My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
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: “...to 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.