Saffi Karina is an Agency Represented Model, trained Actress & TV Presenter based in London. She is Published and has worked internationally. Saffis Ethnicity is an unusual mix of Cuban, Filipino, Hawaiian & Irish. She is one of the current faces of LITTLEWOODS and is featured in the TV Commercial & Print ads alongside Coleen Rooney. Saffi also recently made it down to the Final 4 of The Sun Newspapers M&S lingerie model search from thousands of entries. Other campaigns to date include BOOTS Opticians, SMIRNOFF ICE Cocktails, SUZUKI, BODYSHOP lip oils, BLUE BELLA Lingerie & SPEEDO. Saffi was also featured as a catwalk model in the 2009 series of Gok's "FASHION FIX" on Channel 4.
Saffi Karina towers over her diminutive entourage like a thoroughbred racehorse surrounded by jockeys. Her skin, eyes and hair are the colour of chestnut honey, and she carries off her challenging outfit of a totally sleeveless and semi-backless black silk shirt, teamed with skin-tight jeans, with the aplomb of the professional model. She is unarguably beautiful. And, to civilian eyes, she is also very slim – 5ft 10in and a toned size 12, with finely muscled arms, a neat waist and a perfectly flat stomach.
But to the fashion industry, Saffi’s vital statistics make her a plus-size anomaly. Four years ago, after her then agency told her she was too big and needed to lose weight, she walked away from her
'Plus size is more talked about now. As a nation we’re becoming bigger, so it’s fulfilling a need'
modelling career – for good, as she thought. ‘I knew I was healthy,’ she says. ‘I never had an issue with my weight. I exercised and I ate well, so I knew that if I lost weight, I wouldn’t be my natural body shape. I didn’t want to succumb to some fad diet.’
Today, though, her career is flying higher than ever. And her mission is to empower other women to be as accepting of their natural physiques as she is.
We have met because she is the new face (or rather, body) of Boux Avenue lingerie, the company founded by Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, which sells pretty underwear for all sizes, from a 30A up to a 40H. Modelling for the campaign, Saffi looks like a 1950s pin-up, her old-fashioned hourglass figure (she’s a 32E, 29, 41) poured into retro-glam silk, satin and lace underwear. ‘I thought it was lovely,’ she tells me. ‘The fit was really nice, it was quite flattering, sexy but comfortable, and affordable too.’
The admiration is mutual. ‘Everyone at Boux Avenue loved working with Saffi, and she beautifully enforces our inclusive size proposition, which is something we are very proud of,’ says Theo Paphitis.
Of course, bigger models have long been preferred by lingerie brands – a bra looks better on a model with larger breasts – but now mainstream fashion brands are also clamouring for Saffi’s services. She is represented by Storm, Kate Moss’s agency, and has appeared in campaigns for Speedo swimwear, Boots No 7, John Lewis and, memorably, in the Littlewoods Nice Boots Camp television commercial with Coleen Rooney. ‘The opportunities that are open to me since I’ve become curvier have been amazing,’ she says. ‘And it will only get better. I’m proud of being curvy, and other women who are naturally curvy should be proud of that as well.’
Saffi, 27, is in the vanguard of a new movement in modelling that aims to celebrate the fuller-figured woman as well as her skinnier sister. ‘I think there’s more focus on plus size. It’s more talked about now,’ says Storm’s Paula Karaiskos. ‘As a nation we’re becoming a bit bigger so plus size is fulfilling a need. And brands are looking for personalities. The whole industry has become multi-platform – you need someone who can engage across many levels, who has got something to say and is interesting.’ And any plus-size model has a story to tell. ‘You are the rarity, you are the exception to the rule in the modelling industry,’ says Karaiskos.
'Curve Project is all about getting women to embrace the skin they’re in'
It seems the tide may be turning. Fashion is adopting a more voluptuous silhouette – think Victoria Beckham’s oversized dress and the ubiquity of the new ‘mom jean’. Australian supermodel Robyn Lawley (size 16), one of the first plus-size models to make the cover of Vogue, was the face of Ralph Lauren last year. This year, H&M used Jennie Runk, also a size 16, to model swimwear. And equalities minister Jo Swinson recently called for plus size and petite mannequins to be introduced in an effort to combat eating disorders; the average British woman is a size 16 and 5ft 4in tall, but fashions are still displayed in shops on 5ft 10in, size 10 mannequins.
That, it seems, may be a costly error: earlier this year, photographs of the ‘normal-sized’ (dress-size 12) mannequins on display in a Swedish department store generated over a million ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ online, giving a giant boost to the store’s popularity. ‘It’s important for stores to showcase their brands on mannequins that are representative of their customer,’ agrees Saffi. ‘Brands should be open to different types of consumer – they’re the ones buying the product.’
Bra, Boux Avenue. skirt, Victoria Beckham. earrings, Vivienne Westwood. cuffs, Boticca. shoes, Christian Louboutin
Interestingly, Robyn Lawley recently spoke out against her position as plus-size poster girl, arguing that it was offensive to slim women. ‘Curves don’t epitomise a woman. Saying “skinny is ugly” should be no more acceptable than saying fat is. I find all this stuff a very controlling and effective way of making women obsess over their weight,’ she told a newspaper.
Saffi disagrees. ‘I think it’s great that curves are celebrated because it’s a new concept,’ she says. ‘There was a time not so long ago when model agencies didn’t have curve divisions. It’s a refreshing change that curves are at the forefront of fashion. But I have never said that it’s bad to be skinny or big. My ethos is that as long as you’re healthy, that’s all that matters. Some women are naturally slim, and some aren’t. Instead of struggling to be something you’re not, be happy with what you are.’
Saffi’s robust attitude probably owes something to the fact that she has never fitted comfortably into any pigeonhole. She owes her striking looks to her mixed-race background – her father, who works for Singapore Airlines, is Irish/Spanish, her mother is Cuban, Hawaiian and Filipina. Growing up, she says, she rarely saw women in the media who looked anything like her. ‘There weren’t many role models for me to identify with.
‘But the advantage of being a mixed model is that you don’t get stereotyped,’ she says. ‘People think I’m Spanish – I can even look Asian with my hair straightened. If anything, it has opened even more doors for me.’
Born and brought up in South London, where she still lives, Saffi’s original dream was to be on the other side of the camera. ‘I wanted to be a photographer or an interior designer,’ she says. The idea of modelling never occurred to her: ‘I wasn’t the tallest at school – I was quite a late developer.’ Aged 19, she was studying at London College of Fashion when she was scouted in McDonald’s on Tottenham Court Road; a week later, she was modelling on the catwalk in New York. ‘It was a bit overwhelming,’ she admits. She modelled part-time as a student, then found work as a PA in the City.
‘The agency I was signed to asked if I was interested in full-time modelling. I was getting a bit bored of the nine to five,’ she admits. ‘So I said, yeah, why not?’ Shortly afterwards, she was snapped up to be the lead girl in an international commercial for Nokia.
At 22, Saffi was a small size 10. But a year on, she says, her hips grew broader. ‘And hips are bone, they’re never going to get smaller.’ When her agency (which she won’t name) demanded that she go on a diet, she says she was ‘shocked. When someone says you’re not right because you’re too big, it leaves you feeling a bit deflated. It did affect me, it made me question myself. And it gave me an insight into the other side of modelling.’ So she abandoned her modelling career and went back to work full-time in the City.
'There was a time not so long ago when agencies didn't have curve divisions. It's a refreshing change that curves are at the forefront of fashion'
‘But then I thought, “I can’t be the only model in the world who’s been told that they’re too big.” So I Googled “curvy models” and up came loads of info on plus-size modelling, with photos of people such as Candice Huffine and other beautiful women.
I thought, “Wow, it’s a whole new world! Maybe it’s time to go back.”’ Since joining Storm three years ago, she has fronted numerous high- profile campaigns and has become something of a plus-size figurehead. ‘Young girls started writing to me on social media saying that they loved what I did and asking how I got into it. I’d spend hours writing back to them. Then I thought how great it would be to start a workshop where girls who fall above the stereotype size 8 to 10 could explore their modelling potential.’
So Curve Project London was born. Launched earlier this year, it puts on regular masterclasses at a photographic studio just off the King’s Road. Saffi has roped in respected fashion industry colleagues to assist her, including the Lorraine show stylist Sarah Tankel Ellis and catwalk choreographer Les Child. ‘He has choreographed for Karl Lagerfeld, Prada and Dior, so the women that come are in the very best of hands,’ says Saffi.
‘We do their hair, we tell them how to dress for their body shape, we do catwalk training and body-confidence mentoring.’ There are also masterclasses in make-up, posing, and a talk on healthy eating, plus a session with a professional photographer. ‘The whole day is about instilling confidence and getting them to embrace the skin they’re in.’ It costs £299 – a fraction of the day rate she and members of her team can command – but she says that they all see it as a way of giving something back. ‘I make a point of being there for the girls to share my experience and explain how the industry is changing.’
Some of the women who attend have plus-size potential – one has been signed to an agency, while another who already had an agency attended the masterclass to find out what would be expected of her. But many others come simply for a morale boost: one had been battling with depression, another had cancer, and a young mother just wanted some ‘me’ time. ‘When they arrive, they’re quite timid, but by the end they’re working the catwalk, they’re swapping numbers, they’ve really broken out of their shell. It’s so empowering to know you’ve made a difference,’ says Saffi.
Now, ‘I get women tweeting me from India, Tokyo, the US and Italy – there are a lot of curvy women out there! – with requests to launch Curve Project abroad. Going global would be amazing,’ adds Saffi. She also hopes to launch her own lingerie brand one day (watch out, Boux Avenue) and feature in campaigns for mainstream designers who have not yet used plus-size models. ‘Runway shows need to be a reflection of the world we live in,’ she says.
WELCOME to CURVE PROJECT LONDON. Our Mission is to EMPOWER, EDUCATE & ENCOURAGE women of EVERY shape & size to LOVE the skin their in. Our Pioneering workshops in the UK provide a platform for Aspiring PLUS SIZE models to explore their potential alongside Established Fashion Industry professionals. Our workshops are also great for those who wish to boost their confidence and indulge in some pampering and glamour! A day at CURVE PROJECT LONDON with our team of creative experts will have you LOOKING & FEELING FABULOUS!
A few weeks ago, Miss B and the Boux Avenue team headed across town for our fabulous new autumn winter photo shoot. Nestled away in a secret spot of London’s east end, we arrived at a beautiful old town house – our location for the day.
As we stepped inside, the decadent interiors and high ceilings were breathtaking, complete with sparkling chandelier lights and an eclectic collection of antique furniture and paintings. A delicious breakfast spread awaited us; after indulging in a feast of coffee, croissants and fresh fruit, it was time to get started, and – ever the lover of a little backstage gossip – Miss B was on hand to capture a few snaps for my lovely blog readers…
Our fabulous hair stylist, Marica at work
Working with Curve Project London ambassador, Saffi Karina as our campaign model, the style of our shoot was smoulderingly sultry with a hint of vintage vamp. Behind the scenes our hair stylist, Marcia, smoothed out Saffi’s tight curls into sleek retro waves while make up artist, Claudine, created a smokey-eyed look with a deep raspberry-red lip – reminiscent of classic Hollywood glamour – Miss B’s favourite!
Make up mistress: vamp palette
Claudine added the finishing touches to Saffi’s look…
The set was pure boudoir heaven, in rich, sumptuous fabrics and ultra-feminine shades. I loved all the delicate dressing table props too…
Mirror, mirror... who's the fairest of them all?
Our model Saffi was simply a dream to work with; looking effortlessly radiant as she posed and pouted, shot after shot. Her beautiful curves were poured into luxurious lingerie sets and seductive chemises, while silk stockings, glittering jewels and satin marabou slippers provided the added vamp-factor to an already sizzling photo shoot. Miss B was mesmerised by all the glamour, but I did steal a moment to glimpse a peek at fabulous the photos on screen.
With Claudine and Marcia on hand for touch ups the day went without a hitch and we all had far too much fun – I’m sure they say it’s supposed to be hard work!
Claudine steps in for a little lip fix-up
Stunning: Saffi was all smiles
Tip to toe pose...
The production team at work...
To give you an inkling of what’s to come, body confidence is the inspiration behind our autumn winter campaign; we aim to capture essence of femininity and inspire a little self-loving as we celebrate beautiful bodies in all shapes and sizes…
Our beautiful model, Safii
Stay tuned, as I reveal our first official campaign shots over the next few days…
After years of silence on the matter, the fashion industry finally seems poised to embrace fuller, less svelte figures. Plus-size models like Robyn Lawley and Crystal Renn are already making waves, posing for major design houses and top-tier fashion glossies. Now, there's a new girl in town who's looking to break down barriers.
Saffi Karina has founded Curve Project London, the UK's first plus-size model workshop that will arm young ladies with the tools necessary to make it in the fashion industry at any size. Karina, a former straight-size model, was dropped from her agency six years ago after her body changed and her hips grew.
“As you grow older, you become more womanly and I actually didn’t want to change that, so I started looking for what else was out there," she told the Evening Standard. "I began working as a plus-size model and it is a very positive and happy industry. I still got to do what I loved and travel the world.”
To prepare beginners for the style world, Karina's monthly class will include in-depth mentoring, hair and makeup sessions, experience working with stylists, photo shoots, runway lessons and casting tips. Karina makes quite the instructor -- she's been able to smoothly transition her career while embracing, rather than fighting, her figure, landing campaigns for Debenhams, Speedo, and Bravissimo. Fortunately, she thinks other young women can do the same.
"There is a real thirst for ‘normal’ sized women, especially for commercial brands," the 27-year-old said. "I want to strive to endorse a positive body image and act as a role model to young women who previously thought ‘thin’ was the only way to get a foot over the fashion threshold.”
So what do you think of Saffi Karina's latest attempt to help girls of all sizes enter the modeling industry? Do you hope to see more "normal" size women in the pages of magazines?
See more plus-size models!
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