I very much enjoyed the Isabella Blow exhibition that opened at the Powerhouse recently. Isabella is not a figure well known outside of fashion circles, however was tremendously influential as a spotter and cultivator of new talent. She hunted designers like big game. Amongst her trophies were wunderkind Alexander McQueen, milliner Phillip Treacy, Julien Macdonald, Jeremy Scott, Hussein Chalayan, Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant.
Isabella was of aristocratic lineage and deeply proud of her bloodlines. Assistant Rachel Cooke described her as “a human triffid who smoked Benson and Hedges, who never wore underwear and whose touchstones in life were good jewellery and high birth.” Her clothing collection was purchased by fashionista and friend The Honourable Daphne Guinness, the granddaughter of one of the infamous Mitford sisters (described succinctly by Ben Macintyre as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover, Nancy the Novelist, Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur”).
|The Honourable Daphne Guinness|
Isabella described herself as a “walking billboard”, wearing fantastical designs of her prodigies in everyday life. She was rarely without an elaborate Treacy hat on her head and dressed in unfeasible couture. Whilst working at Givenchy in 1997 she purchased the above dress and a number of other items totaling 34, 930 francs. Amongst her receipts was discovered an expense claim to The Sunday Times for what she described as ‘business clothes’. From her perspective and in practice, they probably were.
Over her life she had all sorts of jobs, working at a scone shop, as a cleaner, for Tatler and Anna Wintour, along with many other fashion giants. She was an invaluable connecter of fashion figures, funding and functioned as a sounding board and inspiration. Manolo Blahnik recalled one project “doing shoes from animals in the sea. We made an octopus shoe, which was incredibly difficult. Then she wanted a shoe like a carnivorious plant…She would bring in extraordinary books about Surrealists, animals, dresses of queens…”
Sadly like many creatives Isabella struggled with mental illness and after many attempts ended her life in 2007. According to Treacy, “It’s a small detail. There was nothing tragic about Isabella. She was the life of the party.”