Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion

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9780312592943: Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion

An extraordinary biography of Isabella Blow, whose pedigree, wild style, and outrageous antics catapulted her onto the London social scene and made her a fashion icon.

In 2007, the news of Isabella Blow's suicide at the age of 48 made headlines around the world―but there is more to the story of Isabella than her tragic end. The key supporter and muse of milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen, Blow was truly more than a muse or patron. She was a spark, an electrical impulse that set imaginations racing, an individual who pushed others to create their best work.

Her fascination with clothing began early, as did a willingness to wear things―and say things―that would amuse and shock. She began her fashion career in New York City as assistant to Anna Wintour at Vogue. Over time she became famous for her work, yet it wasn't enough to assuage her devastating feelings of inadequacy. Still, in her darkest moments, even as she began a series of suicide attempts and prolonged hospital stays, Blow retained her wicked sense of humor, making her friends laugh even as they struggled to help.

Lauren Goldstein Crowe has crafted a superbly entertaining narrative; wrapping the 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.

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About the Author:

Lauren Goldstein Crowe has written about the fashion industry for over a decade as a columnist at Conde Nast Portfolio.com. and Time magazine in London. Her last book, cowritten with Sagra Maciera De Rosen, The Towering World of Jimmy Choo, was published by Bloomsbury in 2008. Lauren is American and lives in London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One   Philip Treacy sat in the basement of the Royal College of Art considering a hat he had just finished making. It bore a thistle and a rose, the symbols of Scotland and England. He had made it to be sold at Harrods, but Isabella Delves Broughton, the woman who had recently commissioned him to make her a hat for her wedding, had asked him to call should he make anything he thought would strike her fancy. She was, he thought, very English and she’d mentioned she had cousins in Scotland, so he rang her and left a message about the hat. When he didn’t hear back, he sent the hat to Harrods. Isabella rang the next day wanting to see the hat. Philip explained that it had been delivered to the store. “But it’s mine!” Isabella said and hung up the phone. She promptly phoned Harrods and asked if she could borrow the hat for a shoot she was putting together for Tatler magazine. It never saw the selling floor again.

The knocker thudded again against the heavy wooden door of 67 Elizabeth Street, a five-story house that lay in the nondescript area between London’s affluent Belgravia neighborhood and the urban sprawl surrounding Victoria Station. Isabella fairly flew down the narrow staircase of the town house, cigarette in hand, wearing the ecclesiastical robes she’d bought the day before from Watts, a supplier of church fabrics and uniforms behind Westminster Abbey. When she swung open the door, Philip Treacy was stunned to see her in a deep red silk robe with its accompanying white tunic. She looked rather beautiful, he thought, with her hair falling about her head in soft golden brown waves and her lips smeared with deep red lipstick. Treacy had, at the time, his own penchant for unusual dress. He was tall and thin with reddish blond hair and had taken to dressing daily in red, and only red, from his shirt down to his shoes. But he was a fashion student, and such peccadilloes were to be expected.

 

Isabella, on the other hand, was not a student. She was a fashion editor at Tatler magazine and the bride-to-be of a young barrister whose family owned a stately home outside of Gloucester. Still, though she might have come from one of the oldest families in England, though she might be on a first-name basis with members of the royal family, there was nothing fusty about Isabella—least of all the way she dressed. She was constantly looking for new things to wear or new ways to wear old things. And now she was busy planning costumes. In just a few months’ time, on her thirty-first birthday, November 19, 1989, she would be able to dress an entire cast exactly as she pleased for her spectacular wedding in Gloucester Cathedral. There would be no traditional white gown for Isabella—fashion dictates of the day would be damned. Isabella wanted the wedding to be medieval—really medieval, as if Eleanor of Aquitaine were getting married, not a fashion editor from a society magazine. To accomplish this would take more than a trip to an expensive bridal boutique. It would take the help of her growing cadre of friends in fashion.

She led Treacy upstairs into a dark blue drawing room furnished with curtains, tablecloths, and lampshades all in floral Fortuny fabrics. Standing in front of a blue and gray Victorian marble fireplace was the largest black man Treacy had ever seen. André Leon Talley, then the fashion news director at American Vogue, was magnificent in a multicolor robe. (“If you’re six feet seven inches tall, you may as well wear a beaded caftan,” Talley has been known to say.)1 Next to him was a not as tall, but tall nevertheless, gray-haired man in a bespoke Anderson & Sheppard double-breasted gray suit and spotless brown leather brogues. It was celebrated shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. Isabella introduced them only as André and Manolo. Treacy recognized neither of the men, and even had Isabella included last names in her introductions, it wouldn’t have helped. He had never heard of them, either.

Similarly, Isabella didn’t belabor Treacy’s introduction. “This is Philip,” she said. “He is making my wedding hat.” She didn’t mention that Treacy, unlike Manolo Blahnik, was lacking an established reputation, not to mention a decade’s worth of experience. Neither did she mention that Treacy, unlike André Leon Talley, was not used to the company of fashion luminaries such as the new editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, or Diana Vreeland, who would die that August. Treacy was twenty-two, a student, and he was learning to make hats at London’s Royal College of Art. Isabella didn’t mention that, either. He was simply “Philip” and he was making her hat.

Philip Treacy had met Isabella when he made a hat for a shoot for Tatler magazine. When he came to the office to collect the hat, the magazine’s art director said he should meet Isabella, who was working with Michael Roberts, the magazine’s creative director. Isabella came into the room wearing a transparent cobweb top by John Galliano, an A-line skirt, flaming red lipstick, and high heels. No one else in the office looked like that. The others were all wearing the traditional beige/gray office wear of the day—and trousers dominated, even on the women. “It was evening for day before it was acceptable,” Treacy recalled of Isabella’s attire. “It was a little unusual.” Isabella took the hat he’d made, done in a 1920s style with jagged sycamore leaves adorning it, inspected it, and returned it. Treacy then left. “I can’t say it was love at first sight,” he said. “She was a bit cool, actually.”2 Isabella said, “I didn’t meet Philip. I met the hat. I was more interested in the work than in Philip at that point. I’d never seen anything like it. It was beautifully made and an emerald green…no, more grass-hopper green. It was so exquisite that when we pulled it out of the box it was like we shouldn’t be touching it.”3

The next day Isabella phoned the Royal College of Art and asked what Treacy’s schedule was like for the next six months. “There was a temp answering the phones,” Treacy said. “She told me this woman was ringing wanting to know my schedule. I was thinking, ‘What schedule?’ I’m a student.” When she reached him, Isabella said she wanted him to make a hat for her wedding and explained that the theme for the wedding was medieval. “I barely knew what medieval meant,” Treacy said.

A flurry of phone calls followed. It seemed every time the phone rang for Treacy, it was Isabella on the other end. Sometimes she’d be asking how the hat was progressing, but increasingly it was just to ask if he was okay, or to see if he needed anything, or to tell him about a book she was reading or an exhibition she had seen. “We spent weeks courting over the headdress,” he said. “It was the most incredible thing ever. It was like an affair, it was very intense. I thought all fashion people were like that.”

At the time, Philip Treacy didn’t really know many fashion people, but that was about to change. “Philip,” Isabella now said, in her blue drawing room in 1989, presenting him to two of the most esteemed men in fashion, “show them the hat.” Treacy had almost forgotten he was holding a bookbag containing his drawing of Isabella’s wedding hat. It wasn’t so much a hat as a headdress, two feet of swirling gold spirals held together by the finest of mesh. He had based the hat on Cecil Beaton photographs of Lady Diana Cooper in the 1930s play The Miracle. “Show them, Philip!” Isabella urged again. He hesitated. Why would two grown men want to see his drawing of a wedding hat? And an unusual one at that? Isabella nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. He bent and took the drawing of the golden headdress out of his bag and handed it over. He was surprised to see the two grown men go into raptures of ecstasy. He never expected anything like that. “They liked it,” he said. “A lot.”

At that time, English women, when they wore hats, wore hats that could almost always be described as pretty. Bows, flowers, and ribbons adorned simple round shapes that were worn primarily for tradition-laden occasions like Ascot or church weddings. The deviation of Treacy’s concept from the fashion norm of the day only seemed to make the wedding headdress all the more appealing to Talley and Blahnik.

By the time of Isabella’s death, eighteen years later, even the most conventional of British women were matching the pastel suits still favored for summer fêtes with towering pom-poms, horse’s heads, or ice-cream cones. Camilla Parker Bowles, the second wife of Prince Charles, may not have realized it, but it was thanks to Isabella Blow that she had come to accept the more modern interpretation of headwear heralded by Philip Treacy. For the blessing service following her April 2005 wedding to the future king, her head was adorned by a Philip Treacy–designed fan of feathers.

 

That day in 1989, the trio went downstairs to the dining room, located in the basement. The house belonged to Helga, a Sri Lankan and Isabella’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, and was decorated in a bold and colorful way that betrayed the woman’s Eastern roots. Next to the dining room was a glass extension that Helga was using as a boutique of sorts, full of high-collared Sri Lankan coats of silk with handmade brass buttons as well as other curios she would periodically bring back from trips to her native country. The dining room was painted a glossy scarlet red and decorated with antique Sri Lankan spears and a Chinese wall hanging depicting, in pearls, the scene of a wedding. The quartet sat at the dining table beneath the wall hanging to talk about Isabella’s wedding and e...

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Descrizione libro St Martin s Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From her roots in an odd, British, aristocratic family Isabella Blow grew to be a legendary figure in the fashion world, best known for wearing Philip Treacy s famously outrageous hats, all the while hiding her battle with depression behind her wild signature style. In 2007, the news of her tragic suicide at the age of forty-eight shocked the international fashion world. Initially hired as Anna Wintour s assistant, before long she was overseeing photo shoots at Tattler , Vogue and The Sunday Times . But more than the work she left behind, her lifestyle - a wild mash up of AbFab meets Project Runway - shocked and titillated the public. Much the way Wintour herself is portrayed in Front Row , Isabella was a creature of her own making, and she artfully crafted and reinvented herself along the way, showcasing the Lady Gaga look way before Lady Gaga. Even in her darkest moments, Blow retained her dramatic sense of humour, making her friends laugh as they struggled to help. Lauren Goldstein Crowe has written the ultimate insider story of a fashion world icon; Isabella Blow s extraordinary story, and the gorgeous images of her style will keep readers turning the pages. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780312592943

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Descrizione libro St Martin s Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From her roots in an odd, British, aristocratic family Isabella Blow grew to be a legendary figure in the fashion world, best known for wearing Philip Treacy s famously outrageous hats, all the while hiding her battle with depression behind her wild signature style. In 2007, the news of her tragic suicide at the age of forty-eight shocked the international fashion world. Initially hired as Anna Wintour s assistant, before long she was overseeing photo shoots at Tattler , Vogue and The Sunday Times . But more than the work she left behind, her lifestyle - a wild mash up of AbFab meets Project Runway - shocked and titillated the public. Much the way Wintour herself is portrayed in Front Row , Isabella was a creature of her own making, and she artfully crafted and reinvented herself along the way, showcasing the Lady Gaga look way before Lady Gaga. Even in her darkest moments, Blow retained her dramatic sense of humour, making her friends laugh as they struggled to help. Lauren Goldstein Crowe has written the ultimate insider story of a fashion world icon; Isabella Blow s extraordinary story, and the gorgeous images of her style will keep readers turning the pages. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780312592943

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Descrizione libro St Martin s Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. From her roots in an odd, British, aristocratic family Isabella Blow grew to be a legendary figure in the fashion world, best known for wearing Philip Treacy s famously outrageous hats, all the while hiding her battle with depression behind her wild signature style. In 2007, the news of her tragic suicide at the age of forty-eight shocked the international fashion world. Initially hired as Anna Wintour s assistant, before long she was overseeing photo shoots at Tattler , Vogue and The Sunday Times . But more than the work she left behind, her lifestyle - a wild mash up of AbFab meets Project Runway - shocked and titillated the public. Much the way Wintour herself is portrayed in Front Row , Isabella was a creature of her own making, and she artfully crafted and reinvented herself along the way, showcasing the Lady Gaga look way before Lady Gaga. Even in her darkest moments, Blow retained her dramatic sense of humour, making her friends laugh as they struggled to help. Lauren Goldstein Crowe has written the ultimate insider story of a fashion world icon; Isabella Blow s extraordinary story, and the gorgeous images of her style will keep readers turning the pages. Codice libro della libreria BZE9780312592943

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