Beauty does not come in one shape or form
The world of fashion is typically defined by an unattainable standard of beauty – a tall, impossibly slender body with lily-white skin. This clothes hanger ideal is pervasive, but it leaves out the vast majority of us, including those that are differently abled. And yet, the fact that someone is in a wheelchair does not necessarily negate the desire to look and feel fashionable.
“Fashion tends to be designed across cultures for standing bodies,” said senior curator Dr. Alexandra Palmer at the opening of the exhibit Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting.
In this groundbreaking exhibition, adaptive fashions created by Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri are presented at the Royal Ontario Museum in what might be the first exhibition ever to celebrate fashions for a diversity of body types and abilities who use a wheelchair. Interwoven amongst the display of adaptive clothing are museum artifacts from the 19th century, which were designed for seated persons, such as an exquisite evening shoulder cape from 1887 and an elegant riding habit from the 1870s.
What is perhaps the most surprising aspect of this exhibit is how very attractive and fashion-forward adaptive clothing can be. Designed with a seated person in mind and offering ease of access with openings at the back, these garments are not simply functional, they are chic. I wouldn’t hesitate to wear them myself, especially the stunning separating leather jacket or the denim maxi skirt.
Adaptive clothing does not have to be unappealing or dowdy; it can be as cool and trendy as the iconic fur coat worn by Meryl Streep as the haughty fashion editor in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” that was designed by Izzy and which is also on display.
Izzy Camilleri, a Canadian fashion designer with almost 30 years of experience in the fashion industry, shifted her focus to adaptive fashion in 2009. This transition occurred a few years after meeting Barbara Turnbull, a staff reporter at the Toronto Staff newspaper, who had sought out Izzy to make a cape for her. After working to make several garments for Barbara who is a quadriplegic as the result of a shooting, Izzy decided to design for this underserved market. Izzy now designs several lines including: IZ Adaptive, IZMA, a super-luxe line of sustainable and ethically-sourced furs, and MIZ, a collection of ready-to-wear and elegant pieces for the mature woman. Jeanne Beker called Izzy a “shining star – wildly imaginative, resourceful and tenacious – everything a designer needs to be in order to survive in Canada”.
Refined in line and innovative in cut, these garments present functional design in a new light. It was this aspect of the exhibition that surprised me. I also felt emotional, something I’ve never experienced at an exhibition of fashion before. It took me a moment to realize that each of us, like the panel of images of Izzy’s fashionable clients illustrates, stands within a hair’s breath of a life altering accident – a shooting, a fall or a car wreck – that might require us to be in a wheelchair.
I also thought of my elderly and frail mother, who uses a wheelchair, and still wants to feel pretty when she gets dressed each day. Having tried to make some clothing for my mother and knowing the challenges of getting clothing on a seated body, I could appreciate first-hand what Izzy has taken on. Her talent as a designer and her creativity in re-engineering clothing for a seated body deserves celebration and offers a new way of defining beauty. Dr. Alexandra Palmer said “Izzy took a genius leap of faith to create these new ways forward”.
This is an exhibit that every student of fashion would benefit from seeing. Dramatic in design and presentation, the exhibit also offers annotations on how this clothing was cut and constructed. Beauty does not come in one shape or form and the exhibit Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is proof of that. The exhibit runs from June 21, 2014 to January 25, 2015.
Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting
Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario
Written by Ingrid Mida
Ingrid Mida is the Collection Co-ordinator of the Fashion Research Centre at the Ryerson University School of Fashion where she is responsible for the curatorial and management duties related to the research collection. As well, she is a freelance fashion writer, focusing on fashion in the museum. Since 2008, she has written a scholarly blog called Fashion is my Muse, where she also explores the intersection of fashion with art, history, books, creativity, theory and life. As well, Ingrid works as a freelance artist and curator, creating artwork and installations related to fashion, and has had her photographs and illustrations included in several newspapers and magazines. Ingrid is currently working on a book for Bloomsbury Fashion called “The Dress Detective: The Practical Guide to Object-based research in Fashion” for release in Fall 2015.
Ryerson University School of Fashion
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