A Montreal fashion journalism icon, Iona Monahan enjoyed unrivalled credibility. Throughout her career, she made remarkable contributions to the fashion industry, both inside and outside Canada.
Iona Monahan grew up in Montreal’s Point St. Charles neighbourhood. At the age of 17, she was hired as a “parcel girl” at Eaton‘s department store. She began working in fashion around 1947, entering an industry that was experiencing a postwar boom. Initially a secretary-receptionist-model at the Arnott, Rogers & Sauer photography studio, she gradually started to help set up and direct photo shoots for clients of the studio, which was very active in the field of fashion. In the 1950s, she worked freelance for advertising and public relations agencies like Garber, Cossman. As a publicist, she carried out promotional and ad campaigns, notably for the textile, fur and shoe industries.
Within the advertising milieu of the era, she was one of the few to impress upon her clients the importance of publishing press releases in French.
In the late 1950s, she began working as an artistic director, then as a fashion journalist with photographer Sam Getz who ran a Montreal studio. Along with Getz, a photographer for Mayfair magazine, Iona Monahan co-created one of the most memorable feature stories ever written about Canadian fashion. For four weeks in 1958, the two visited London, Paris, Calcutta, Bangkok, Athens, Milan, Dublin, Tokyo and Hong Kong with Canadian-produced clothing in their luggage.
The resulting story, Canadian Fashion at Home Everywhere In the World, published in four monthly issues of Mayfair in 1959, was a milestone in the history of Canadian fashion magazines.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Iona Monahan wrote for numerous English-language magazines. In addition to being the fashion editor of Mayfair, she was the editor-in-chief of Élan and a journalist for The Montrealer and Fashion. She helped produce some of the first television fashion segments for Living, a show produced in Toronto for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). She also appeared on the fashion segment of Seven O’Clock Show, a TV show produced in Montreal for the CBC. From 1967 to 1977, she was a reporter for the Montreal Star newspaper. Finally, in 1978, she was hired as a staff reporter by Montreal daily The Gazette, where she remained until her retirement in 2002.
In addition to writing about the vibrant Quebec, Canadian and international fashion industries, Iona Monahan also produced and designed numerous runway shows in Montreal and elsewhere in the world, primarily in the 1960s.
She was universally recognized for her creativity and professionalism in this role. She designed fashion shows for the stores Holt Renfrew and Lily Simon, and numerous furriers, shoe retailers and milliners. In 1967, she produced The Great Canadian Fashion Caper, a fashion show presented weekly at the Canada Pavilion during Expo 67. Fashion associations (Fur Council of Canada, Association of Canadian Couturiers, The Montreal Dress Manufacturers Guild, Montréal Mode, Montreal Fashion Group) called on her services throughout her career. Several times a year, she would travel to Europe to attend the top runway shows, while also closely following professional fashion activities in Quebec and Canada.
Her contributions to the fashion industry were recognized nationally when she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1985, from Governor General Jeanne Sauvé. In the late 1970s, the Fashion Canada organization named her Woman of the Year, and she received the title of Great Montrealer in 1978. In 1997, Montreal Fashion Group celebrated her 50-year career in fashion. From the time she joined The Gazette in 1978 until her retirement in 2002, Iona Monahan championed creativity, whether it was in Montreal, Paris, New York, London or Milan.
Recognized for her signature look—large black owl-eye glasses and a basic black wardrobe—Monahan was known as a demanding perfectionist and workaholic with an attention to detail and keen eye for what was—and was not—stylish. Though she could sometimes intimidate models and designers, who were aware that she could make or break a reputation, she never failed to promote the most talented among them. Her support of John Warden and Jean-Claude Poitras, among others, had a very positive effect on their careers.
In the end, her perceptive writing was one of the factors that motivated numerous local designers, manufacturers and institutions to constantly raise their standards.
Today, Place Iona Monahan, located in Montreal’s garment district at the corner of Chabanel Street and Esplanade Avenue, recognizes her remarkable contributions to the city. Monahan’s archives are preserved by Library and Archives Canada.
M.J. Stone, « Iona Monahan, Fashion Writer, 1923-2006. » The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail Inc., 17 avril 2006, p. S9.
Cornacchia, Cheryl. « Arbiter of style Monahan moves on », The Gazette, Postmedia Network, 9 avril 2002, p. F1, F2.
Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum