Deborah Orr: Isabella Blow's death revealed the dark heart of the fashion industry

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The Independent Online

The tributes have been widespread, but the sense is strong that the death of the fashion stylist Isabella Blow (pictured) is just another of those frequent glimpses beyond the surface of the fashion industry into something pretty dark. Blow, it had been known for a long time, was suicidal, and the uncompromising method she chose for her previous attempt - throwing herself off a bridge onto a motorway, was a certain indication that this had not been a "cry for help". Now it has been revealed that this time, she swallowed Paraquat, which speaks again of this woman's determined desire for a death that was dramatic and savage.

There have been some mutterings of condemnation this week of an industry that seems adept at turning aside from people when the going gets tough. Similarly angry voices were raised a few years back when Ossie Clark, the supremely gifted fashion designer of the 1960s and a drug addict, was beaten to death by a lover. A posthumous exhibition of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum brought forth a large and glittering array of friends and associates who declared their love for him and their admiration of his talent. Some members of his family, though, were more sceptical, and asked where all these friends had been in the years that they had tried to help their relative.

Likewise, we are familiar with stories of models dead from anorexia or from drug addiction. While the fashion industry does its best to finesse the idea that either of these forms of obsessive compulsive behaviour are fostered within its ranks, the solidarity shown with Kate Moss after her cocaine monstering by the tabloids was a declaration of sorts that will follow its own rules and make its own judgements, thank you all very much.

Even workplace bullying seems to be revered in the fashion industry, with the editor of US Vogue, Anna Wintour, utterly fetishised for what looks to outsiders like nothing more attractive than exacting and contemptuous treatment of her staff. She revels in the image herself, turning up to see the film The Devil Wears Prada, based on a novel an assistant wrote about working for her.

Yet at the same time I've been involved in fashion journalism a little myself. I know and like a number of people who work in the business and are sensible about its excesses. As much sympathy as I have with the family of Ossie Clark, as well, I've also known a number of addicts and alcoholics and understand that trying to help them is sometimes so exhausting and futile that the only course is admit defeat, whatever job they or you happen to do. Blow was from a troubled background, with her grandfather, who also committed suicide, deeply implicated in the notorious White Mischief murder of the Earl of Erroll in Kenya. She was known to be terminally convinced of her own ugliness too, when in reality she had nothing to complain about.

What I sometimes wonder about the fashion industry is whether in some respects it offers a kind of glamorous no-questions-asked refuge for damaged people, rather than plucking perfectly normal ones away from functioning lives, as is sometimes assumed, and messing them up. The rate of attrition when people fall by the wayside and the level of acceptance when they keep going through chaos may be high simply because that's where people who are not well adjusted go. Whichever way round the process is, there is a febrility in fashion that is not so healthy, and it's hard not to shake the idea that fashion's colossal presence in the world's economy and culture says something profound and complex about human neurosis above all else it thinks it stands for.

French culture at its best

A friend of mine claims that all his English friends in LA say that what they miss most is popping over to France for the weekend. Post Sarkozy's triumph, I fear the weekend-in-France experience will never be the same again.

On my last little dash over to Paris, I went to an event organised by a publicly funded cultural institution, only to find that it had fallen foul of a wildcat theatrical technicians' strike. The doughty arts-toilers all reconvened at a much smaller venue, at which there were nearly as many panellists and translators as there were bodies in the audience. The audience, it turned out, was intimately connected to those involved in the discussion, as I was myself.

Afterwards, every single person - around 30 - went off to a private room in a fine restaurant and had a slap-up celebratory dinner. Except one. The formidable member of the public who had doggedly endeavoured to turn up was left standing wistfully outside the venue, having had her hand shaken by all of the honoured guests. The cultural institute in question footed the bill. So, so French. What's not to love?

All hail those fearless vampire revivalists

Baby Boomers, eh? When will they stop with the nostalgia kick? If they're not turning out to see the Only Ones singing about how great heroin addiction used to be in the old days, then they're hunkering down to watch Doctor Who on a Saturday night (though admittedly new Doctor Who is one of life's great joys).

They weep at the crash of the Airfix plane company, have determined stabs at reviving such lost pleasures as going head first over the front of a Chopper bike, cast Alvin Stardust in soap operas, and get together at their peril to revive Carry On films, or update St Trinian's in a bold nod to the days when girls who attracted the attention of paedophiles used to be jauntily known as "jailbait". (Not any more though. It's political correctness gone mad.)

Now, amid much fanfare, they have prised Hammer Films out of its coffin, and are relishing the idea of "reimagining" Taste the Blood of Dracula. No doubt the modern palate will find the blood of Dracula awfully salty. Breathless reports describe the "brand" as having been moribund for three decades, which seems a bit hard on my old pal Neil Mendoza, who liked the films so much that he bought the company back in 1987. (And not for an undisclosed seven-figure sum either. Clever boy.)

Still, I did admire the Telegraph's coverage, which featured a picture of Christopher Lee (or was it Peter Cushing?) about to sink his teeth into a young lovely, next to a headline declaring: "Barclays about to slash 1,100 jobs in Dorset." That's what I call a no-messing redundancy package.

* Blanket coverage of Blair's resignation even managed to include a tiny revelation. Talking on Newsnight, Alastair Campbell explained that in their discussions of the huge anti-Iraq march, he and Blair did what politicians apparently always do with demonstrations and multiplied the figure by 10 to work out the number of people who would have thought about going, then decided they couldn't be bothered. (Hey Alastair! That's me you're talking about!) This is notable because the most arcane wisdom of demonstration organisers always maintains, with a dollop of paranoia, that the police fascistically tend to divide the number of attendees by 10. It's an interesting way of getting to an arbitrary figure on which to make a decision, and somehow marvellously Blairite.

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