My cerebral palsy does influence the clothing I buy. My right arm is highly spastic, so everything I wear must be stretchy, or loose in just the right areas. My spasticity makes it very hard to find coats and jackets that I can get in and out of independently; dress clothes are a challenge because most of them are form-fitting with no stretch. Until recently I didn’t wear dresses at all unless I was going to a formal event.
I’m very petit and as a young woman, I take great pride in how I present myself to the world. When you live with a physical disability, this becomes infinitely more meaningful because there is so much about your physicality and what the world sees that you cannot control –being able to have some say over one small aspect of how you present yourself is extremely meaningful. Who doesn’t want to feel good when they look in the mirror? As the saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.” That is no less true for people with disabilities.
I’m lucky to be able to find a wide variety of things in regular stores; I have never been extremely limited in my choices, but there are things that I just don’t bother looking at because I know they’ll never work – fitted coats, suiting, dresses, skirts.
All of that changed in 2011 when I met Izzy Camilleri. After hearing her name for a few years and seeing some television spots she did to bring attention to her adaptive clothing line, I found out she was opening a boutique a mere fifteen minutes from my house.
The first time I went into her boutique, she pulled a clothing rack out from the wall and said, “What do you like?” I was staring at beautiful clothing, that I’d spent years wishing I could own, which I’d trained myself to ignore: fitted jackets, blazers and professional wear, dresses, skirts. I realized for the first time how many options I didn’t have before. I am not a person who is at a loss for words very often and I was speechless.
Izzy’s coats are cut in an L-shape – long in the front to cover your legs but they stop at the base of your hips so you don’t have to sit on clumped-up material. The tops are all made with a slight A-line shape, so that they fit comfortably and don’t bunch up at the waist. Her bottoms – pants and skirts, dresses too – are made with extra fabric in the bum, which she describes as being like a bucket seat in a car – when you sit, you fill it out comfortably. Waistlines are cut higher in the back, and slightly lower in the front, ensuring that you remain covered without the fabric bunching and shifting when you’re in a seated position.
From the beginning of her adaptive designing journey – which started with a special request from the late Barbara Turnbull – Izzy set out to make fashionable clothing for people in wheelchairs. She has more than delivered on her promise.
My first Izzy purchase was something I’d always wanted but could never have – a trench coat. Thanks to Izzy, I have an amazing collection of professional clothing; almost every coat I wear, from my beloved trench to my winter coat and almost everything in between, is hers. I wear skirts and dresses for more than just weddings and formals.
As my Izzy collection started to grow, I had a friend say to me, “Oh my God, that’s a trench coat. You’ve never worn one of those before. And you don’t need my help with it? I’ve seen pictures of you wearing dresses too. Are these from the designer you told me about, Izzy? You look happier, more comfortable in your skin.”
I’ve never been horribly uncomfortable in my own skin, but he was right. Izzy changed my life. And it all started with a trench coat. Izzy is not only a talented designer and a wonderful woman, but she is now also my friend. I love her dearly for everything she has done for me and how she empowers people with disabilities everywhere, one stitch at a time.