Izzy Camilleri: Making Fashion Truly Accessible

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Toronto-based Izzy Camilleri, one of Canada’s best-known and innovative fashion designers, has made a name for herself crafting clothing for international clients for nearly 30 years. She earned her reputation by creating garments that are provocative yet refined, sophisticated, and always wearable. 

From her earliest runway collections in the 1980s and early 1990s, Izzy has dressed personalities including Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman. Then, film came calling: remember the high maintenance Miranda Priestly, as played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)?  Recall the dyed silver fox coat she kept tossing at her hapless assistant? Designed by Izzy. More recently, her fashions have been worn on screen by Daniel Radcliffe and Mila Kunis.

In the beginning…

Over the last three decades Izzy Camilleri has reinvented herself multiple times. 

While Dr. Alexandra Palmer, the Nora E. Vaughan Fashion Costume Senior Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has always been aware of Izzy’s collections, she was unfamiliar with her latest incarnation. That is, until a walk in Toronto’s Junction area brought her to Izzy’s shop. Through the window, Alexandra was surprised to see mannequins in wheelchairs. Unbeknownst to Alexandra, Izzy had turned her attention – and talents – to designing clothing for men and women who, until now, have had difficulty finding clothes that fit well. Alexandra stepped through the shop’s door, soon realising that the wares she was seeing were as fashionable as anything one would see in other clothing stores. She further recognized that the efforts behind the pieces would make for a revolutionary exhibition at the ROM. She approached Izzy and they created Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting now on display at the ROM.

Dr Palmer says, “Izzy has been called ‘Canada’s most PC (Perfectly Cut) fashion designer’ for good reason.  She has broken new ground by designing and creating pieces for maximum comfort, ease, and style for those who have traditionally had difficulty finding clothing that fits.”  Mounting this exhibition at the ROM has been challenging, but incredibly worthwhile.  Dr. Palmer, continues, “We hope this exhibition inspires visitors to think about the role fashion plays in our daily lives as well as the historical relationship between fashion and function.” 

To which Izzy adds, “I’m honoured to work with the ROM to demonstrate that fashion and style can be accessible to everyone. I hope this exhibition generates greater awareness of the obstacles facing physically challenged people and invites conversation around the issues of inclusion, dignity, sense of empowerment, and embracing possibilities.”

Journalist Barbara Turnbull was Izzy’s first seated client. Ms. Turnbull, who became quadriplegic in her teens after being shot during a robbery while working as a convenience store cashier, had asked the designer to make her a shearling cape.  The challenges she encountered while creating the garment motivated Izzy to launch IZ Adaptive in 2009.  While most fashion designers create clothing for a standing frame body, not accounting for the clothing and mobility issues of a person who uses a wheelchair, Izzy’s IZ Adaptive collection is designed to be easily put on and comfortable for wearing all day in a seated position. Barbara and Izzy remain friends to this day with Barbara taking on the role of Exhibition Honoary Co-Chair with fellow journalist, fashion media icon Jeanne Beker. Watching these four women – Izzy, Alexandra, Barbara and Jeanne – at a recent photo shoot just prior to the exhibition opening is a beautiful thing. The mutual admiration for each other is on full and genuine display and the laughs are flowing.

Fashion Follows Form highlights the creations of Izzy Camilleri whose IZ Adaptive line features functional, fashionable and incredibly (financially) accessible clothing for men and women who use wheelchairs. Included in the exhibition is a Camillieri-designed leather jacket, trench coat, wedding dress, and tuxedo—all  defying traditional design and pattern-making conventions. 

Izzy’s 21st century designs are displayed alongside pieces from the ROM’s historic collection which were also designed for a seated body – including a 19th century four-piece women’s riding outfit!

On display until January 25, 2015 in the ROM’s Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume, Fashion Follows Form shares the gallery space with Cairo Under Wraps: Early Islamic Textiles. Featuring over 50 early Islamic textiles dating from the 8th to 14th centuries, many of the textile swere collected by C.T. Currelly, the Museum’s founding director – making it a fitting exhibition during the ROMs year long Centennial celebration.

For more information: click here.