Saturday, July 23, 2011

Queen Isabella Blow

 My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort.

The words that come to mind when trying to describe and introduce Isabella Blow in a nutshell are eccentric, outrageous, fearless and fabulous. Known to many as an icon of style, to others she was a beacon of light and support and for a fair few, Isabella was the embodiment of extraordinary. This post is dedicated to a life cut short but to an indisputable legend of life and fashion.

Isabella descended from the Delves-Broughton family. Born on the 19th of November 1958 in Marylebone, she was the eldest child of Major Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton, a military officer, and his second wife, Helen Mary Shore, a barrister. Blow had two sisters, Julia and Lavinia, and a brother, John, who drowned in the family's swimming pool at the age of two. Her parents divorced in 1974, two years after her mother left the house suddenly one day. Isabella’s relationship with her father was quite strained, and upon his death he only bequeathed Isabella £5,000 from his estate, despite that its net worth was more than one million pounds.
She attended Heathfield School and moved to New York City in 1979 to study Ancient Chinese Art at Columbia University, where she shared a flat with Catherine Oxenberg (who was to play Amanda in Dynasty). A year later, she left the Art History programme at Columbia, moved to Texas, and worked for Guy Laroche. In 1981, she married her first husband, Nicholas Taylor (whom she divorced in 1983), and was introduced to the fashion director of the U.S. edition of Vogue, Anna Wintour. She was hired initially as Wintour's assistant, but it was not long before she was assisting Andre Leon Talley, now U.S. Vogue's editor-at-large. In 1986, Blow returned to London and worked for Michael Roberts at Tatler. She then had a stint at British Vogue and the Sunday Times Style magazine before returning as fashion director for Tatler.

Throughout her lifetime and career, Isabella developed and nurtured some very powerful friendships with numerous icons in the fashion and art society. While working in New York, she befriended Andy Warhol, was inseparable from Daphne Guinness, discovered Sophie Dahl sobbing in a doorway; bought Alexander McQueen's entire degree show, and had Philip Treacy design her wedding hat when she married Detmar Blow in 1988. These relationships and friendships formed much great collaboration and most certainly left a few fierce legacies.

 When Isabella approached Alexander about his graduate collection, she admitted, 'I know this sounds a bit weird but I want to buy the whole of your collection.' Alexander McQueen offered to sell her a coat for £350, to which she replied, 'that's a lot for a student.' 'But I made it,' Alexander argued, and in the end she bought it all for £5,000. From that point she became one of his biggest supporters throughout his career.

Convinced she was ugly, she almost always wore a Treacy hat that would obscure her face, accessorized with her famous slash of red lipstick - MAC designed one in homage to her.  In a 2002 interview with Tamsin Blanchard, Blow admitted that she wore extravagant hats for a practical reason: “ keep everyone away from me. They say, ‘Oh, can I kiss you? I say, No, thank you very much. That's why I've worn the hat. Goodbye.’  I don't want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love.” In 2002, she was the subject of an exhibition at the London Design Museum, featuring all the hats made for her by Treacy. A book by Treacy, When Philip met Isabella, featuring some of her most outrageous outfits, was published to accompany the exhibition.

Her friendship with Daphne Guinness was that of devotion and utmost respect for each other. When Isabella died, Daphne bought Isabella’s entire wardrobe collection of couture, preventing the estate from falling into the clutches of who she disparagingly termed “souvenir seekers”: “I want – we want – to do what she would want; what we think she would want. I would like this unique collection, marked by her grace and the fact it was so intimately hers, to allow people (whether students, lovers of fashion, historians) to remember 
her and benefit from her legacy, when we who knew and loved Issie are no longer here. For that, it needs to be kept whole; it is like a diary, a journey of a life, and a living embodiment of the dearest, most extraordinary friend.”

Like many unfortunate artists of our time, Isabella’s tragic death came before the world would catch on to the tale of her fabulously fearless and predictably outrageous life.  After spending her career not on center stage as hoped, but on the periphery  in the company of the bright and beautiful, Isabella tragically died by her own hand at 48 after a long battle with depression and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. A non-conformist to the the end, Issie, while attending a party in 2007, daringly and deliberately downed a quantifiable dose of weed killer, ending her unfulfilled dreams and silencing the long-sought applause. Even in death, Issie didn’t miss a beat. Said one friend, “I think she was in thirties silver lamé in the hospital even though it scratched. Self-presentation was always more important. Even at that point.”  Treacy designed a black feathered hat for her cortege and a funeral was held in The Guards Chapel where the whole fashion world descended in their most appropriate outfits to pay their respects.


  1. oh the life of the rich and wierd

  2. Oh the life of the wierd...and rich.

  3. Issy had an eye for real talent, and making friends. She wasn't rich if you can read, she worked hard and in the end felt she was denied everything essential to go on, the ultimate insult her body turned on her and she ended up dying a slow painful death that was not deserved. She was a sweet loving, fun, brilliantly aware of the beauty in the world. A rare treasure was lost.

  4. She was rich in life in many ways other than money. But it came at a cost.

  5. Eccentricity is more about privilege than about individuality. Regardless, this is a beautiful little momento for Isabella Blow. And I adore this quote:
    My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort.
    By whomever it is.

  6. Thanks ..What a great inspiration she is ..Fashion was her cooking ..cloths were her food...she was an artist..

  7. How sad!!!!
    And SWEET in its own ways.......
    Under all that makeup that she seemingly put on to apparently make herself ugly, although she could actually look pretty at times, there seems to have been a very beautiful person......
    May she be in "heaven"-------dressed, of course, by Cristobal Balenciaga.....oh oh......perhaps the wrong choice? YET---THE couturier of the 20th Century.........
    I'm sure Isabella has come to agree.............

  8. Yes Issy would have said her last goodbyes in Balenciaga...."She loved Balenciaga, "The master of couture", as Isabella was the master of originality. for life and style.
    I met her in the early 90s when she came to Steinbergs. A vintage couture shop on the Kings Rd.
    Next thing I knew I was in Italian Vogue for a shoot inspired by Diana Vreeland. Isabella would drive me around in her old little car, introducing me to all the people, she loved and was inspired by. I was introduced to Phillip Treacy, Manolo Blanik, Mc Queen....She was kind, reflective, vulnerable, deeply honest, funny, painfully sad and most of all very giving for those she believed in that had an inner and outer connection to her vision...."Its life, not heaven"......Heaven is where angels go and Issy is in a peaceful place now. Up there with Balenciaga, Mc Queen and Elvis. Peace YR

  9. Beautiful tribute and great roundup of photos. Thank you! (will be crossposting to my blog too :) )

  10. If we could all be as spirited as she. People's life starts out with the most heart wrenching circumstances able to be creative and so craving of attention for the lack of early on can turn there lives so creative and actually find your desire through something you love, I only hope she knew just a bit what she meant to those who were her friends. McQueen was crushed and Daphne were so deeply saddened. But I know that she and Alexander are together and he is whipping up great things for her and she now has happiness in eternity. (and looking fabulous)

  11. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (even if they're dating somebody else now) you gotta watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Have your ex CRAWLING back to you...?