the New School in New York, in a telephone interview. “The Forgotten Women as a business for attractive, high-end plus-size clothing at the time was a radically integrative concept from the perspective of fat women who deserved to see themselves as feminine, fashionable people who deserved a shopping spree to make excursion. “
Ms. Radmin reached out to Seventh Avenue makers, many of whom referred to her as “Crazy Nancye”, to have some of her favorite plus size clothes made.
She also urged designers to create more plus size clothing. Some, like Oscar de la Renta, were a little convincing, but even he created evening dresses for their stores, as did Geoffrey Beene, Bob Mackie and Pauline Trigère.
In the Forgotten Women boutiques there was a “Sugar Daddy Bar” where the male companions of the female buyers could have fun. It was filled with basket champagne, tea sandwiches, and miniature muffins. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Roseanne Barr, Nell Carter and Tyne Daly have shopped there. Stores were strategically opened on shopping streets like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to show customers that they were just as authorized to spend money as their skinny counterparts.
“We wanted the customer to feel important and not embarrassed,” said Dane O’Neal, who worked in merchandising for the chain.
Nancye Jo Bullard was born on August 4, 1938 in Nashville to Joe and Jane (Johnson) Bullard. She grew up on her father’s farm in Cochran, Georgia, where he harvested peanuts and cotton. Her mother was a nurse.
Even as a child, Nancye was an entrepreneur, selling peanuts on the street corner to make extra money.
She attended Middle Georgia College (now Middle Georgia State University) but left to travel before graduating. She then worked as a secretary and moved to New York City in the late 1960s.
In 1967 she met Mack Radmin, a widower 23 years older who worked in the kosher meat business. She converted to Judaism for him (she grew up a Southern Baptist) and they married in 1968.
Ms. Radmin often called the early years of their marriage her “Barbie Doll Days” because she weighed 110 pounds, was a size 4, and spent a lot of time shopping and eating in Manhattan.
Mr. Radmin died in 1996. In addition to her son Brett, she survived another son, William Kyle Radmin; two sisters, Michelle Moody and Cheryle Janelli; and four grandchildren.
In 1989 Ms. Radmin sold part of the Forgotten Woman chain to venture capitalists. In 1998 the Forgotten Woman applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The remaining nine stores were closed by the end of the year.
By then, larger department stores had entered the plus-size market and started selling clothes in more sizes.
Frau Radmin didn’t think much of them. “I have no competition,” she told People magazine in 1988. “I only have copycats.”