Isabella Blow Tribute


It seems to me a moment too late that the London Fashion Scene has suddenly recognised Isabella Blow's contribution to the industry and her status as one of London's main visionaries and advocates of British fashion. Are those who are tirelessly promoting creativity (not only for the glamour but because they actually believe in it) only ever going to get recognition for their contribution when they are burnt out, demoralised and shaken to the floor by the establishment?

Isabella’s status as a living icon and ambassador for new talent was forgotten at the precise time of her suicide. Who is now going to replace her? Many have questioned whether Isabella had her time? Was she just a mad, eccentric lady? Was she a someone or a nobody, Did anyone care what she thought, did or said? Had the time for discovering a McQueen or Tracey or whoever gone?

I believe Isabella embodied what real fashion was about. She was multi layered and every bit an incredible complex woman and her personality was naughty, dirty, hard, exotic, frightened, excitable, endearing and above all passionate – when you worked with Isabella you had the whole package!

I first met Isabella, dressed as a black widow in immaculate head to toe beaded luxury, at On|Off in 2004, she arrived late for a morning catwalk show at the Royal Academy of Arts with Suzy Menkes, neither of these important women were allowed entry to the show due to their later than late appearance. As the director, I offered them a seat in the foyer and a fresh coffee to console them for not being given entry to the show.

The second time I met this incredible lady was at the On|Off event in September 2006 at The Royal Horticultural Halls, it was our launch event/reception and an excited whisper filled the room and there was a real buzz in the air that Isabella had attended. She looked incredible; a tiny lady with a trademark hat piece and veil covered her blackened eyes.

In the no smoking hall of The Lawrence Horticultural Halls, Isabella was the only one smoking (though she was asked by security to put out her cigarette, she ignored them saying "Darling I'm Isabella Blow - if I want to burn down the fucking building I will"), I allowed her to continue (well she was a living Icon) - hell she could have pissed all over the floor if she wanted to!

Isabella walked around the exhibition - chatting and discussing collections and ideas, to those designers that she was interested in. One of these On|Off designers Richard Sorger said "to be descended upon by Isabella was a seal of approval and the most exciting thing that could happen to a new designer. After she left the first time it felt like I'd just had the most unexpected yet mind-blowing sex! Beyond that Isabella made you feel like an immediate confidante without being insincere. She was generous, charming and vulnerable."

Before she left we stood talking in the foyer and she did not hold back in telling me that she had tried to kill herself, in fact several times and had recently thrown herself off a bridge. Isabella had damaged both legs (she was walking with difficultly - like a delicate porcelain doll that could not bend her legs and with a pained look on her face), and 'Darling' she said matter of factly 'I will probably do it again'...

Was this a cry for attention? Was this part of her eccentric ness? Was this someone who was tired of the industry and the world that she was fascinated in? Was her ride on fashion 'bullshit' over? She declared “I can hardly walk and I am in so much pain, and you know what the powers that be at London fashion week, have not even offered me a car to drive around in during this week”

Shocking? Yes the lady was obviously suffering not only physically, but emotionally - she was a little on the neurotic side - but hey - this was Isabella Blow - and everyone loved her. No matter what the 'establishment' thought of her she inspired, delighted and infused all young designers that met her. And oh my god if you had Isabella at your show, you didn't care if she took notes, - the world took note. The lady had power.

We talked about the On|Off event and she seemed genuinely excited by what we had achieved in our 6 seasons (3 years) against all odds - she gave me her mobile number and we arranged to meet about 1 month later at her home in Chelsea. Of course she was fashionably late, in fact she had double booked, but finally she arrived home. Initially she intimidated me, but she immediately took us from room to room, showing us her eclectic contemporary art collection and even her bedroom - like an excited child showing us around for the first time. In the passage there was a simple clothes rail rammed full to the brim of beautiful and exotic clothes, and of course her signature Philip Tracey red circular Perspex hat perched in her living room like a statue.

We sat around her large table and began almost immediately to talk business, we talked through our philosophy and our On|Off designers and artists, whilst eating pancakes. She was hungry for information and revelations to who we thought were the “new - who had it”, she was particularly interested in our designers Rui Leonardes, Aman Copland and Richard Sorger - also our On|Off design creators Fredrikson and Stallard. She was genuine and also though a little scatty, astute and sharp. She continued flitting from giving us contacts, names and numbers to help with business growth, it was a mutual exchange of ideas, information and passion for creativity, for the new and those who possess it.

She was also keen to support our On|Off project, though she was very adamant that she needed to start making money, “you see I am penniless.” She seemed worn down with the fact that many of the designers that she had supported and championed, now in their ivory towers, were ignoring her and would refuse to take her calls.

Isabella and I spoke many times after our meeting regarding On|Off designers that she had commissioned, our February 2007 On|Off event and our love for art enthused Isabella. And our commission of the portrait of Erin O'Connor by Japanese artist Izima Karou delighted her; she was keen to be involved. Many of our designers continued to meet with Isabella up to her death.

I am sure that her Memorial planned at the V&A will be a British pompous affair with lots of the hypocritical fashion bods - tapping themselves on the back for being so British and proud, when in fact I am sure Isabella would be screaming – “WHERE is the NEW talent! Why is no body pushing and supporting the new?” I hope that this memorial to Isabella not only celebrates her life and her enthusiasm but also invites those new and up and coming designers that she would have wanted to be there!

There is a call from many designers not to hold this during Fashion Week as it interrupts the valuable time slots available for designers to showcase on the catwalk. Why not include all the industry in an occasion after all the fashion weeks in October. One does have to ask is this for Isabella or a PR opportunity for the industry?

I treasure my opportunity of meeting Isabella - the advice that she gave me, her excitement of what I and On|Off is trying to achieve and her integrity. It is a shame that the establishment did not recognise her talents as a true ambassador in time.

Isabella was the first to spot and nurture a new designer, a model, and an artist. The first to treat them with respect and see the prospect of them as major forces. She would do whatever it took to get them a sponsorship, a good business deal, a place for them to work and create without asking for anything in return.

I'll miss her uncompromising personality and the romanticism she brought to my life. I hope she's happy wherever she is and making it a paradise."

Lee Lapthorne – director of On|Off