A wheelchair user and a dwarf are just two of the 18 guests on a new TV show that dresses people whose clothing needs are not the norm, says Ruth O'Connor
The fashion industry claims to be more diverse in its customer profile, in its advertising campaigns, on the catwalks, and in its displays in stores. While some brands engage with activists to learn what it means to be more inclusive, fashion is not yet a space where everyone can shop for their body type or express themselves through the clothes they wear.
RTÉ 2’s The Fitting Room, starting tonight at 9.30pm, opens up fashion and design to more people, celebrating difference and exploring what it means to be individual, by helping a group of people with unique requirements to find clothes that fit and flatter their bodies, but which also echo their tastes and how they want to project their sense of self to others.
The Fitting Room, presented by Paddy Smyth, is feel-good TV that moves along at a fast pace, a pace reflected in the quick turnaround times that the panel had to make or source the garments for the participants.
Two fashion designers, Zoë Wong and Ruedi Maguire, and stylist and social media maven Ciara O’Doherty meet people who have very distinct fashion and clothing requirements. Each person has a different story to tell, and a different experience, but they are all outside the fashion norm.
In the course of the series, we meet 18 people, including Jenna Fitzgerald, Hayley Fitzsimons, and Noah Halpin. Jenna Fitzgerald was paralysed in an accident on holidays: she dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool by mistake. Fitzgerald now uses a wheelchair and finds it difficult to buy clothes, due to the wheelchair inaccessibility of shops and because clothes that function well for her while making her look great are not common.
Hayley Fitzsimons is an athlete and a member of Dwarf Sports Association Ireland. Fitzsimons competes globally in discus, javelin, and shot put, and so she wants a gown for award ceremonies. Beautiful clothes that fit her are hard to find, given her height of 119cms.
Noah Halpin is transitioning from female to male. Having waited for four years, Halpin has just started treatment, but his body is changing quickly and he wants clothes to reflect the new person he is becoming.
Another participant is personal assistant and mum-of-two, Lisa Crowe, from Santry, in Dublin. In July 2015, Crowe was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, followed by months of radiation and chemotherapy.
Crowe has not had reconstructive surgery, and, while she is happy with her body and happy to show her scars, she wanted a bespoke item of clothing that made her feel good about herself and which was comfortable to wear.
Crowe, who appears in episode four, has brightly dyed hair and cites Grace Jones, Pink, and Lady Gaga as style icons. “One of the motivations for doing the show was for people to find something for me that would fit me and suit me. As I found out more about what the show was about, I felt delighted to be included.
Crowe says that since her cancer diagnosis and treatment, she’s become braver in terms of what she wears, but that The Fitting Room has allowed her to become even more confident still in her fashion choices. “I was always a bit of a rebel, but I was never brave enough to embrace that rebel full-on. Having gone through what I’ve gone through, I now realise that there is a lot worse that can happen than making the wrong fashion choices. I wanted to do this show to push myself out of my comfort zone and, from the get-go, myself and Zoë connected and were drawn to each other. I can’t say what she made me, yet, but it is absolutely beautiful.”
“When I heard about the format of the show, I really loved the idea,” says designer Zoë Wong. “I was interested in showcasing what I can do for people through fashion, but also in broadening my horizons in my designs and in what should be done, in terms of changing the industry.” The production schedule was intense, with little time for the designers to make the outfits for the participants. The show isn’t scripted, so it’s spontaneous.
Wong has often made clothing for private clients, but on TV she’s meeting the participants for the first time and sketching for them. There are no further consultations: what you see is what you get before the big reveal.
New to the designer were the added challenges of the functionality and feel of the garments:
“When designing for the people on the show, there were the design, functional, and emotional aspects to consider: the participants were putting themselves out there on TV, telling us their stories, and trusting us to make them feel good. A lot of them haven’t felt good in clothing in the past, so that was a very important consideration for me.”
The Fitting Room is a six-part series and will air every Monday from tonight, April 15, on RTÉ 2 at 9:30pm.