I’ll never forget the first time I saw Isabella Blow. And I can’t help but think about the effect she’d have on fashion fans if she were alive today.
With Somerset House’s new Isabella Blow exhibition, everybody – including myself – is mourning the loss of one of fashion’s greatest spirits all over again. They say that stars become bigger in death than they were in life; that Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Kurt Cobain would never have gone down in history with the same iconic standing had they lived long and healthy lives. For Isabella Blow, I somehow don’t think this theory would apply. Since her death in 2007, fashion’s idolisation and plugging of its most fabulously dresses have multiplied to infinity. Members of the industry, who don’t look half as thrilling as Blow did, are now hailed as superstars, and every season it seems new characters arrive at the shows in mad hats and impossible garments, eager to emulate Blow’s concept. Had this larger-than-life walking embodiment of fashion lived today, I think she would easily have outdone and out-famed them all. Her time was not over.
I don’t have an amazing story about my relationship with Isabella Blow to match those we’ve recently seen in the press by Colin McDowell MBE (in a column for The Business of Fashion) and Philip Treacy OBE (in an interview with SHOWstudio), because I never knew her. And yet, I remember the first time I saw her so vividly that I can still sense that superstar aura she so effortlessly emitted. A cold December day, some ten years ago, my sister and I were crossing Hanover Square when Blow came out of the Vogue building. She was wearing embellished Dame Edna glasses and a black lace dress, which I’ve since concluded must have been McQueen, and sky-high heels that looked somewhat difficult to walk in, so we quickly found ourselves immediately behind her. “That,” my sister said, “is what everyone should look like every day.” And with those words – and my instinctive nodding – we instantly turned into super fans of the most embarrassing (but best) kind, and stalked Blow around the corner of Savile Row and down the street until she hailed a cab and disappeared within seconds like a pop singer after a concert.
While my Blow moment was hardly eventful or significant, it was a brick in the structure of my belief that star quality really does exist, and that those who can’t help but speak, work, and dress the part of a superstar really do possess a certain kind of magic. In a present-day fashion environment where any blogger or socialite can turn themselves into street style superstars with the right amount of shopping, borrowing and dieting, I can’t help but imagine the manic, fanatic circus Isabella Blow’s arrival outside a show in 2013 would have been, how she would have dealt with it, and what she would have thought about it. And to use the word her friend Daphne Guinness used in her statement for the Somerset House exhibition, it’s a bittersweet notion. Because in an industry that loves to hail style superstars and encourage fashion fandom like never before, wouldn’t it have been amazing to shower Blow with all that admiration? Perhaps, if she had lived today, she would have felt more appreciated than she did when she took her own life. She would have felt like the superstar she was.