Fashion Follows Form – a new exhibit gives us something to think about

Through our eyes, the fashion world is often shown fitted onto tall, thin and striking models strutting down the runway. We’ve seen the designs then translated on the editorial pages in magazines. You know, the runway vs real life and how us average sized people can rock the latest trends.

But then this happened….and I stood looking at my closet in a whole different light.

Mannequal (Photo courtesy of ROM Fashion Follows Form)I recently had the opportunity to see fashion in a different perspective. FASHION FOLLOWS FORM is the newest exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. It inspires many conversations and asks us to consider fashion that is truly accessible. Designs for sitting – to meet the needs of women and men who use wheelchairs.

This exhibition showcases designer pieces created by Toronto-based designer Izzy Camilleri and her collection IZ Adaptive. Her designs are among the first in the world that are truly innovative, fashionable and functional for this market.

Chain Dress and Leather Glove by Izzy Camilleri (Photo courtesy of the ROM)Who is Izzy Camilleri? As one of Canada’s most celebrated fashion designers, she has made a name for herself creating clothes for national and international clients for over 30 years. She has also designed couture pieces for  the film and television industry (Remember Meryl Streep’s fur worn in the film The Devil Wears Prada?). Camilleri also is a favourite amongst celebrities including Jeanne Beker, David Bowie, and Samuel L. Jackson to name a few. She was also the recipient of the Canadian Arts & Fashion (CAFA) Award for the highly coveted Women’s Wear Designer of the Year Award in 2006.

In an emotional speech given at the media preview of the exhibition, Camelleri spoke about her experience when she had first met journalist, Barbara Turnball, a survivor of a shooting from a robbery that left her paralyzed. It was then fashion editor of the Toronto Star, Bernadette Morra, who introduced the two.

“When I began designing for Barbara, it was the first time I had worked with someone with a disability and needed a wheelchair,” said Camilleri. “I didn’t fully know her needs but I listened to Barbara’s special requests and designer her a cape that was not only comfortable but functionable and fashionable. I was careful with taking her measurements because working with this client was a very different experience for me.”

IZ Seated Wedding DressAnd this became the start of her accessible fashion line. “The first piece was a success and the more I got to know Barbara the more thoughts went through my mind about how she got through her day with her paralysis. I thought about how she would use her hands. How she would brush her teeth and put food to her mouth. Simple things that I do everyday and I don’t even think about,” said Camilleri.

With each design project, Camilleri would find herself questions the needs of people like Barbara. She realized that there are more people who would have similar clothing challenges.

This exhibit is definitely a MUST SEE —  to understand that fashion goes beyond the surface. It truly makes you understand what design really means and how fashion can affect an individual both physically and mentally.

See designer Izzy Camilleri’s innovative line – IZ Adaptive – as well as her couture line, and related 18th-19th century fashions in this thought-provoking exhibition.

FASHION FOLLOWS FORM: DESIGNS FOR SITTING is on now at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto).


Sonya is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of She is also a well-established contributing lifestyle writer to other sites and magazines sharing her passion for arts & culture, fashion, beauty, travel and food. Sonya is based in Toronto, Canada. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @theculturepearl

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