U.K. Designer Shows the World How It’s Done

9 Oct

Couture represents fashion without limits.” —Nina Garcia, October issue of Marie Claire, p. 92

photo from, rpt. from ecouterre/inhabitat.

Until now, disabled women have not been privy to the boundless creativity Ms.Garcia praises in her description of Paris Fashion Week. Fortunately for us, UK architect-turned-designer Ann Oliver is changing that.

Stricken with multiple sclerosis over 20 years ago, Ms. Oliver discovered her disability kept her from going to the theater, which she loved. The problem? Clothing that was both chic and comfortable in a wheelchair was nonexistent. What really inspired her to design, according to an interview with Jenn Viane on, was her desire for a dress she could slip on by herself, without standing up. So then-architect Ann Oliver enrolled in a design course at a London college, and her new career took root.

Featuring “free seats,” which she described in the Viane interview as portions of garments that “do not go underneath the bottom,” Ms. Oliver’s wheelchair-friendly ensembles draw attention away from the wearer’s lap and up toward the shoulders and face (see accompanying photo). Her Xeni line also employs magnetic closures to make dressing easier for women who have trouble with buttons and hooks.

Ms.Oliver’s collection includes fashions for amputees and ambulatory disabled women as well. Her clothing can be viewed and ordered at

Illness, inspiration, and a career switch: this would be a daunting journey for anyone. Ann Oliver not only traveled this road but has brought style and wearability to clothing designed specifically for disabled women, a frequently ignored minority. Will designers in the US follow her lead?


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