Friday, 5 February 2010

The wonderful world of Isabella Blow

Photography by Miguel Riveriego

"My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort"

Isabella Blow

An international style icon, fashion editor, muse, star finder and fashion legend, Issy Blow will always be remembered as a true English eccentric with an outrageous and brilliant personal style.

Photography by Steven Meisel
Issy wears 'Devil Paradise Feathers' by Philip Treacy

The last time I saw Issy Blow we were both dining at one of my favourite restaurants St. John in Clerkenwell. Issy had the lobster which was apt as she was wearing a lobster on her head at the time one of her many striking Philip Treacy creations.

I'd first met Issy at a party twenty years earlier. When I worked at Granada Television Issie lived around the corner on Theed Street, SE1. We used to bump into each other a lot and would sometimes go and have tea at a wonderful little deli on the corner of her street, Konditor and Cook. No matter what time of day it was she was always in a full dress and corset, tottering along the cobbled street in stilettos, of course a hat and her famous haphazardly applied red lipstick. She name dropped hilariously and made me laugh with her witty comments which were often about sex.

McQueen's SS08 collection 'La Dame Blueue' was a tribute to Isabella in collaboration with Philip Treacy

Issie discovered some great talents; Alexander McQueen (after buying his first St Martins collection for £5000. She didn't have the money so she paid him £100 a week in installments), Philip Treacy (after falling in love with a bright green felt crocodile hat with zig zag teeth), whose hats she wore almost every day, Hussein Chalayan and models Sophie Dahl who Issy described as "a blow-up doll with brains", Honor Fraser, Iris Palmer and Stella Tennant.

Photography by Steven Meisel
Issy wears 'Pom pom with black laminated lace' by Philip Treacy, carrying Azzedine Alaia's pug

Issy worked as Anna Wintour's assistant on American Vogue a job she was recommended for by Bryan Ferry, for Michael Roberts at Tatler, British Vogue, The Sunday Times before returning to Tatler as Fashion Director.

Issy hated her face and always thought she was ugly. She wore hats to detract from it. Her figure was great and she could wear the amazing outfits her designers produced. MAC even made her own shade of lipstick as an homage.

Photography by Steven Meisel
Issy wears 'Roses for England and Thistles for Scotland veiled in black net' by Philip Treacy

The book When Philip met Isabella is fantastic and features all the hats Philip made for her. It coincided with an exhibition at the London Design Museum of the same name.

Issy suffered from depression for years and after numerous suicide attempts - pills, drowning, throwing herself of a flyover - managing to break both ankles, driving her car into a truck - I'm told she wanted to go out with a bang like "an icon." Desperate to have a child, she suffered many failed IVF treatments saying "we were like a pair of exotic fruits that could not breed when placed together" and after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer she finally killed herself by drinking weedkiller. She'd told everyone at her and Detmar's country house Hilles that she was going shopping, she was found and died later in hospital.

Geordie Greig then Editor of Tatler (her Editor for six years) said "She will leave a gaping hole in the fashion world. She was just one of the brightest stars, the funniest, the most original, the kindest. She was one of those people who breathed life into a room, her energy was electric. She didn't do dull, she didn't do unoriginal - she was always just dazzlingly imaginative, creative and unexpected."

Burning Down the House by David LaChappelle

Anna Wintour remembers "She was a free spirit that believed in individual talent. In a world that's largely driven by corporate culture she was a joy to have" and added "She was not too good at getting to the office before 11am, but then she would arrive dressed as a Maharaja or an Edith Sitwell figure."

Photography by Steven Meisel
Hair by Neil Moodie

This year sees two biographies published, the first due this spring; Blow by Blow: Story of Isabella Blow is co-writted by Detmar Blow her husband of fourteen years and Tom Sykes (brother of Plum who was Issy's assistant at Vogue). Sykes will be interviewing friends and colleagues in New York and London including Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles and Andre Leon Talley.

The second is by Lauren Goldstein Crowe a former fashion blogger and recent author of The Towering World of Jimmy Choo. Her publisher said "We wanted someone to do the definitive bio of Isabella - a really fun, juicy look at this personality within the fashion industry." I look forward to reading them both!

Photography by Zanna

Below are some pictures of Issy and her Eaton Square flat, designed by my good friend architect, Seng Watson and the interior by Camilla Guinness. I remember Seng finding the huge and amazing baroque ballroom doors he fitted into the apartment. Lit by candles day and night it featured her grandmother's crystal chandlier and papal table from the ex family seat Doddington Castle in Cheshire, many paintings, old and contemporary and her Philip Treacy hat collection displayed as art. The pictures are from World of Interiors from May 2009 interspersed with a few of her fabulous hats.

Photography by Steven Meisel
Issie wears horsehair helmet with Swarovski crystal button by Philip Treacy

Marilyn Monroe and Beckham hats

When Detmar questioned if the bed was big enough for them both Isabella reassured him she'd already tried it out with an actor!

Philip made a special hat for Isabella's coffin. Lots of guests at the funeral wore Philip's hats

Read an excellent article in NY Mag by clicking here


Sarcastic Bastard said...

Thanks for this post and for the tips on the forthcoming books. How lucky you are to have met Isabella. She has fascinated me for many years.

What an interesting and unique woman she was.

Sending love, SB.

Style Scanner said...

What a lovely personal insight to share about this wonderful influencer. x

Castle Tower Frenchies said...

Issy is not carrying Azzedine Alaia's pug!!! That dog is a French Bulldog! I am a frenchie breeder in NO WAY is that dog a pug...

desperatecharacter said...

thanks you so much for this! an ex "bf" turned me on to isabella blow & i've been more or less obsessed ever since. reading the goldstein crowe book now & looking forward to mr. blow's. as someone who suffers from depression himself i have to say reading about her helps & is even inspiring despite the sad ending. keep up the good work!

Megan said...

Thanks for this post--what a fun discovery!

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