I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Isabella Blow: The Fashion of Suffering

by JoAnna Di Tullio
April 30, 2013

Suffering is an integral part of the human condition. To quell our naïve, fervent minds, we like to assign it as a flaw exclusive to the low education, low income, low on the food-chain, common man. While material wealth can temporarily ward away the symptoms of fate, ultimately it is a blind force ready to ravage any soul born in the eyes of the reaper. No man, woman or child is safe and John Donne’s optimistic notion of solidarity proves false because in the end, every man is indeed, an island.

The greatest of minds have been perplexed by the inexplicable darkness that surges through the human psyche since Apollo drove the sun into the sky. The list of those tortured by the unending questions of existence and the throws of loneliness is as long as the bible with the list of those taking their lives to stop the wave, equally as long: Hunter S Thompson, Kurt Cobain, Diane Arbus, Cleopatra, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Elliot Smith, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf. In many of these cases, the larger the external expression, the more troubled interior life, which leads to the age-old question: Is there redemption from being a tortured artist?

In the case of fashion legend and icon, Isabella Blow, the answer is yes, until there was no more. As a woman touted for her experimental and discerning personal style and distinctive eye for detail and talent, Isabella found more than solace in fashion, she found life. Fashion to Isabella, surpassed any measures of vanity or trends, it was her outlet and art of which she revered to the highest degree.

Blow was a typically British style maven, who gained notoriety for a series of discoveries crucial to the world of fashion. Among her top contributions: renowned fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy whom she also played muse for and models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant.

Proving that she was more than an aristocratic socialite with a keen eye for couture, Blow followed her beloved threads all the way to New York City where she worked as an assistant to the ever-feared, Anna Wintour. At the time, Wintour was Fashion Director of the iconic glossy paged book, her role before taking her power as Editor In Chief. For those less versed in Wintour’s ferocity, it is said that Meryl Streep’s role in “The Devil Wears Prada” is modeled after the style guru meaning Blow would have needed insane guts and a full metal jacket to survive. Blow proved her prowess as resilient fashion authority and became one of the most sought after party guests in the style circuit.

But it was the red lips, jet black hair, six inch stilletos, rebellious body ornaments and wild cocktail hats that Isabella was known for. Each day was marked by a new costume change with a hat that seemed to outdo the one preceding. Her unparalleled hat collection was a constant gift from designer Philip Treacy, a man whom Isabella discovered and believed in as an artist. Isabella was Treacy’s muse and the reason why his hats will forever be in the designers hall of fame. Whether a bird, boat or geometric shape, Isabella could not be topped, literally. Not even by Her Royal Highness.

With a burgeoning career at one of the most prestigious publications and a reputation amongst the upper echelon of fashion that most can only dream of, Blow was riding front row and center to the top of the food chain. And then she met Lee.

Lee Alexander McQueen was just a young college student when Isabella set her sights on him and the two instantly became star-cross souls. After buying every piece in his first collection, the two formed what could have become one of the most powerful duos in the industry. It would seem from the outside that Isabella lived a most immaculate dream of a life with the entire world at her disposal. Underneath the layers of haute couture and behind the masks erupted what Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” came to call the mean reds.

“The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of.”

Perhaps it’s the life long case of the mean reds that kept the beauty safely tucked away beneath one of her magical hats. Were the hats an escape? Perhaps. Were they a shield? Absolutely. But they were something more: the distinctive symbol of something greater, a beacon of light escaping from the darkness. They were her portals to safety.

'I don't use a hat as a prop. I use it as a part of me. If I am feeling really low, I go and see Philip, cover my face and feel fantastic. If I'm on a real low it requires going to the doctor. Ha ha ha! For a prescription! And the prescription usually works.”-Blow in a 2002 interview with The Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2002/jun/23/features.magazine47)

Sadly, all the doctors and couture in the world could not ward away the darkness forever. After several botched suicide attempts, Isabella Blow finally found her peace on May 7, 2007. It is said that Isabella felt wronged when Alexander went to Gucci, leaving her by the wayside. McQueen denies this rift between the two but was found hanging in his home on February 11, 2010.

Did depression win in these cases? Maybe, or perhaps both Blow and McQueen sucked their lives dry and knew when tap out. Blow, after all had a penchant for spectacles and indulged in one final dramatic bow for her grand exit.

JoAnna Di Tullio is currently based out of Boston but originally hails from Los Angeles, CA. As an original Weekend Warrior, she is always clad in black with metal accent pieces and can usually be found near a subwoofer. She's powered by music, fashion, art, technology and beauty. Come tweet with her: @smokij0.