"I come from a dog-show family,” says Rebel Wilson, attempting to explain the roundabout genesis of her entrepreneurial spirit. The actress, who hails from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, recalls that even at age 7 or 8, while accompanying her parents and their beagles on the championship circuit (her mother, Sue Bownds, is a respected breeder and judge), she and her siblings were often selling something—dog products, candy, glow sticks on New Year’s Eve.
“You know how kids sell chocolates in school for charity?” she asks. “Well, I would do that too, but the charity was me. It wasn’t like I was pulling a scam on people. I would explain that I wanted to go on a holiday or something.”
VIDEO: Your First Look at Rebel Wilson x Angels
That experience must have rubbed off on Wilson, who today—in addition to being famous as Fat Amy from the Pitch Perfect series and for her standout roles in Bridesmaids and How to Be Single—is embarking on a new venture as a clothing designer for the underserved size-14-and-up market. Following a well-received trial run in 2015 with the specialty retailer Torrid, she is introducing a more ambitious collection, called Rebel Wilson x Angels, that arrives in major department stores this summer.
While many stars before her have attempted to monetize their personal brands through fashion (the curvy category has welcomed celebrity designers Melissa McCarthy and Beth Ditto), Wilson is determined not only to succeed in the apparel business but also to set a powerful example as an actress and a producer who makes her own rules.
“I love creating something from nothing,” says Wilson, dressed in a pink satin bomber from the new line over black jeans and a V-neck. We are meeting in her office, which is actually a house in a newly hip strip of West Hollywood. A design obsessive who remodels homes on the side, Wilson recently renovated the space, building an airy kitchen and a gray and white living room with showroom seating.
From here she manages multiple projects as well as her new role as a movie producer with two studio films in the works. She stars in both: Isn’t It Romantic? and a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake titled Nasty Women. And she fields other offers as well as she begins to expand Rebel Wilson into a lifestyle brand, potentially adding shoes, bags, and activewear.
“I’ve had to create my own plays, television roles, and movie projects in order to play the parts I’ve wanted,” she says. “It’s what I’ve always done as an actress, but I never thought as a teenager that I’d someday have a fashion line.”
Wilson often develops characters based on an irreverent embrace of her size. As a comedian, her weight and physicality are her punch lines. She once described her natural state as “elastic waistbands,” and at the 2015 MTV Movie Awards she spoofed Victoria’s Secret fashion shows by strutting onstage in enormous wings with a bare midriff.
In real life Wilson is personally sensitive to the societal pressures of beauty standards and the weightist paradox of a fashion industry that uses the term “plus size” to describe clothes that are in fact more representative of the norm. The average size of the American woman is 16 to 18, according to a study last year in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education. Like so many women, even as she became more successful, Wilson hated shopping.
“I was a young woman making money, and there were no clothes to buy,” she says. “It felt like if you were over a certain size, designers didn’t care about you.”
Working with stylist Elizabeth Stewart, whose clients include Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, and Julia Roberts, has helped Wilson find her look. She says she picked up tips for how to present herself at photo shoots by watching America’s Next Top Model. “Whenever they had the plus-size girls, I was always like, ‘Yeah!’ ” she says, “even though they would only have one or two a season.”
Despite the daring nature of her characters and her name, Wilson dresses quite conservatively, which is reflected in her new collection. The first designs include trend-driven jackets like a suede motorcycle style in sophisticated colors, rather polished-looking dresses, and only a few touches of her signature provocative wit. There’s a denim jacket, for example, embroidered with a message on the back: “Just fan me & feed me grapes.”
Most items are priced under $100, while the suede jacket is the most expensive design, at $298. There’s not too much funny stuff, she says, because that’s not what real women want to wear every day (although Wilson herself once designed a line of T-shirts called Fat Mandi, which featured cupcakes and doughnuts printed pastie-style on the chests).
Retailers have reacted enthusiastically to her collection. Dillard's, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom will carry it in hundreds of stores around the country, and Wilson plans to make appearances to support the launch. “She appeals to all ages, and she has a big voice with a tremendous social-media following,” says Charles Mamiye, the chief executive officer of Mamiye Brothers, which is manufacturing the line. “We see this as a $100 million opportunity. It’s not a little niche.”
And given Wilson’s aspirations, this might turn out to be only the beginning. Eventually, she says, she would like to design and build a theme park in Australia, something on the scale of Disneyland, maybe. And, frankly, it wouldn’t be wise to doubt her ambition.
“The odds of someone like me making it in Hollywood, I think, are less than the odds of becoming an NFL player if you are an American guy,” she says. “I feel like I have always had that inner confidence.”
For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download July 7.