Every year, Liris Crosse watches the Victoria's Secret fashion show, knowing that she could stroll down the runway with the best of them.
At 5 foot 11, she's the right height. After successful stints modeling in shows from New York City to Europe, she has the experience. But the fashion industry thinks she's too big.
"Whenever I watch the show, I say, 'I should be there,'" said the 32-year-old Randallstown native who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I know that fashion — especially Victoria's Secret — is selling a fantasy. I get that. But I think that it would be beautiful and smart to expand their horizon. … I would love it if they called me. But I would also love them to expand their bra sizes."
Crosse, who has been called the "Naomi Campbell of Plus" by bloggers and industry insiders — a label that she relishes since the supermodel is her idol — is one of the models leading the push for body-type diversity in fashion.
But Crosse has built a name of her own. This past September, she was one of the first plus-sized models to ever walk in a "Project Runway" finale at New York Fashion Week. Crosse modeled for Ashley Nell Tipton, who was the first designer of plus-size clothing to win the fashion competition.
There have also been appearances for Lane Bryant, a retailer specializing in sizes 14 and up, as well as for designers such as Pelle Pelle, Ashley Stewart and Karl Kani. She's also been featured in Glamour, Seventeen and Essence magazines.
Besides the runway and fashion campaigns, she has also appeared in music videos, including Beenie Man's "Who Am I" and Jay-Z's "Do it Again," and in movies such as "The Best Man" and "Baby Boy."
"I continue to focus on great products," Crosse said. She described working with photographers on test shoots, where models try out concepts and ideas for their portfolios. "My test shoots — I put my all into it. If you continue to put out great products, they can't deny you."
Crosse has not only had to battle the stigma associated with being a plus-size model, she's also had to deal with the dearth of black models in the fashion industry.
"They just don't use black girls," Crosse said. "You already face obstacles and barriers because you are a plus-size model. Adding ethnicity is a whole other level.
"I bust my butt to make clients love me. I can sell your product just as well as any other model out there. A great model is a great model — whether she's black, white, Asian."
Throughout her career, Crosse has been doing exactly that — making clients love her, said Fallon Sinclair, president of the New York City-based IPM Models and Crosse's agent.
"She's very successful because she's a professional model," said Sinclair. "She's on her craft as far as delivery. She's current and today."
Initially, Crosse was spotted in elementary school by a local photographer. "He asked if he could take pictures of me. He said: 'She's gorgeous. She should model. She's got it.' That was the seed that planted in my head that I could model," Crosse said.
By senior year at Randallstown High School, she was ready to pursue modeling full time, to the chagrin of her mother, Delois Crosse. However her father, the Rev. St. George I.B. Crosse III, backed his daughter's goal of launching a fashion career.
"So we took her to New York at 17," her mother said. "The first day she went out, Wilhelmina Models picked her up. We are very, very proud of her in this short period of time."
"We're proud of our daughter," her father said. "She has a city and a state to represent."
Her mother added: "She's putting Baltimore, Randallstown and Maryland on the map."
Lana Rae, head of the Annapolis-based KISS Modeling Agency and founder of Fashion Awards Maryland, presented Crosse with the 2013 plus-size print model of the year award for Fashion Awards Maryland.
"She's amazing," Rae said. "She is the plus-size Naomi Campbell. ... She's beautiful. She's a great image of what a plus-size woman should be."
Rae thinks Crosse and other plus-size models should receive more recognition.
"The biggest challenge is that it's not as recognized as a regular-size fashion," Rae said. "In reality, a plus-size woman is an everyday woman. … Sizes zero and 2 are not reality."
In the beginning of her career, Crosse faced immense pressure to lose weight. She recalls a meeting with a "straight-size" agency in New York that encouraged her to binge and purge herself to become a size 2 or 4, considered the industry standard for models, instead of her size 8 or 10.
"I played basketball, track and field, volleyball, and did cheerleading in high school. I always had some type of muscle tone to my figure. To them, I wasn't thin enough," she said. "The fashion industry has a warped sense of sizing."
Crosse found a home with Wilhelmina Models in New York. There, her size was embraced.
"When I walked into the agency and I saw the cards on the wall of the plus models, I was in awe," Crosse said. "They just looked like beautiful women with more meat on their bones."
Crosse said her agent at the time, Susan Georget, became a "surrogate mom," teaching her about personal finance and "other things I needed to learn as a young adult."
Georget, who is now at MSA Model Management, said she fondly remembers her more than a decade of working with Crosse.
"Liris was somebody that came in always bright and filled with energy," she said. "There wasn't anything that she wasn't willing to try and do. She was always oozing confidence. She had a great big smile with lots of eyelashes."
Georget said Crosse's drive and professionalism have kept her atop the modeling industry.
"It's her continued willingness to always go and reinvent herself," Georget said. "She's always stayed very true to Liris. And she can walk like nobody's business."
Sinclair said it came as no surprise that Crosse was booked for the finale show of "Project Runway."
"I knew Liris would book it immediately," said Sinclair, adding that Crosse is one of her most-booked models. "Once the casting director saw Liris, he was floored."
And Sinclair said her client didn't disappoint in the finale. "It was an exciting fashion show, but the crowd didn't really get into it until Liris walked out. She has the ability to draw the attention from the crowd to her."
Next up, Sinclair hopes to get Crosse a beauty campaign or make her an ambassador for a clothing line.
"That's the epitome of a model's career," she said. "2016 is going to be an incredible year for her."