What a difference a year makes. Last September, ‘Vanity Fair’s’ style issue included on its Best Dressed list Isabella Blow. For this September style issue ‘Vanity Fair’ featured an article which served as Blow’s obituary.
When I saw the article in the current ‘VF’, I remembered seeing her before – her hats made that much of an impression. I have always liked hats, but unless they are shaped like some Alexis Carrington wide brim monstrosity from the 80’s I don’t look good in them. Plus, hats are the sort of thing that people in my part of the world generally wear for reasons such as receding hairline (mostly applicable to guys) and for protection against the sun. If you haven’t guessed yet, most people of my acquaintance wear baseball hats – anything else is just too-too for K.C..
I don’t know about the impressions of others’ but hats used for anything but the above stated reasons seem to separate the wearer from the rest of the crowd. I have always known, or at least seen, women wear hats from previous decades (1930’s-50’s) as they make their way through the bar scene. They usually are the type who prefer slurping martinis, although they can ill afford them.
I generally got the message behind their fashion statement as, ‘although I live in Kansas City; I am not of Kansas City.’ Which is okay, I understand, and I do not think it has anything to do with Kansas City (a city I incidentally love) as much as it has to do with parameters of a large life confined in a small setting. But, what if such a life was lived on a larger stage, in a city known for being both fashion forward with a fashion past – a city where some sort of creativity has thrived for close to a millennium? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Isabella Blow.
According the article by Edward Helmore, ‘Final Blow’, Blow was of the manor born and like many born of the manor the family fortune was but a familial memory, yet the blood still ran blue. She grew up in the shadow of the family’s Doddington Hall, which by her childhood was a big empty house. Blow’s family lived in the cottage across the lake. After the death of her four-year-old brother, the heir presumptive, from drowning, Blow’s family fell apart. The three girls, Isabella was the oldest, were sent away to boarding schools. A few years later at fourteen, Blow’s mother left the nest after shaking the hands of her three daughters as if they were business associates. How very British.
From there, Blow lived the life of the English upper crust. She partied in cocktail dresses, where, amongst her set of friends, there was much anticipation if she would wear underwear or not for the evening’s festivities. She took sales positions at upscale boutiques and ended up studying art in America where she spent some of her youth in the company of Andy Warhol (in between she became an assistant to Anna Wintour after a marriage in Texas failed). She returned to London for a job with ‘Tatler’ and then married Detmar Blow who had an impressive estate but little money.
As her hats, fashion layouts, and style discoveries can testify, she was a visionary. Designer Alexander McQueen and model Stella Tennant were first brought to the attention of the fashion crowd by Blow. The thing about her talent was that it wasn’t marketable in the traditional sense. She discovered talent but she couldn’t profit from it. Various jobs with fashion publications would often not work out and she would be off to find the next statement. As of this past spring, she was in India for the christening of Indian’s version of ‘Vogue’ only to find that she was dismissed from a fashion editorial position before even starting.
Throughout Helmore’s article were things I felt were left unsaid. For instance, both ‘Vogue’ and ‘Vanity Fair’ are owned by Conde Nast publications, which often was the company that fired Blow from jobs. Often too, she was screwed out of deals involving merges within fashion houses, several times setting up deals to only find that her name was left off the contract (these fashion houses buy a lot of advertising space in ‘VF’).
Yet, God bless Blow, she kept plugging away, although her bi-polar depression cycles were catching up to her. She talked about suicide for years presenting it as something grand. It did not help that she and her husband could not have children, or that he had an affair, of which she gave her blessing, in hopes of siring an heir for his estate. Further, she was in and out of treatment facilities often receiving electric shock to push her out of her depression. As Blow ping ponged from one ‘almost’ job to the next she said, “One thing is for sure, I will not die of boredom.”
She died last May at the age of 48. Her husband first reported that Isabella had died from cancer, but that was a pleasant lie. The truth was that she died from drinking weed killer. Weed killer is pretty dramatic, right? Well, it wasn’t Blow’s first attempt. There was an incident where she rammed her car into a supermarket truck and there was the April 2006 attempt when she walked to a pedestrian overpass on the A40 motorway and dropped 30 feet, which resulted in two shattered ankles.
As fate, or a serve backlog in recycling, would have it, I still had last year’s ‘VF’ style issue. As mentioned before, low and behold, Blow was on the Best Dressed List (an omission in Helmore’s article which I found interesting). She was listed along with Anna Piaggi as ‘fashion originals’. Isabella Blow was the type of woman whose personal appearance is that of a female who needed some fashion flair to stand out amongst the crowd, which is why I think she chose hats. Worn correctly they can shade the face which sometimes mask the pain. ‘Friends’ described her in the Helmore article as “the life of the party” even as she was dying (the weed killer took a few days to do her in). Really? “The life of the party?”
Me thinks some ‘friends’ may have missed the point.
© 2007 Westerfield