Bringing Isabella Blow to life
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Reviewing a biography often leads to talk about its subject rather than the book. This is especially tempting when the subject is Isabella Blow. Instead of falling in this minor pitfall, I plan to make a more deplorable mistake: I will talk about the books I am not reviewing!
The name Isabella Blow does not ring any bell? Simply take a look at one of the many pictures taken of her and you will know who she was. Or will you? Many remember fashion journalist Isabella Blow for the way she looked, for her sense of dress. Her career started in New-York in the early 80s saw her become a towering figure of London’s fashion world in the 90’s. Today, the subject of several books and of a major retrospective at London Somerset House she seems to incarnate this very particular era of fashion which saw, often thanks to her, the launch of many influential British fashion labels.
In 2007, at 48, the larger than life Isabella Blow ended her life, leaving a large section of the fashion world feel sorry and a little guilty. It is difficult to not want to scratch the surface of the icon.
Isabella Blow is the subject of two biographies; Blow by Blow written by her husband of 18 years Detmar Blow, and Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion by fashion writer Lauren Goldstein-Crowe. The almost instantaneous release of the two books led to a war of words. Detmar Blow pointed out that Crowe did not know his wife while Crowe accused Detmar Blow of not understanding what a biography is.
This debate also questions our concern with the private Isabella Blow, to which extent should we, the public, want to know about it. This question is a difficult one in the case of Blow, when so much of her contribution hinged on her person, her personality and it physical embodiment.
Martina Rank, Isabella Blow’s personal assistant towards the end of her life, chose not to write what would have been a third biography, but instead put together a beautiful commemorative book, inviting many who actually knew Isabella Blow to say a few words about her. Their entries often turned to personal letters, each accompanied by a favourite photography of Blow. There are variations to the formula as with Gladys Perint Palmer and Wolfgang Joop’s entries who offer instead two illustrations.
In total 60 artists, designers, models and journalists have contributed. The list is impressive ranging from Anna Wintour to Hilary Alexander, Tracey Emin to Noble & Webster, Boy George to Bryan Ferry, Mario Testino to Rankin, Dita Von Teese to Naomi Campbell and of course from Hussein Chalayan to Philip Treacy.
The book is surprisingly effective in bringing to life Isabella Blow, a public figure personally involved with other public figures. This is a credit both to Isabella Blow for cultivating such strong friendships, and to Rink for carefully selecting the contributors. Modeconnect talked to Martina Rink and she told us how this book came about.
“I had the chance to meet Isabella Blow during my last year at Croydon School of Arts when I was allowed to fly out to fashion week. I became friends with her and she suggested I should become her PA when I finished studying.
I was a terrible PA, I wasn’t really good at writing things down or having pens or anything like that but I was a good friend and that’s what she wanted. She was like a mother, a friend and a mentor. The book was all I could do when I heard she passed away to show people how amazing she was. She helped me a great deal in the fashion industry so I wanted to do something where she got credit. A book was the right thing to do because it would always be there, printed.
She inspired me by being herself. She was a magnet. When you were around her she would totally draw you in. Anything she would say, the way she laughed and talked, she was just an amazing personality.
I wanted this book to celebrate her. The press gave her a very hard time while she was alive; always talking about how many times she tried to kill herself, things like that. I think this book shows everything incredible she did for this industry.”
What more is there left to say? Just get a copy!
Foreword by Philip Treacy
Hardcover, 125 Illustrations, 84 in colour, 192 pages
Published 13 Sep 2010