People We Love
Women Together: Clémentine Desseaux and Charli Howard
It all started over avocado toast. Very expensive avocado toast. The year was 2016, the city was Brooklyn, and the women were Charli Howard and Clémentine Desseaux (left and right, above). British model Howard had just made headlines by firing her former modeling agency who called her “too big” at size two. When she was quickly snapped up by Desseaux’s agency, the two became fast friends. The only problem was, they never worked together. “I was a straight size model at the time, you were on the curve board, and we really spoke about how we never see girls of our sizes modeling together,” Howard recalls.
It’s the end of a chilly February shoot day in New York City and the two are settled onto a plush linen couch. A radiantly orange Manhattan sun has just slipped below the skyline; Howard wears slippers, the kind you get from a hotel, Desseaux has on slide sandals. “So we just were like, ‘Oh! Why don’t we have a photo shoot?’ and then we were like, ‘Oh and a video,’” Desseaux, who is French, adds, a palpable excitement still present all these years later. And that was the start what is now officially called the All Womxn Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to girls and woman empowerment, but at the beginning was just called a beautiful friendship.
For Desseaux and Howard, the strength of their collaboration was born from a deep well of mutual respect. “I’ve always admired Clémentine’s ambition. She’s very business savvy and has her fingers in loads of pies at once. She was one of the first girls to do curve modeling and for someone who had an eating disorder and wanted to love their body, she certainly gave me something to look up to,” says Howard, 27, who wrote about her own journey to self acceptance in a recently published memoir, Misfit. She also wrote a YA book, Splash, about friendship and body positivity.
“Charli is able to use her life experience and struggle to empower others and I think that’s really important—to not stay stuck in the past, but to use that to empower a younger generation. She does that with writing and I think that’s really cool,” Desseaux, 30, adds.
For both women, style has played an important role in finding their place in the world—although that certainly doesn’t mean they like the same things. “Style is a reflection of how you feel inside. I always had a lot of fun with fashion, since I was a kid. Over time, I learned how to style for my own body and not try to imitate and follow fashion, but to really find what makes me me, what reflects the best what’s inside of me,” says Desseaux. Translation? “Give me a wide baggy jumpsuit and a pair of slippers and I’m in paradise!” These days, Howard is more of a jeans and heels type of girl. “I used to hide my body underneath layers of clothes, and now I feel proud of it. I like a bit of tight clothing. It’s about accentuating the things that make me feel sexy and womanly.”
While they may not agree on footwear, they are lockstep when it comes to their passion for lifting up other women—which is why being the faces of the empowerment t-shirt collection from Express was a no-brainer. “Empowerment teaches girls that you can be more than what you look like, and that you do have a purpose in this world that goes beyond your appearance,” says Howard. Desseaux nods emphatically. “Empowerment is key because you can’t really get anywhere or achieve much if you’re not empowered. That’s the reason we work towards empowerment: so that any girl can be anything she wants.”
Hear more from Desseaux and Howard in the video below.
The 21 Express empowerment t-shirts are available on express.com from $29.