“Reasons to wear a hat. To prevent being air kissed by all and sundry and to provide something to be removed in the act of love making .”
**WHERE TO START WHEN TAKING ON THE TASK OF WRITING ABOUT THE LATE, GREAT ISABELLA BLOW??
I started by reading ‘Blow by Blow.’ A comprehensive and personal account of Isabella’s life, written by her husband Detmar, as well as visiting the current exhibition about Isabella that is showing at Somerset House in London, the home of London Fashion Week.
This touching book made me realise one thing I couldn’t do here, and that was write a complete history of Isabella’s life. There’s too much to fit in anything shorter than the 304 pages that I’ve just finished reading. It is, however, more fitting I thought to pick out some of the moments of Isabella’s life that I found to be really interesting, or at times, just down right hilarious!
In 1979, the then 21 year old Isabella moved to New York to study ancient Chinese art at Columbia University. She shared a room with the model and actress Catherine Oxenburg, who was later best-known for playing Amanda Carrington in Dynasty.
(Above: Isabella (centre) on her 21st birthday, with long time friend, actor Rupert Everett on the left.)
After a year of studies she decided to give it up and moved to west Texas where she began working for French milliner Guy Laroche. This was Isabella’s earliest venture into the world of hats to which she would become so well known for in the years to come. Eventually, she moved back to New York where she became acquainted with the “who’s who” of New York at the time.
She became friends with the artist who I’m sure needs no introduction, Andy Warhol. The two apparently met after Andy spotted Isabella wearing a mismatched pair of Manolo Blahniks at a party. Initially working as a commercial illustrator, Warhol used to draw shoes throughout the 1950’s. He thought this particular mis-matching was a rather daring move, and the pair became good friends immediately. So much so in fact, that at Warhol’s funeral in 1987, Isabella performed a strip tease in front of the whole gathering. Unbeknown to anyone apart from herself and the members from The Velvet Underground present. The reasoning behind it?
Because they knew it would please their late friend….
This is absolutely brilliant!
(Above: Andy Warhol & Isabella.)
Warhol introduced Isabella to the New York neo expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Who designed the record cover to the amazing proto hip-hop track by Rammellzee & K-Rob ‘Beat Bop.) She apparently became infatuated with the young rebel artist, and the three friends would hang out in Russian tea shops eating salmon fish cakes. Basquiat often used to hang around at Isabella’s desk waiting for her to finish work, but reasonably soon their friendship began to fizzle out largely due to Basquiat’s drug use, and unfortunately he checked himself into the infamous “27 club” from a heroin overdose in 1988.
Isabella was also good friends with Brian Ferry of Roxy Music, and it was through him that she received her introduction to Anna Wintour, fashion director of U.S Vogue and began working as her assistant. It wasn’t too long before she had switched roles within the magazine and began assisting Andre Leon Tally, U.S Vogue’s current Editor At Large.
Anna Wintour once said when talking of Isabella “I loved coming to the office, because I never knew what to expect. One day she’d be a maharaja, the next day a punk, and then she’d turn up as a corporate secretary in a proper little suit and gloves.”
One of my favourite shoots I’ve seen of Isabella’s work is the iconic 1993 “Babes In London.” Shot by Steven Meisel for British Vogue, the models used were all of the British upper class, set in working class London surroundings. These included Stella Tennant, Plum Sykes, Bella Freud and Honor Fraser. It was supposed to be a reminder that the British class system was still very strongly in existence.
The image of Plum Sykes in the pub (below centre) reminds me of being young, and being taken to the pub with dad or older brothers, and being as bored as she looks in the picture:
This image of Stella above, however, is my favourite. It’s like most girls I knew growing up, jumper covering the hands, panda eye make up and parent disapproving piercings.
Isabella’s friendship and promotion of Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy is obviously a well known tale. This is what Isabella said in an interview with Time Out magazine in 2005 on McQueen:
“My relationship with McQueen began in 1994, when I went to a Saint Martins graduate show. I couldn’t get a seat, so I sat on the stairs and I was just watching, when I suddenly thought: I really like those clothes, they are amazing. It was his first collection. It was the tailoring and the movement which initially drew me to them. I tried to get hold of him and I kept calling his mother, but he was on holiday. She kept saying: ‘He’s not here, he’s not here.’ She told him: ‘This crazy person is trying to get hold of you.’ I eventually got to meet him and I decided to buy the collection: I bought one thing a month and paid him £100 a week. He’d bring an outfit in a bin liner, I’d look at it and then he’d come to the cashpoint with me.
It’s such a great story I think, the Lady from an aristocratic background going to draw out cash to give to a fledgling Stepney born, son of a cab driver, fashion designer.
One of my favourite Isabella stories is the day she was on location in Italy shooting an editorial for Tatler with art director Leon St Amour and photographer Robert Astley Sparke. Isabella had noticed that Tatler had never published a shoot with a women’s nipple exposed. So in true anarchical style, she decided to make the shoot “Nipples in Naples.” Isabella insisted that her female assistant should model for the shoot, but she was apparently too nervous to do so, maybe because it was her first day on the job. Isabella, though, was less nervous and stood in front of the camera on the streets of Naples, showing nipples.
Tatler ran the story, after deciding that Isabella’s original idea of “No Muff too Tough” was a step too far. Below is a great image from this story.
As we all know, Isabella took her own life in May 2007 after numerous failed suicide attempts and battling years of depression. I believe it was her unwillingness to conform, to constantly be pushing boundaries and constant promotion of young talent that made Isabella one of fashions all time great figures, and of course her unmistakable talent as a stylist.
I will part on Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2008 show, which he collaborated on with Philip Treacy in dedication to Isabella, ‘La Dame Bleue.’
THE ISABELLA BLOW EXHIBITION – ‘FASHION GALORE’ IS CURRENTLY ON AT SOMERSET HOUSE IN LONDON: 20 Nov 2013 – 2 March 2014
Daily 10.00-18.00 (Last admission 17.00)
Until 21.00 Thursdays (Last admission 20.00)
Friday 21 February 10.00-20.00 (last entry 19.00)
Saturday 22 February 10.00-19.00 (last entry 18.00)
£12.50, £10 concessions, £6.25 on Mondays