Curve model Bree is ahead of the fashion game

Tall, athletic and glowing with good health, Bree Warren could be any Queensland girl on the genetically blessed spectrum.

But as one of Australia's most internationally successful "curve" models, she is challenging the notion of plus-size in an industry that for too long has dictated how women should look.

Warren is a size 12-14, but won't reveal how much she weighs in case others use it as a target and try "crazy diets" to reach it.

"It's not that I mind telling you but I feel like girls compare, and that's silly because we are all different," says the blonde, brown-eyed 31-year-old who has struggled with her own body image.

"When I was younger I'd be at the gym or the beach and look around and wonder, 'which ­person's body would I rather have?', and then one day I realised I didn't want anyone else's, that I had to be happy with mine. And I don't ­remember what made me turn that corner, but I think it comes with age and, doing what I do, I see so many beautiful girls every day but nobody is perfect and you have to focus on the positives."

 

Bree Warren with her fiance Mitch McCann. Pics Adam Head
Bree Warren with her fiance Mitch McCann. Pics Adam Head

 

After eight years of living in London and New York pursuing her dream, Warren has settled on the Sunshine Coast with fiance Mitch McCann, 29, a carpenter and former Australian representative water polo player.

"Previously, you had to be in New York to be successful," she says, "but now because of the way the industry is changing, you can live anywhere."

Warren, who this year became the first curve model to walk in Fashion Week Australia's swimwear show, considers herself proudly part of that change. With a strong social media presence - 221,000 followers on Instagram alone, and a surfing blog with McCann - she is mindful of the potential influence she has on young women and girls.

"In fashion, we've had one size for too long, and if that's not the size you are naturally, then you can get sick mentally and physically trying, so it's time to stop perpetuating this bad beauty ideal. Gone are the days of seeing one unattainable, heavily retouched image in a magazine. ­

"Instagram has really changed the game, because people want to see what you're doing every day, realistic things, and they ask me questions.

"What people don't realise is that there are so many healthy girls like me being booked for beauty campaigns; the industry has really started to open up. Even in Australia, which is behind the US and Europe, I'm getting job after job with mainstream brands - Lee Denim, General Pants, Seafolly, Lorna Jane and Tigerlily Surf - that wouldn't have looked at me years ago."

Bree Warren, who this year became the first curve model to walk in Fashion Week Australia’s swimwear show. Pics Adam Head
Bree Warren, who this year became the first curve model to walk in Fashion Week Australia’s swimwear show. Pics Adam Head

FIGHT, SHE DID

After Warren took the biggest gamble of her life in 2010 and quit university and a part-time job in TV production at Ten in Brisbane to pursue modelling in New York, she quickly discovered she didn't fit in.

The then 23-year-old fronted at a plus-size modelling agency in Manhattan, without an ­appointment, and was told that because she had no experience or a "look book", she wouldn't get a working visa. Undeterred, Warren contacted friends in Europe, where she heard visas were easier to come by, and headed to Germany and then to the UK to begin building up her portfolio.

"It was really hard as I was constantly told I was not big enough for plus-size and not small enough for mainstream modelling, so I had to fight to change perceptions." Fight, she did.

"Given my size and relatively late age coming into modelling, the highest probability was that I would fail, but I was pretty ambitious," says Warren, who was scouted a few times as a slimmer 16-year-old but says it never amounted to anything.

"It was so slow when I started and even though I had some good clients, like ASOS Curve and Milan Fashion Week in that first year, I thought, 'if this keeps up, I should just finish uni'."

Warren had completed three years of a double degree in journalism and business at the University of Queensland, so began doing a few subjects online from her London base.

For some of the practical components, she needed to spend a semester on campus so at the start of 2012, she came home. "It was meant to be," says Warren, who in February that year met McCann on a night out in Byron Bay.

When she returned to the UK later that year, McCann followed her.

During that time, the modelling market had shifted. "After six months away, I was in more ­demand than ever, and I spent the next 18 months flying all over ­Europe for shoots and then New York agents started booking me."

Campaigns followed for Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Garnier, Revlon, and various lingerie and swimwear brands.

She relocated to Brooklyn and McCann ­returned to Queensland for work, but the couple remained tight, visiting each other often.

"It wouldn't have worked with anyone else, because Mitch has never put any pressure on me to choose between him and my career," says Warren, who is now planning their January 2019 wedding in Mexico.

 

Bree Warren was pegged for a career in basketball until her love for fashion won out. Pics Adam Head
Bree Warren was pegged for a career in basketball until her love for fashion won out. Pics Adam Head

PASSION FOR FASHION

Born in Ipswich in 1987, the middle child in a sporting family, Warren was pegged for a career in basketball until her love for ­fashion won out.

"People who've known me since I was young wouldn't be surprised where I've ended up, although I was always sporty and played netball, water polo and basketball for Queensland during high school," she says.

Her late grandfather Alwyn Warren represented Australia in football (soccer) at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and her dad, Wayne Warren, assistant principal at St ­Edmund's College in Ipswich, was captain of ­Ipswich United and coached Taringa Rovers and Coalstars (now Ipswich Knights) in the Queensland Premier League.

Her older sister Rachel, 33, now a mother of two in the UK, studied finance on a basketball scholarship at the University of Portland, Oregon, and Warren was tipped to ­follow in her footsteps.

After graduating in 2004 from St Peter's ­Lutheran College, Indooroopilly - where she was vice-captain - Warren played semi-professional basketball for the Launceston Tornadoes in the South East Australian Basketball League and was runner-up 2005 Rookie of the Year.

"The plan was that after that season I'd play college basketball in the US, but I realised the life of a professional athlete was not for me."

She took a second "gap year" and travelled before ­starting at UQ in 2007.

"I wanted to be journalist, but I was always interested in fashion. My first part-time job was at 97.3 [FM radio] as a promotions girl, then I joined Ten.

"When I came home and announced I was going to quit it all, Dad and Mum [Sandra, a practice manager at Wesley Hospital] thought I was crazy. My younger brother Brody [28] works in international law at The Hague, in the Netherlands, and my parents always took a traditional approach to education.

"They wanted me to finish uni - which I did eventually - and a few years ago they said to me, 'Thank God you followed your dreams and didn't listen to us!' "

Bree Warren and her fiance Mitch McCann share a love of surfing. Picture: Supplied
Bree Warren and her fiance Mitch McCann share a love of surfing. Picture: Supplied

MODEL CITIZEN

There are moments when she has to pinch herself. "Looking back, I can't believe the confidence I had to just go for it - and even when I got knock-backs I didn't give up," says Warren, who is represented by Bella Management in Sydney and JAG Models in New York.

She also resisted the financial temptation to ­deliberately put on weight, knowing she could have "earned double" in the US.

"Throughout my twenties I had this overarching feeling it was going to end and the jobs wouldn't be there tomorrow so I had to keep pushing myself, and that meant I missed out on a lot of things at home, like family events and friends' weddings.

But now, at 31, I can't believe the year I'm having," says Warren, who is off to the US for work this month.

"Australia is starting to embrace women of all sizes, and it's not about your age or size any more, it's about the person and you get to show your personality more.

"In this day and age, people want something that's real, and I've tried very hard not to let the business change me and stay true to the person I was raised to be. I was never going to be a tiny girl and that's absolutely fine."

Warren says there is so much more to life than worrying about what you ate yesterday.

"I love pizza, pasta, cheese and red wine, but I still keep an eye on what I'm eating to make sure I am ­getting enough nutrients as I travel so much. I don't eat much meat but loads of vegetables, and while I keep fit, I don't stress about it - Mitch and I surf, every day if we can."

It's been a whirlwind eight years for a girl who struggled to find her place, and now, happily home and renovating her first house, she has a message for others.

"Body confidence is a process, it takes time. Nobody wakes up in the morning feeling perfect, even models and the girls you think are the most genetically blessed humans. Sometimes we get pimples, we feel bloated, puffy, tired, those things happen to everyone no matter who you are - so you need to stop spending time on the ­negative things about yourself and enjoy life." ■



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