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Alexander Fury: ‘Issie’ Blow, the pioneer who gave us style – and bags of it

Wear, what, why, when?
  • @AlexanderFury

As you may or may not have heard, the life and wardrobe of the late Isabella Blow will be celebrated in an exhibition entitled Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, opening at London’s Somerset House in November.

Some of you will be queuing to buy tickets already; but others will be asking: Isabella who? If you throw her maiden name, Delves Broughton, into the mix, it may bring up White Mischief and ne’er-do-wells at Happy Valley in Kenya. But bar a certain morbid curiosity many hold for pawing through the artefacts of the late and great, why, you might ask, would we care?

We should care because Isabella Blow  – “Issie” to her friends – was a fashion pioneer. Scratch that. Issie, who died in 2007, was never really about fashion. In fact, the subtitle to the Somerset House exhibition is the only thing that jars for me. Blow was about style: grand style, the kind of style that, ironically, went out of fashion somewhere around the Second World War, when people stopped having balls and “presenting” their debutantes.

But Isabella’s feeling for style led to some of the greatest fashion of the past quarter-century. Blow is credited with “discovering” the milliner Philip Treacy, and Lee Alexander McQueen. She harangued the former into making her wedding hat, and persuaded the latter to sell her his entire Saint Martins MA graduation collection (she paid in £100 instalments; he delivered in black bin-liners).

She once went for dinner with Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International (Blow’s boss when she was fashion director of Tatler), wearing a pair of veiled McQueen antlers. And she attended the Paris shows with an entire taxidermied falcon, by Treacy, perched above her forehead.

Isabella Blow’s wardrobe was, and is, something to be seen.