Death of a true original
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 07/05/2007
Hilary Alexander mourns the passing of one of fashion's most inspirational characters
Fashion has lost one of its brightest stars. Isabella Blow, the internationally renowned British stylist, director and muse died suddenly in Gloucester this morning. A spokesman said cancer was the cause of her death.
A true fashion original, Blow was one of the industry’s most eccentric and outrageous characters.
With a slash of red defining her lips, often the only facial feature visible underneath her extraordinary ‘lobster’ hats, veiled antler creations and plastic flying saucers perched on her short dark bob and designed by her former protégé, Philip Treacy, her appearance caused gasps of astonishment whenever she entered a room.
Beautiful, but ultimately doomed, she was possessed of a remarkable sense of style with fiercely-held opinions and a braying laugh that could be heard from one end of the catwalk to the other, two traits which cleaved to the family motto “haud muto factum” – nothing happens by being mute.
But she was also a self-confessed depressive. She had a fragile sense of identity and her insecurities had been excacerbated by the breakdown of her marriage to the art dealer, Detmar Blow. Although the couple had reconciled, she continued to suffer terrible bouts of depression.
Recently appointed contributing fashion editor-at-large to Tatler, for whom she had worked for many years, she was in the middle of planning a series of larger-than-life fashion shoots for the magazine when she died.
“She was in the office just last week, bursting with ideas. They sounded impossible, but you always knew with Isabella it would work and be marvellous,” said Geordie Greig, the editor of Tatler.
“She was bored by clichés. She didn’t do ordinary or dull. She wanted the photographs to be modern, erotic, naughty, the story of the badly-behaved aristocrat – a bit like herself. She always wanted to pull the rug out from under the Establishment.”
Always excited by new talent – “like a pig sniffing for truffles in the forest”, was how she once described herself - Blow is best-known for discovering the milliner, Philip Treacy and the designers Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, all of whom have gone on to forge global careers.
She was also instrumental in launching the careers of a string of models including the aristocratic Stella Tennant, one of the stars of the Burberry campaigns, her cousin, Honor Fraser and Sophie Dahl.
Born Isabella Delves Broughton in London in November, 1958, she was the daughter of Sir Evelyn Delves-Broughton and his second wife, the former Helen Shore. Her grandfather was Sir Jock Delves Broughton who moved to Kenya, where he was accused of the ‘White Mischief’ murder of Lord Erroll. Although acquitted, he eventually committed suicide.
Isabella studied at Heathfield School where she was head of chapel and once dreamed of being a nun. She left school after A-levels and worked as a secretary and cleaner, before moving to New York in 1979 to study Ancient Chinese Art at Colombia.
In 1981 she was introduced to Anna Wintour, then fashion director of American Vogue, by the singer, Bryan Ferry, and began working as her assistant.
She returned to London in 1986 and became the fashion assistant to Michael Roberts, then the fashion director of Tatler and the Sunday Times. She worked for British Vogue for four years from 1993, before joining the Sunday Times Style magazine and, then, Tatler.
She met her husband, Detmar Blow at a wedding in Salisbury in 1988, became engaged 16 days later and married him in Gloucester Cathedral in 1989, typically wearing black and a head-dress designed by Philip Treacy.
In 2002, the London Design Museum devoted an exhibition to her collection of Treacy hats in conjunction with a book, “When Philip Met Isabella.” One of those hats was called ‘Pheasant” and it was this design which she once said she wanted to be buried in.