I first met Isabella Blow in 1984 at a private viewing of Edwina Sandy’s paintings in New York, where a coterie of young ladies, the likes of Emma Gilbey, Charlotte Dugdale, Bettina von Hase and a score of other desirable young women adorned the party circuit and never failed to give proceedings a certain cachet.
Notable among them was the irrepressible Isabella Blow, an icon of the avant-garde arbiters of taste who marvelled at her talent for innovation in style and fashion. Whatever was most outrageous from art’s viewpoint she made her own and did it with such flare that she was often the main topic of conversation at the soirées attended by the new breed of young men and women who had found early fame and riches. She had a contagious kind of exuberance that was partly overwhelming with eccentricity as her trademark.
In 2007, the news of Isabella Blow’s suicide at the age of forty-eight made headlines around the world. But there is more to the story of Isabella than her tragic end. The key supporter and muse of the milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen, Blow was also credited with launching the careers of so many successful models including Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl. Yet to the many people whose lives she touched, she was more than a muse or a patron. She was a spark, an electrical impulse that set imaginations racing, an individual who pushed others to create their best work.
Isabella Blow was born in a rarefied world of nannies and sprawling country estates at a time when the British aristocracy was finding it difficult to maintain its historically lavish lifestyle. Her fascination with clothing began early, as did her willingness to wear things, say things, and do things that would amuse and shock. She began her fashion career in New York City as an assistant to Anna Wintour at Vogue. There, Isabella told friends, she believed she had found a place where she really belonged, a place that could fill the gap left by a tragic family history. Before long she had returned to London and was overseeing photo shoots at Tatler, British Vogue and the Sunday Times, launching the trend of aristocrats as models, and pushing the bounds of convention in her increasingly provocative fashion spreads.
Over time she became famous for her work, yet it wasn’t enough to assuage her devastating feelings of inadequacy. And yet, within darkest moments – which included a series of suicide attempts and prolonged hospital stays – Blow retained her wicked sense of humour, making her friends laugh even as they struggled to help.
Lauren Goldstein Crow, who has written about the fashion industry for more than a decade, has crafted a superbly entertaining narrative wrapping anecdotes of Isabella’s antics around a candid, insightful portrayal of a woman whose thirst for the fantastical ultimately became irreconcilable with life in the real world.
‘To tell the story – the times, the impact, the inspiration, the misery, the dreams, the allure – of Isabella you’d think you would need 100 writers, but Lauren Goldstein Crowe has been able to tell us all this in one very good book’ Valentino
‘A beautiful journey through Isabella’s creative life’ Manolo Blahnik
‘A triumphant portrait of the Isabella I knew and loved’ Philip Treacy
It’s a book that lovers of fashion cannot be without. Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, showing at Somerset House until March next year, is indeed a tribute to the richness of her talent and to her great contribution to the artistic endeavour of the nation.