With her big black hair, made-up face and kooky style, Australian fashion designer Alannah Hill is instantly recognisable to those who covet her fashion.
But despite her outgoing public persona, there is a lot that she has kept hidden, including a turbulent childhood and a less-than-ordinary life in the lead-up to her success in the fashion industry. These facts haven’t been revealed until now, with the release of her memoirs Butterfly On A Pin, and many may be surprised at the paths that have led Alannah to where she stands today.
Growing up in a ‘loveless’ family, Alannah, her parents and her siblings moved around Tasmania several times, hoping to improve their lot in life. From an underachieving apple orchard to a dingy milkbar, the family took on several prospects, but their finances remained dismal. The children grew up without toys or television, and Alannah’s parents were less than exemplary in their treatment of them. Her father was often drunk at the pub and her overly-religious mother was verbally abusive, with a withering view on life and everything that came with it. Despite this, Alannah still strove to achieve their admiration and respect, acting out and ‘showing off’ to try and gain their attention. With no real skills to speak of, and no interest in becoming the hairdresser her father wanted her to be, Alannah drifted between bedsits, flophouses and cities, hoping to achieve fame, independence and worth. It wasn’t until after she made the shift from Tasmania to mainland Australia- making her first ‘huge international flight’ to Melbourne- that she started to achieve some level of success.
Moving from manageress of a retail clothing store to budding designer, she thrived in this environment and was soon making her name known in fashion circles both nationally and internationally. But her path to success didn’t always run smoothly and she experienced just as many downs as she did ups. Through hard work, a strong determination to succeed and an unwavering work ethic, Alannah was able to have a successful career, have a child and deal with the many successes and pitfalls of running a business. While she is now no longer associated with the Alannah Hill brand, she does have another fashion venture- Louise Love- which has just as big a cult following.
Alannah Hill’s story is certainly a fascinating one, and for those interested in her fashion-forward trajectory, this could be an enlightening autobiography to read, but I personally found it less than appealing. While she does have a way with words (probably due to a short-lived creative writing course she took), she also writes in a very fragmented way- jumping from story to story without ever really completing it. She tells tales of incest, abuse and suburban family life- glossing over some points but going into great detail on others. Perhaps she is aiming to keep some parts of her life more private than others, but this has the (unintended?) potential to make her narrative feel disjointed and fantastical. Even at the beginning of the book, she assures us (her ‘dear reader’) that these accounts are all made up from what she remembers, and that they are ‘real and true memories for her’. I may be cynical, but such disclaimers make me wary, particularly when the amount of detail varies between each important fact of her life.
Readers may also become frustrated with her liberal use of caps lock and italics when emphasising certain words- particularly in the vitriolic speeches her mother imparts, and whom she claims to still love and respect deeply besides her almost farcical tirades.
I’m sorry, but as much as I admire Alannah Hill’s tenacity, I can’t say that I feel the same way about Butterfly On A Pin. To me, her memoirs feel disjointed, fragmented and somewhat scattered. While this could just be a reflection of her anxieties and insecurities, it does make for a rather less enticing read. Some more depth on the fashion side of her business and her personal relationships within the industry would have been more interesting to me than the brief summaries she gives, leading to her running of an internationally successful label.
Good on Alannah Hill for her achievements, but I’m afraid I just wasn’t taken with her memoirs of ‘love, despair and reinvention’. True fans of the designer and her labels might relish this book but for me, this autobiography unfortunately fell short.