Isabella Blow's life story, as told by her husband!

24 August 2010

The late Isabella Blow is the subject of not one but TWO books coming out this year. In her biography, Blow by Blow written by her husband Detmar Blow and journalist Tom Sykes, he asks the question 'why had my wife Isabella Blow - the fashion legend, the toast of glossy magazines from London to New York - wanted so desperately to kill herself?' after revealing that her successful suicide attempt, in 2007, was after seven such attempts in the preceding 14 months.

He goes back to her aristocratic childhood, spent between boarding school and her family’s ancestral country pile, Doddington Hall in Staffordshire, when events permanently affected her personality and outlook on life. One such incident was the accidental drowning of her two year old brother, while Isabella, then aged five, was meant to be keeping an eye on him, and from which her family never recovered. He also talks about the coldness of her parents, who broke the news of their divorce from each other by letter and who sent her a birthday card when she turned 18, letting her know that she was ‘off the books’ (!)

With Bryan Ferry

Detmar also goes into happier periods of her life, like the time spent in New York working as Anna Wintour’s assistant, a job which was arranged for her by Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, who was married to one of her best friends. During her time at Vogue she introduced Wintour to all manner of scensters, inlcuding Andy Warhol and artist Jean Michel Basquiat, both of whom went on to contribute to the magazine.

Returning to London, Isabella got a job as a fashion editor at Tatler, where her job was to create and style the fashion shoots and portraits of celebrities. It was here that she earned the distinction of submitting the highest expenses claim in the history of publisher Condé Nast - for a dilapidated building! Issie wrote on the expenses form, 'Just £50,000 for a very small ruin that really was a must'. The claim was apparently never paid however!

Isabella was always obsessed with clothes and well known for her individual approach to dressing. She once explained to writer Hamish Bowles, 'If you're beautiful you don't need clothes. If you're ugly like me, you're like a house with no foundations; you need something to build you up.'  Anna Wintour said of her stand-out style; 'people would stop by my office just to see what Issie was wearing that day. One morning she might be in full punk regalia, the next dressed like a maharajah, dripping in jewels and sari silks.'

Detmar himself said of the first time he met Issie, at a mutual friend's wedding 'I was dumbstruck at her appearance; she was wearing an enormous hat festooned with giant ostrich feathers, bright red lipstick and a purple Katharine Hamnett coat dress. I couldn't take my eyes off her.’

With her protege Phillip Treacy

During her career she was responsible for ‘discovering’ numerous models, designers and photographers, most memorably, Sophie Dahl, Stella Tennant, Alexander McQueen and milliner Phillip Treacy, in whom ‘she had found not only the creator of her wedding headdress, but her best friend for life and the greatest discovery of her career so far. They quickly developed an intense and creative relationship that he later likened to 'having an affair with no sex'.

What an astonishing and sad story, AND a brilliant sounding book!

- Naomi Attwood

Extract from Blow by Blow by Detmar Blow and Tom Sykes, from the Daily Mail published by HarperCollins on 2 September priced £20


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