Candice Huffine glides through the elevators of Condé Nast as though she were entering a friend’s apartment building. Her breezy demeanor is tinged with excitement, although not enough caffeine, she says, for a 10 a.m. appointment. She is heading to the Vogue offices for a fitting for an event before the upcoming Met Gala. It’s a pajama party based on the theme of this year’s benefit for the museum’s Costume Institute, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and a tall order for someone without a personal stylist.
“My biggest fear is looking like Lindsay Lohan in the movie ‘Mean Girls,’ ” she says, half joking. “You know when she goes all out for the Halloween party and everyone else is in cute outfits?”
Soon Huffine is in the trusty hands of market editor Kelly Connor, and within 20 minutes she has settled on a black-and-white pleated Thakoon dress with a chinois red overcoat. No Lohan moments here. It’s an easy outfit but perfectly extravagant for a Vogue fête.
“What, you wouldn’t wear this to bed?” Connor says wryly.
The talk moves on to accessories, the merits of Claire’s jewelry and those fishnet chokers that had a stranglehold on pre-teen girls in the early 1990s. The experience feels more like rummaging through a stylish sibling’s closet than an appointment with the nation’s preeminent fashion publication, although the importance is not lost on Huffine.
At a size 12, she is categorized as a plus-size model. A few years ago, she may not have had the opportunity to work with high-fashion magazines, let alone receive an invitation to borrow clothing for an exclusive insider event. Huffine is at the helm of a new tier of models pushing to expand boundaries for curvy models and to eliminate the label “plus” from the fashion vernacular. That hardly sounds like an unrealistic goal in a country in which the average dress size is a 12 to 14. But for an industry that has been accused of having a dangerous obsession with thinness, it is a mea culpa.
Huffine, 31, had a nontraditional path to the plus-size category and the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Many of her counterparts started out on straight boards (agency rosters of models sizes 0 to 6) then switched to plus boards (above size 10) when puberty set in or the strain of maintaining an unnaturally thin frame became too much.
A D.C. native, Huffine was a self-described social butterfly, competing in beauty pageants in Maryland and the District throughout her childhood and teenage years. She attended Bowie High School after her family moved from Georgetown to the Maryland suburb, and she joined the cheerleading squad. During her sophomore year, an audience member at a pageant said she should visit modeling agencies in New York. She made the trip with her mother, Holley Huffine, a fragrance representative for L’Oreal. The two saw a dozen agencies — and Huffine was rejected by all but the last. That agency suggested she join a new division that represented models larger than a standard size. She was a size 6 but had curves.
“I walked away with a contract signed as a plus model, which is the interesting thing. I didn’t know that existed,” she says.
At the time, the designation felt like an inconsequential industry term, Huffine says, and didn’t impede the excitement of having a signed contract at age 16. “The other [plus-size] models were working and they were beautiful, and I said I would totally do that.”
After high school, she moved to New York to pursue modeling full time, sharing an apartment with an aunt to temper her parents’ fears about living in the city at such a young age.
She took periodic modeling assignments, mainly in Europe, because “the plus industry then was quite new and the American market desired a more mature woman who was around a size 16. I was a kid who was a 10.”
To augment her income, “I got odd jobs — I was a reservationist, a waitress in Times Square and a coat-check girl from listings I found on Craigslist.”
Huffine hustled with side positions until her shoots became so demanding that she could support herself with modeling.
“That’s when I first felt like I made it,” she says. “I’ll never forget one of my very first agents told me that I would maybe make enough money to cover college, but modeling would never be a long-term or full-time gig. Maybe she said that because no one knew what the future of ‘plus size’ modeling was, so I can’t be mad at her in any way. I can just be really, really glad she was wrong.”
Huffine’s first major commercial campaign came with national retailer Lane Bryant in 2000. She was cast for shoots featured in the plus-size company’s catalogue and store windows. It became a steady gig.
Another pivotal assignment came in 2011. She was cast alongside top plus-size models Robyn Lawley and Tara Lynn in a shoot by famed fashion photographer Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia. It was the first cover to feature plus-size models in 10 years and served as a springboard for Huffine’s career and the plus-size community.