Monday, May 07, 2007

Death of a fashion maverick: Isabella Blow


A friend in London has written to tell me that the influential stylist Isabella Blow died this morning. A spokesman says it was cancer. One of London’s true fashion eccentrics, she was part of a select crew of fashion’s grande dames: Anna Piaggi, Suzy Menkes and Hilary Alexander. Issy had her own unique style which caused heads to turn whether she was entering a tent for the shows, attending a product launch or just going through the revolving doors at Vogue House.

Frequently captured in the press wearing truly extraordinary Philip Treacy hats: a face covering mantilla, a Spanish galleon with full rigging & a lobster were amongst the most notable. With her hats perched upon her severe black Louise Brooks bob, along with a kabuki white face, and a slash of red lipstick her beauty was jolie laide, never pretty.

Most recently fashion director of Tatler, she had resigned following a series of depressive episodes in the wake of her separation from and reconciliation with her husband, art dealer Detmar Blow, and a serious accident resulting in damage to her legs, which had meant she could never wear heels again. She was a contributing fashion editor to the title at the time of her death.

Born Isabella Delves-Broughton in 1958, her first major job in fashion came about when she was introduced to Anna Wintour by Bryan Ferry in 1981. Becoming Anna’s assistant, and working with Andre Leon Talley on fashion shoots, she went onto assist Michael Roberts at Tatler in London where she eventually become Style Editor. After four years as Fashion Director of The Sunday Times, she returned to Tatler.

Her two defining relationships in the industry were with Alexander McQueen, who she discovered, and with Philip Treacy. Upon attending McQueen’s graduation show St Martin’s in London, she approached him to buy his entire graduate collection, which he sold to her for £5000, and which she paid off in monthly instalments for years. Probably the best advertisement for Phillip Treacy’s glorious hats, their fruitful collaboration resulted in an exhibition at the Design Museum in 2002, When Phillip Met Isabella, and an accompanying coffee table book.

She was responsible for discovering the models Sophie Dahl, Honor Fraser and her cousin Stella Tennant: all of whom were posh, beautiful, quintessentially English girls, not unlike Isabella herself.

Impossible to miss, sometimes impossible to work with, Issy’s was a throwback to an era where fashion in the twentieth century was guided by maverick aristocratic Englishwomen.