ALANNAH HILL In this ex­clu­sive book ex­tract, the fash­ion de­signer shares one of her ear­li­est, dark­est mem­o­ries.

Fash­ion icon Alannah Hill re­veals a life of heartache hid­den be­neath en­chant­ing de­signs l Who

WHO - - Contents -

In her lyri­cal de­but, But­ter­fly on a Pin— sub­ti­tled A Mem­oir of Love, De­spair and Rein­ven­tion— the de­signer, 56, from small-town Tas­ma­nia, vividly tells how she emerged from the chrysalis of her dif­fi­cult up­bring­ing to con­quer the world, be­fore start­ing over.

The day my mother at­tempted to kill her­self was not like any other day I’d known. It was around 1967 and I was 5 years old. I re­mem­ber the dark­en­ing clouds gath­er­ing in the foothills of the small ghost town where my fam­ily lived, a ghost town called Geeve­ston in Tas­ma­nia. I was des­per­ately fright­ened. My mother was very, very sick. In my rush to get to her I slipped on my own foot­steps. Breath­less, I crept qui­etly into her bleak and som­bre bed­room. Mum was ly­ing on her mar­i­tal bed, star­ing at the ceil­ing, tears fall­ing from her sad brown eyes. I watched the chaotic mess and when the priests told me to get out, I couldn’t.

Some­body picked me up and dropped me onto the floor in the room next door where my three sib­lings were eat­ing stale honey sand­wiches. We be­gan rock­ing back­wards and for­wards, hum­ming my mother’s favourite Catholic hymn: “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. I couldn’t hear my mum breath­ing. All I could hear was the sound of vi­o­lent hic­cups. All we could do was rock back and forth, eat­ing our honey sand­wiches, wait­ing for the gi­gan­tic stranger, who was of­ten seen glow­er­ing from cor­ners or hurl­ing rag­ing ag­gres­sion af­ter drink­ing in the lo­cal pub. The stranger was my fa­ther.

A bib­li­cal hymn sounded from the mar­i­tal bed­room and so my own hymn to God be­came even louder. I was shout­ing “Nearer, My God, To Thee”, shout­ing it with my stale honey sand­wich trapped in my throat, rock­ing with my sib­lings in per­fect tim­ing, as my gi­ant fa­ther ar­rived home with his im­per­fect tim­ing. A flurry of noise, a farmer’s hat thrown onto the floor, boots thrown against a wall and there he was, my fa­ther: the man I be­lieved was the rea­son Mum was ly­ing on the mar­i­tal bed in a state of Catholic ex­or­cism.

I wanted to die. My eyes were blurred from tears and I heard him shout­ing at my mum. “For God’s sake, Aileen. This again! Je­sus, Mary and Joseph, Aileen, what the f--k do you want?” I knew even then what my mother wanted. I knew and never spoke up. I won­dered why my fa­ther couldn’t see it for him­self.

The truth is my mother, over a pe­riod of 45 years, was al­most sent mad by my fa­ther’s dis­missal of her, and his own un­hap­pi­ness, which, like the plague, spread death of one kind or an­other.

When I left Tas­ma­nia in 1979, I had never been on a plane. Three decades later, it was not un­com­mon to find me in seat 1A,

fly­ing first class on one of Qan­tas’s fan­ci­est new fleet. I’d be bound for Lon­don, Paris, New York, Sin­ga­pore and Tokyo—trips that took in five ci­ties in 14 days. My be­spoke sher­bet-bomb di­ary was filled with high­fly­ing, ca­reer-girl fab­ric ap­point­ments, din­ner in­vi­ta­tions, posh fash­ion shows, art gallery open­ings and VIP tick­ets for Première Vi­sion, the fa­mous Paris fab­ric and trim fair. I was chauf­feured from the air­port to a fancy ho­tel. I’d climbed to the top of the moun­tain. Look­ing down from the clouds at my life in the bro­ken-down houses of my child­hood, I’d won­der if it was all true. Did I re­ally make it? I would fret, think­ing, God, if I lose this— if my im­pos­si­ble dream gets taken from me—i know I’ll surely die. I’d be over­whelmed by a sense of noth­ing­ness, the un­joined girl of my child­hood never too far away.

My mother was al­ways two dark steps ahead. Her su­perb wit al­ways ready to put a two-bob snob like me in my place. To Mum, I would al­ways be a 16-year-old ru­n­away shop girl. On my vis­its to Tas­ma­nia, she would of­ten tell me of her des­per­ate at­tempt to die, chang­ing the time it had hap­pened, the num­ber of pills she swal­lowed, and why she was cov­ered in a strange plum sauce.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing priests hov­er­ing over your bed, Mum. Who looked af­ter us? Why did Dad look so an­gry? Why, Mum, why?” “You know I nearly died, don’t you, Lan?” she would ask. “You know you nearly lost me? You do re­alise I was al­most DEAD, don’t you, Lan? What a dread­ful man I mar­ried—a hea­then, a phi­lan­der­ing liar with in­sipid eyes. NO, I don’t know why he didn’t want you, Lan, I don’t know why he wouldn’t look at you! You were such a plain lit­tle thing. No per­son­al­ity, dear. Not a SPECK! You must have been fright­ened see­ing your dear old mum dy­ing in front of your very own eyes, Lan. Dy­ing!”

Yes, dear reader, I was fright­ened, and the terror from my child­hood has never left.

Hill knew she had made it when she saw (pic­tured circa 2001) her de­signs in the win­dow of Henri Ben­del’son Fifth Av­enue in New York. Hill and Ed­ward (his fa­ther is her ex, fel­low de­signer Karl Bartl) in 2005: “I had just given him four Freddo Frogs and a promise he could keep the fake fur jacket.

“I wanted to die. My eyes were blurred from tears”

Hill pro­duced her first full col­lec­tion in a cup­board-like space at Mel­bourne’s Di­a­logue.

Hill, with her part­ner, record pro­ducer Hugo Race, in Italy in 2016. “I lit hun­dreds of can­dles in hun­dreds of churches for Mum.” This is an edited ex­tract from But­ter­fly on a Pin, by Alannah Hill, pub­lished by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $32.99; avail­able in stores na­tion­ally.

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