At the hospital, on her deathbed, Isabella told the nurses, "Google me. I'm important."
This Wednesday, November 20, Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! will open at London's Somerset House, featuring over one hundred pieces from Isabella Blow's personal clothing collection, as well as an auction of some of her most famous portraits. Backed by Daphne Guinness, the exhibition pays homage to the late fashion icon, fashion editor, and muse. But this fete also comes as a bittersweet reminder of her tragic path.
Following conversations with her husband of eighteen years, Detmar Hamilton Blow, and photographer and former housemate Donald McPherson, Style.com/Arabia explores the dueling sides of the eccentric Isabella, along with some exclusive, previously unpublished photos and a short film made by McPherson. We've excerpted a portion of the article here.
The Hilles mansion in Gloucestershire was Detmar Blow's family estate. It became a meeting point of society figures such as Princess Michael of Kent, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and photographers such as David LaChapelle and Mario Testino. And it was here that Isabella's unconventional persona and nurturing personality frequently collided. (Incidentally, Isabella was known to be an excellent cook and a talented gardener.)
Recalling some of his experiences at the Hilles estate, Donald McPherson says: "I was at dinner there one weekend—she used to have lots of parties at this house. We were there with numerous artists and my girlfriend at the time. A local guy delivered something to us, and he came on his horse. She said, 'Bring your horse in. Let's take a photo!' So I took a photo of my girlfriend on a horse on this William Morris carpet, which cost millions of dollars. Her mother-in-law didn't let her get married in the house, because she didn't even want people walking on the carpet."
Detmar and Donald both reminisce about how Isabella, shortly before her death, took an interest in the Middle East region and the Middle Eastern woman. (Detmar fondly recalls the time when Isabella famously wore a pale-pink burka to a Dior fashion show in Paris, in January 2003.)
Donald recounted, "I met [Kuwaiti royal] Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah at the Ritz in Paris with Issie. He was with [Condé Nast International Chairman] Jonathan Newhouse, and Issie was very good friends with Jonathan and his wife. They supported her so much. She became friends with Sheikh Majed, and we did a photo shoot with him and Daphne Guinness, celebrating Manolo Blahnik. A few months later, Issie had an idea to go to Kuwait and photograph the Al-Sabah family. We were the first people to go to Kuwait and photograph them in their palaces."
The story of Isabella narrates a person who styled her stories as she lived her life: on impulses, concepts, and encounters. But despite her loyal nature, Isabella Blow suffered personal heartbreaks. Some cite Alexander McQueen's lack of professional support to Blow, after his namesake brand was bought by the Gucci Group, as an example, but along with his own dramatic conclusion, it will forever stay a subject of debate. To Detmar, Isabella was something of a fish out of water at the tail end of her life. "She couldn't see herself as an old woman. She lived life so fast. She died at age 48, but she lived a life of, like, six people. It was a very full-on life."
Isabella Blow was less of an editor than an influencer. She was not a patron; she was fashion's human art piece. She was Alexander McQueen's and Philip Treacy's Northern star, and a maximalist on set as well as in her daily life. But there was a fundamental disconnect that could never quite be bridged. And thus, the mythology of Isabella Blow—a creature consumed by love and beauty, yet ultimately destroyed by her own feeling that she lacked it.
To read Sofia Guellaty's full article, visit arabia.style.com.