Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore Somerset House 20th November – 2nd March 2014 text and photos by Tamara Cincik
Dear Shaded Viewers,
Interning at Vogue is a rite of passage for a fledgling fashion editor – if they are lucky.
I interned at Vogue, a 3 month stint, when I came back to London, from a several months post-university hippy haze in India.
At the time, my look was more vintage party, than pret a porter Paris: wearing 1930’s ballgowns with Adidas trainers, a velvet turban and a bindi on my forehead, was my go-to uniform for the fashion room.
There I watched, learned and took in what it meant to be from Vogue and in vogue.
Izzy Blow was Fashion Features Editor, we sat next to each other: her with her rolodex, I remember lots of numbers written in red pen (is that a real or imagined memory? is this how memories become myths in the making?), me bagging up returns; her with her daily visits from Detmar and his sister, or Alexander McQueen, who was fresh out of college and still living at his mother’s, me with my dockets and biro.
Between calls (we prepped computer-free), we would have conversations about diverse subjects: from Medieval jewellery to Sir John Soane, whose London house she deemed ‘sexy’, as well as the merits, or not, of having babies and our families.
I knew that her family had had wealth and yet she didn’t have much, I knew she missed her family house and her father. I saw how much she helped so many people, with a passionate vehemence, like a classical patron, a latter-day Medici.
Designers Julien Macdonald, Alexander McQueen, Owen Gaster, Philip Treacy, or models, Stella Tennant, Iris Palmer, Honor Fraser, Liberty Ross, and Sophie Dahl, all started their careers with her support. She cared so much that they were nurtured, supported and encouraged, making connections, push, push, pushing those she believed in, onto her pages at Vogue, Sunday Times Style or Tatler.
Or onto the catwalk, where if she believed in a designer, she would be sitting front row, clapping and twitching excitedly with her support.
Perhaps she would be seated there with a lobster on her head, or a ship, perhaps with red lipstick on her teeth, perhaps an overload of fur, or Manolos with heels scrapped by bus rides.
In the days before the knowing cartoons looks of the bloggerati, I always enjoyed watching Izzy. Sometimes, I felt too shy to join the circus, which surrounded her at fashion shows; sometimes I was right there with her. And each time I was, I was welcomed with a charming clever conversation: be it about clothes, lovers or art.
The last time I saw Isabella, was at an afterparty for the gallery Detmar owned with my friend Pablo De La Barra. Pablo insisted I came to the Blow’s Eaton Square flat. I had come from a yoga class, wearing grey dyed KTZ leggings. Izzy was in a long white gown, about to go onto a party with Bryan Ferry. No one raised an eyebrow at either. The flat was brimming with people, art, clothes and ideas.
This is how I would like to remember Isabella: a social hostess, unjudgmental, elegant and in her element, spinning a web where threads of art, fashion, music wove seamlessly into happy memories.
I had been worried that the exhibition would not show her kindness, her charm, her self-deprecating lack of personal ambition when promoting those she believed in, her ability to overspend in pursuit of an amazing shot, or dress. But it did.
I did worry that a collection of clothes, without a sense of the woman who wore them, might feel empty. But it didn’t.
The charm, the themes of family, of England, of heritage and loss were all there, with each room a triumph.
I would recommend this exhibition to anyone who knew her, as well as those, such as the young man in the amazing triangle hat, I encountered there today who didn’t. Acolytes for whom her name is like that of a Hollywood legend, an inspiration for them to believe in the extraordinary.