Isabella Blow, stylist, designer muse and former fashion director of Tatler and London’s Sunday Times, died Sunday night. She was 48.
This story first appeared in the May 8, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Blow’s husband, Detmar, is said to have told people that she died peacefully in her sleep. Blow was recently diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and underwent surgery about two weeks ago. She was recovering at her home in the English countryside. The exact cause of death could not be learned.
London-born Blow was one of the few remaining fashion eccentrics. Not a classic beauty, she more than made up for it with her outlandish getups. She regularly showed up in the front rows of runway shows and fashion events in a wild designer ensemble, which she would top with a Philip Treacy hat, from a giant lobster to an elaborately carved boat.
A staunch supporter of emerging talents, Blow was credited with discovering Alexander McQueen and Treacy, and models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl.
“She had one very unusual quality in the fashion world — she had a heart,” Treacy said on Monday. “She was often misunderstood as a crazy woman with a hat on. But she wasn’t. She was intelligent, cultivated, interesting. Her defiance and her unusual perspective on everything was an inspiration to designers and creative people. She had a belief in you as an individual. Whether you were Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, Stella Tennant or me. That belief was incredibly inspiring to young designers.
“She had been up and down recently. Everyone loved her and was hoping that everything was going to be OK,” he added.
At stages of her career, Blow worked in the fashion departments of American Vogue, British Vogue, Tatler and London’s Sunday Times Style supplement.
In recent years, her star had dimmed slightly, and it was known in industry circles that she suffered from severe depression. Last June, Blow was hospitalized in London after a fall and was said to have been seriously injured.
Michael Roberts, Vanity Fair’s fashion director, hired Blow as an assistant in the mid-Eighties, when he was running the fashion department at Tatler magazine.
“She was just great from the get-go,” he recalled. “To me, she was in the long line of English eccentrics, like Edith Sitwell and Ottoline Morrell. She was marvelous because she comes from that amazing ‘White Mischief’ background. At Tatler, all her amazing dotty friends were perfect fodder for the magazine.”
Roberts recalled how, more recently, Blow seemed to be increasingly unhappy.
“She had major feelings of persecution and that led to depression,” he said. “She felt very let down by a lot of people in the fashion community, especially the ones that she had championed for so many years. She felt that when they rose in the fashion firmament and got the big bucks, she always seemed to lose out. That can be depressing.
“When it came to fashion, she was fearless, but when it came to her personal life, she was full of fear,” Roberts added.
Rifat Ozbek had also known her since those assistant days at Tatler. “She was an inspiration,” Ozbek said. “I was at her wedding, wearing all white from my collection, and she said to me, ‘Even the bride didn’t wear white, but you did.’ She wore a beautiful purple velvet encrusted gown made by Nadia la Valle, which was very medieval, and Philip Treacy did the most beautiful gold lace crown. I can’t believe I will never see her again.”
Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor at large, said Blow was “the most incredible discoverer and encourager of talent. She was absolutely an inspiration, not just in the abstract sense of looking so extraordinary and breathtaking, and putting together things in such an unexpected way, but also in opening designers’ eyes to historical references. She was someone who consumed fashion at its rawest extreme.”
Daphne Guinness, a friend, said, “An enormous light has gone out of our lives and out of the world. She was hugely influential, and had such an enthusiasm for life and for new talent. She was a catalyst for so many moments, so many careers.”
Katie Grand, fashion stylist and editor of Pop magazine, said Blow was one of her favorite people to sit next to at a fashion show. “She was always so funny,” Grand said. “She was a great friend to me when I was finding my feet in the fashion business. She was warm, loving and incredibly good fun. She was a gorgeous person.”
Karla Otto, a friend and owner of her namesake public relations firm, called Blow “a true eccentric. She walked into a room and filled the room, not just because of what she was wearing, but because of her incredibly strong aura. She was an extremely special person and precious friend,” she said.
At the time of her death, Blow was working with Treacy on the exhibition “When Philip Met Isabella,” which is to open in St. Petersburg this month.