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Tribute to Ray Ashley

Malta's top fashion designer Ray Ashley died at St Luke's Hospital on April 25, 2006 , aged 43.

Mr Ashley, who ran a fashion studio in Bahar ic-Caghaq, used to design and produce all types of gowns although his expertise lay primarily in designing exclusive wedding dresses.

A very familiar face on television, Mr Ashley also designed and produced the clothes of Miss Maltese Islands for her participation in the annual Miss World Contest.

Malta’s fashion scene was dealt a blow this week, when news spread of the death of designer Ray Ashley at the age of 43.

Apart from designing gowns for models, TV presenters and singers, Mr Ashley (whose real name was Ray Zammit) was also renowned as a wedding-dress maker. He is pictured here with his niece, for whom he had made one of his creations, in an interview carried in the weddings magazine I DO in 2003.

Sue Rossi, of Modelle International and the organiser of Miss Maltese Islands, was one of his closest friends. She kindly gave us these comments:

“This is a very difficult moment, but I’m sure that Ray deserves a lot of credit for what he has done for us and for all the people around him.

“Ray started designing and sewing at a very young age, at first just for his close friends. We met about 20 years ago when I started my career as a model, and since then we have never stopped working together. He made beautiful clothes for the fashion shows I organised and I showed his collections in various shows during the year. He was also in charge of designing the final evening dress which the girl who won Miss Maltese Islands each year would wear to represent Malta at Miss World. He always came up with the most amazing designs.

“I used to stay next to him very often to watch him sew and it was amazing how, in just a few hours, he would finish a dress, sometimes a handmade one too. Besides that he used to also make the dresses for most of the singers for the Song for Europe, and this year he was also the official designer for the presenters.

“I’m sure Ray will be remembered by all these people whom he met during his short life.

“Ray was so special to me because when I myself used to model at a very young age he always wanted me to be his best model.”

Ray Zammit whom we all knew as Ray Ashley was a colourful character. He featured in our series My Favourite Room, in the December 2003 issue of this magazine. He opened his Bahar-ic-Caghaq home to Joe Demanuele who is responsible for the interviews and photos of this popular series.

Joe Demanuele had written: “To say that the house is extravagant is like saying that the sea is wet.” The exuberant Baroque interior and idiosyncrastic touches were clearly a reflection of Ray’s vibrant personality.

Ironically, when Joe Demanuele had asked him whether he did not think that all the steps and different levels in the home would lead to problems of accessibility later on in life he commented: ‘Who wants to grow old?’ His home was full of clocks including one in his bedroom, which was home to a large Maltese clock which chimed every quarter of an hour.

Ray’s interest in dressmaking was evident early. His father saw his son’s potential and encouraged him to become a tailor but he was to become well known for his creations for women not men. “Dressmaking for women is so much more creative, there are not the constraints that one finds making male clothes. The creative juices can really flow when sewing for women,” he commented in his interview.

His meeting with Sue Rossi of Modelle International, led to a lifelong friendship and Ray’s creations were now being exhibited in fashion shows and various contests all over the island. He designed wedding gowns and evening wear which were often the talk of the town. He was also appointed official designer of the Miss World Malta known as Miss Maltese Islands. The organizers, Sue Rossi and the model Claudia, ensured that the winner was satisfied with Ray’s design. Sue Rossi says: “He made it a point to meet the winners and discuss with them several aspects before coming up with a comfortable outfit.”

For many years, Ray was also involved with a number of participants and presenters in the Song for Europe festival. Those who worked with him say that he always made it a point to meet the deadline, whether for a wedding or a TV show.

In his interview back in 2003, Ray told Joe Demanuele that his mother had died in a terrible accident when he was just over a year old. “My father had a butcher’s shop and every evening my mother would collect the lard and melt it. One night it caught fire and splashed all over her. She died a horrible death – too horrible to even think about but my brother’s death was even worse. He was 11 years’ old at the time and during the accident he heard me crying so he thought that I had caught fire, too. He rushed in to rescue me and instead he got burnt so terribly that he died an agonizing death 15 days later. I remember them saying that the last thing he asked for just before he died was ice-cream. He ate it and soon after passed away.”

Like so many of our lives Ray’s was a mixed bag too. There were the highs and the lows but he seemed to have played well the cards he had been allotted.

He was famous, yet so humble,

A week has gone, since Ray departed,

In what he did, was love and kindness,

We were shocked, and broken hearted.

The advice, from Ray to women,

Was that beauty, is within,

Wear what suits you, not the fashion,

And the clothes, you feel good in.

Ray planned to share, a birthday party,

He felt well, he told a friend,

But he was called, to dress the angels,

And meet his mother, in the end.

Xavier M. Galea



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