Family Group Sheet
Family Group Sheet
NameDetmar Hamilton Lorenz Arthur BLOW
Birth2 Oct 1963
OccupationStarted as Barrister Middle Temple
EducationHarrow and LSE
Marriage19 Nov 1989, Gloucester Cathedral
Birth19 Nov 1958
Death9th May 2007
OccupationFashion Editor
EducationHeathfield and Columbia University NY.
MotherHelen Mary SHORE JP (1925-1988)
Notes for Detmar Hamilton Lorenz Arthur BLOW
Director of the Blow de la Barra gallery in London's Mayfair, founded with Isabella Blow and Mexican curator and artist Pablo Leon.

Designer's muse Isabella Blow and her husband Detmar blazed a delightfully eccentric trail through the world of fashion. In a frank and poignant interview only days after her death, he talks to Rachel Cooke about life with a true style original

Sunday May 13, 2007
The Observer

Bereavement makes people behave strangely, and Detmar Blow is no exception. At Hilles, the Arts and Crafts house which was built by the architect grandfather after whom he is named, the wind rattles the windows and the rain taps at the glass like ghostly fingers. The house, built into the side of a valley so that it feels like the prow of a ship, looks over thousands of acres of Gloucestershire and, in spite of the squally weather, this is where we are heading right now - out into the dripping green. 'I need a walk,' he says. 'I need to get outside for a bit.' He has just made me a cup of Earl Grey tea - I am straight off the train from London - and he now decants it from china cup to stout mug. 'You can take it with you,' he says. 'Yes?' In a flagged hall, he picks out two coats: a red mackintosh for him, a lead weight of tweed for me. 'I won't give you one of Issy's coats. That would be too macabre.' So, off we go: me, Detmar - four days into his grief and still far from acclimatised - and Detmar's pug, Alfie, who rasps like an old steam iron. The air is as bracing as a slap.

After 20 minutes, we return to the house - Wuthering Heights on a withering budget, as Issy always used to call it - where we sit in the gloom in front of a smoking fire which Detmar periodically attacks with a pair of creaking bellows. He tells me that he feels a bit better, now. 'I wanted to make it lovely for you,' he says. 'Light a fire! Get a few lights on!' But it's not really working. When someone has died, there is nothing you can do to make a room cheery and, on a day like this one, it is probably not even worth trying. Better to get on with The Arrangements. Detmar has spent the morning with the Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, where the funeral for his wife, the fashion stylist, Isabella Blow, will be held on Tuesday (it's the only possible place; he and Issy were married there in 1989). It will be only for family, but there will be a memorial service in July. 'Conde Nast [the owners of Vogue and Tatler, where Blow used to work] want it to be in Hanover Square, but that church is too small. I'm thinking of the Guards Chapel. Philip [Treacy, the milliner] says it should be the Abbey.' He laughs.
It's exhausting, I say, all the stuff you have to do in the days before a funeral. 'Oh, I know what to do,' he says. 'My father died by his own hand when I was boy. I know what to do.' The service will include Faure's Requiem; a rousing chorus of 'To Be a Pilgrim', which the Blows always have at weddings and funerals; and a reading from the Book of Matthew: 'Why do you worry about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.' It was Isabella's niece who put her on to these verses - the same niece whose photograph she sent to Sarah Doukas, the model agent who discovered Kate Moss, days before she died. That Isabella loved these verses tells you, I think, a lot about her obsession with fashion. She adored clothes, from the moment she saw her mother trying on a pink hat when she was a little girl. But perhaps they - perhaps everything - came to matter to her too much.
Detmar told the world that Isabella had died of ovarian cancer. But everyone knows that she had been battling depression, and that she had told people this was a war she did not believe she could win. Two years ago, she jumped from a London bridge, breaking her legs and smashing her feet so badly that she could no longer wear her beloved high heels. (I used to work with Blow and what I remember about her more than anything was her shoes: her favourites then were by Jeremy Scott, and were shaped like a cloven hoof, so that she resembled no one so much as Mr Tumnus the faun.)
Later, she took an overdose. An inquest into her death, which opened last Friday, revealed that traces of the weedkiller Paraquat had been found in her body, and some newspapers have reported that she told her weekend house party guests that she was going shopping, but that they later found her collapsed. Detmar, however, is sticking to his official line, and I don't blame him. 'I've steered people away from the prurience,' he says. 'She had cancer. That's it. She's dead now. We can't change it. But we can celebrate her life, and our love for her.' In the hours after her death last Monday, Detmar spoke to Geordie Greig, the editor of Tatler, where Isabella had been fashion director. 'He was talking about all the obituaries, who would do what. I couldn't understand it at the time. But he was right. They're so comforting. I lie in bed and stroke the pictures. Poor Issy. I am going to be so lonely.' He picks up a book, the diaries of Wallis Simpson. Inside, his wife has written her name and the date: 1 May 2007. 'Look. So poignant. This is the ninth, and she's dead.'
Detmar Blow met Isabella Delves Broughton (her grandfather, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, was accused of the White Mischief murder of Lord Erroll; he was acquitted, but later killed himself) on 24 September 1988, just a week before his 25th birthday. She was five years his senior. They were at a wedding. 'She was with my sister [Selina Blow, the designer]. They walked straight past me. I noticed Issy talking like a little bird; that lovely voice. We came out of the cathedral. "I love your hat," I said. And she said: "I love your coat and I wish I was wearing my violet shoes for you, but it's muddy", which was so unlike her.' Did she ever put practicality before fashion? Didn't she wear wellies when she was here at Hilles? 'Of course not.' He looks at me as though I'm mad. 'Anyway, we went to the reception. She had 100 people round her and, of course, I had no one. So I waited for my moment, and then I leapt in: "Please come to Hilles," I said. Cheeky boy! And then: "Can I have your phone number?" Only her work number. But cool! I was having palpitations. On the Thursday, I rang. I said I was going to cook lamb and marinade it with apricots. She lived round the corner from me in London, in a house belonging to the literary executor of Tennessee Williams. So she came for dinner.
'Silver skirt, little bandana: the Pam Hogg look. Amazing figure. I thought: phwoar! I'd a girlfriend at the time, bit older than me. She was flashing daggers at Issy. Then Issy went upstairs to the drawing room. I rushed after her, closed the door and ...' He throws himself dramatically on top of me, so we're both lying prone on his creaking sofa (I told you grief makes people act strangely). What did she say? 'She said: "Get off me you silly Sri Lanki [Detmar's mother is of Sri Lankan extraction]." So then we went off to the second dinner of the night because, you know, getting Issy at short notice was tricky. When we got there, there weren't enough chairs, so I said: "Do you mind if Issy sits on my lap?"' His relationship with his girlfriend, who spent the evening slamming doors, ended that night and, the following weekend, he enticed Isabella to Hilles (Detmar, a barrister turned art dealer, does not own the house; his mother does, but he pays the bills, and is the sitting tenant). 'I asked her if she liked it. She told me afterwards that she said "yes", thinking: this will pay off my overdraft. Ha. I didn't have any money! On the Monday, I rang her. I said: "I'm coming to London to have my hair cut, and I've got something to tell you that I've never told anyone else before." When she came round, I was very nervous. I said: "I don't want to have an affair with you. I want to marry you."' Did she say yes immediately? 'Of course she did.' Blow pulls his upper lip over his teeth. He looks like the cat that got the cream.
Sixteen days from first meeting to marriage proposal; they married the following year, Issy in - of course - a Philip Treacy hat. Detmar was certain of his wife's talents as a stylist and muse, and determined both to give her a platform (Hilles where, effectively, she could run her salon) and to be her patron. She was notoriously bad with money and he was now on hand, so far as he was able, to bail her out. 'I saw Issy as a supertalent, but also as very nervous and insecure. I put a stop to that. But she was naughty.' He giggles. 'When she was the fashion director of the Sunday Times, she would get an advance on her expenses for the shows. But no sooner would we arrive in Paris than the designers would appear, the money would all be gone [spent on clothes]. So then it would be: "Is my credit card OK?"' What was it like being seen with her? Answer: he loved it. 'This is my mother,' he says. He shows me an old photograph of an extraordinarily beautiful woman in a coat with a collar that is straight out of Blake's Seven. 'We're theatrical. My father used to dress up in armour and stuff. This is my life! This house is a theatre set!'
Their marriage was, he says, incredibly happy and close, though Issy deeply regretted the fact that they had not been able to have children ('We were like a pair of exotic fruits that could not breed when placed together,' she once said). Then, three years ago, it all went wrong. 'I was heart-broken when we separated. I couldn't understand it.' So why did he allow it to happen? 'It was all Issy. She got fed up with my mother.' Detmar's mother was engaged in a battle to winkle him out of Hilles, a battle he has since won (according to Detmar, she wanted Selina, who has children, to live there). 'Issy said: "We should just go." But I said: "No, I'm staying and fighting. This is my home." She couldn't do it. She didn't have the stomach.' Isabella had faced parental rejection before. In 1994, her father disinherited her, leaving her only £5,000 of his £6m fortune; her husband believes that the idea of going through something similar again was too much for her. So, she left. 'I wrote her these letters saying I was heartbroken: I love you so much, I can't bear it, blah, blah, blah. But her reponse was [he adopts a mafiosi voice]: "You just don't get it. It's over."' Her sisters reported that Issy had told them she had not received his letters, so the next time he wrote, he took the precaution of photocopying his note, sending one to Isabella and one to her sisters. 'When I told her this, she said: "Same old shit, huh?" So naughty of Issy!'
So, in London, Detmar moved to Shoreditch, and had a 'really good time'. Among other things, he had an affair with the lesbian writer Stephanie Theobald. 'I used to be envious of all those boys who had all those girls. But then I realised: oh, it's not so hard. Everyone seems to like me. I'm very loveable!' Was Isabella mad and jealous? 'Oh, Ye-es! But then she got depression and her psychiatrist rang me and said: "You're the key to her."' There was a rapprochement. 'Issy was the sexiest, you see. Of all the girls I've made love to, Issy was always the best. She was super-sexy! She had the most beautiful knickers! One of my great aunts, Aunt Minette, said to me: "You have to have brains as well [to be sexy]." She was my soul mate.' Two tears roll down his cheeks. 'I had my bachelor time; I know what's coming now. And the people I love are always with me: Issy, my grandparents. But I am going to be so lonely.' He wipes his face, and seems to make a conscious decision to pull himself together. 'I am a bit addicted to drama,' he says. 'But let's carry on. I'm talking about the person I love.' Isn't he worn out? Grief is exhausting. 'No, I'm all right. People ask me: what can we do to help you? Well, give me money, or give me sex! Otherwise, just write to me, and let me grieve.' He laughs, naughtily. This is known, I think, as putting on a show.
I ask him if Isabella felt let down by the designers that she supported; a free frock, after all, is not the same thing as a job. 'Yes, she did. Though it wasn't about money for her, even if she did have fantasies about private jets. But Alexander [McQueen, probably her biggest discovery] paid her hospital bills, and he never made a fuss. Did you see the film of her on Channel 4 news? She was wearing a black and white Dior coat. John [Galliano, the designer of Dior] gave her that. She said: "I love it, but I can't afford it." They told her she could have it. "When we had no money you helped us. Take whatever you want."' A coat, though, doesn't put food on the table. In the midst of her depression, Isabella became convinced that she would end up as a bag lady. She knew how it felt to be seriously hard up. When she and Detmar first met, she had accounts at Fortnum's and Berry Bros, so that when the money ran out, she would still be able to eat - and drink - at least for a while.
It's time for me to leave now; a taxi is waiting, and Detmar has a thousand things to do. We go out through an immense panelled hall - ordinarily, I bet it's perfect for parties, but today it is so dank, it's a place to be dashed through - and into the kitchen, where Isabella's sister, Lavinia, sits at a table, looking poleaxed at the shock of it all. Issy's niece is here too, and a handsome young man who, I'm guessing from the look of his trousers, works in fashion or, perhaps, as a photographer (Isabella tried to turn every handsome young man she met into a photographer and, sometimes, she succeeded). On the floor, Alfie and two pug puppies have formed a kind of dog-knot. Detmar looks disdainful; he has eyes only for Alfie, now his best companion.
Time slows down in the days before a funeral, and here it feels like everyone save for the pugs is moving through invisible jelly. Or perhaps this is just the timeless power of Hilles, whose architect - like his grandson - went through life aiming for a certain kind of effect. Hilles helped Detmar to bag his bride, and now it will help to send her off in style. We go outside. I get into my car. The last thing I see as I drive off is Detmar. He's hopping up and down (he always did remind me of a penguin) and waving and trying to tuck his shirt into his trousers. 'Good luck finding Swindon!' he shouts. 'It's over there somewhere! Ha ha ha!' He is laughing wildly, which is exactly what Isabella would have wanted.
Blow by blow: Detmar's story
Born 1963
Family Sri Lankan mother; historian father killed himself by drinking weedkiller; grandfather was the Arts and Crafts architect Detmar Jellings Blow. Direct descendent of the composer Purcell.
Career A former barrister turned art dealer, Detmar is the director of the Blow de la Barra gallery in London's Mayfair, founded with Isabella and Mexican curator and artist Pablo Leon.
Isabella The couple met at a friend's wedding in 1988, became engaged 16 days later and married the following year at Gloucester Cathedral. Separated in 2004; Detmar had an affair with novelist Stephanie Theobald and Isabella with a Venetian gondolier. Reconciled 18 months later. Doted on their pug, Alfie.
She said 'I'm having my body cut up when I die and I'm leaving my heart with Detmar in a heart-shaped box.'
He says 'She was a substantial person. She was extraordinary, dynamic, beautiful and loyal.'
Natalie Idehen

They blamed me for her suicide: Style icon Isabella Blow's husband tells how he was snubbed at her funeral after she poisoned herself with weedkiller - even though she had tried to kill herself seven times

PUBLISHED: Mail on Sunday 22:19, 16 June 2012 | UPDATED: 22:30, 16 June 2012

Amid the imposing tapestries and portraits of long-dead royals which adorn the walls of Hilles, Detmar Blow’s gothic Arts and Crafts home in Gloucestershire, is a black-and-white photograph of his late wife, Isabella.

Her huge, sad eyes stare out from underneath an extraordinary hat with plumes and netting springing out every which way. The impression is more of a rare, exotic bird than a flesh-and-blood woman.

The picture is one of Detmar’s favourites of Isabella, the internationally renowned style icon who discovered some of the fashion world’s most important figures, from the late designer Alexander McQueen to the milliner Philip Treacy and model Sophie Dahl.

‘That’s the hat she was wearing when we met,’ he says, smiling as he gazes at it. ‘I thought she was fabulous, extraordinary. I haven’t got many pictures of her here, as I don’t want the house to feel like a shrine, but this one is special.’

It has been five years since Isabella’s death at 48, during which the influence of her extravagant style, including those trademark hats – featuring, variously, a lobster, a dead seagull and a Japanese temple – has continued to grow.

Lady Gaga has acknowledged the debt her sartorial choices owe to the stylist, who elevated wearing clothes to performance art. Treacy, whose creations she often showcased, has become the Royal Family’s milliner of choice.

Detmar, an art dealer who was married to Issie, as he calls her, for 18 years, has had to learn to cope without his passionate, creative and darkly witty soulmate. Yet although her spirit continues to play a major role in his life, he has also found a new sense of fulfilment by becoming a father.

He and Isabella could never have children together, but a relationship with Portuguese-born artist Mara Castilho, which began months after Isabella’s death and ended last year, resulted in a son, Sasha, almost four, whom he adores.

‘I know Issie would be very happy for me to have a child,’ says Detmar, now 48. ‘I remember us talking about what she’d do if anything happened to me, and she said she’d get a boyfriend. I said, “Oh, Issie,” but she was adamant she wouldn’t want to be on her own.

‘She’ll always be part of me, but for her, life was to be lived, and she’d want me to move on. “Go for it” was her motto. She wanted everyone to fulfil their dreams. She’d be thrilled that I’ve been given the gift of Sasha. My love for him has helped me enormously. It has given me a sense of purpose and contentment.’
An effusive man with a flamboyant fashion sense undoubtedly encouraged by his late wife, he laughs often as he remembers her, although sadness occasionally clouds his eyes.

He is fervent in his desire to celebrate her life, not only because he loved and admired her greatly, but also because he knows she would relish her posthumous status as an icon.

He is delighted Isabella’s contribution to fashion is now acknowledged, and her legacy is being celebrated with a foundation the heiress Daphne Guinness is establishing in her name to support emerging talent. A film is also being made about her life, based on Lauren Goldstein Crowe’s biography.

‘When she was alive, not everybody understood how much she did,’ he says. ‘She was so generous and courageous. She wasn’t afraid to believe in people before anybody else did and push them to become successful.

‘I’m so happy she’s continuing to make an impact – although she’d be infuriated by Lady Gaga because she didn’t want anybody to look like her. For Gaga, the clothes are a costume, but Issie wore them all the time.’

During the immediate aftermath of Isabella’s death in 2007, it was unimaginable for Detmar that he would ever find peace. In the preceding 14 months, his wife had tried to kill herself seven times, and had been treated at numerous psychiatric hospitals and clinics in an attempt to alleviate her terrible depression, to no avail.

On May 7, she drank weedkiller and died two days later in hospital.

From the moment Detmar met her at a society wedding in 1988, he was all too aware of her demons.

He was a trainee barrister aged just 24, the grandson of the architect of the same name and a descendant of the aristocratic Tollemache family, when he spotted Isabella Delves Broughton, five years his senior, walking into the church wearing that show-stopping hat.

He plucked up the courage to speak to her and they spent the rest of the day bonding over the tragedies which blighted both their backgrounds.

Detmar’s father had killed himself when Detmar was 14, with the same brand of weedkiller, paraquat, that Isabella was later to use. Her grandfather Sir ‘Jock’ Delves Broughton, the subject of the book and film White Mischief, also took his own life, and her two-year-old brother Johnny died in an accident.

Five reasons to visit Isabella Blow's fashion retrospective

There's so much more to this display of the late style muse's wardrobe than a bunch of crazy hats

Jess Cartner-Morley The Guardian, Tuesday 19 November 2013 18.47 GMT

It is a history lesson in hats

Did you know, for example, that in 18th-century France there was a fashion for elegant women to wear model ships in their hair, to celebrate French victories over the English at sea? I didn't, until I learned from the caption accompanying the "galleon" hat that it was this story, told by Isabella to Philip Treacy, that inspired it. Blow had a wealth of knowledge about history, and about the countryside and nature – she was a great lover of gardens, and roses – and a knack for plucking out colourful titbits with which to feed her proteges. Blow told her own story in hats: her fondest memory of her mother, who famously offered her 14-year-old daughter a formal handshake on the day she left the family home, was being allowed to try on her pink hat. The story she liked to tell about meeting her husband Detmar Blow began with him complimenting her hat.

It is a story about the power of fashion – and its limitations

The exhibition is a biography, in clothes, of a woman who once said that the mood-altering effect of hats was better than antidepressants, but who took her own life. Fashion was the great love of Blow's life, the focus of her passion and talent – but towards the end, she felt that the designers she had nurtured had left her behind. This is an exhibition with a very clear agenda: to give Blow the place in fashion history that she deserves. Driven in large part by her friends Daphne Guinness and Treacy, the show gives Blow a posthumous third act. In other words, this is not just hats, it is the backstory of modern British fashion being rewritten.

It is very funny

One of my favourite non-hat exhibits is a fax sent to Blow by an exasperated assistant during her time working at the Sunday Times, which conjures up a vivid picture of the thankless and impossible task of pinning the stylist down to budgets and RSVPs. Blow was very funny – she had a honking laugh, which Alexander McQueen said reminded him of a Billingsgate fishwife – and was uncowed by the worry that she might be thought mad. (Andy Warhol befriended her at a party, because she was wearing mismatched shoes.) At her funeral, her friend Rupert Everett described her as "a one-off ... your own creation in a world of copycats" and that bumptuous originality shines through here. The overall mood is bittersweet, but never maudlin.

This is an eyewitness account of the Cool Britannia era

Blow was instrumental in pushing into the limelight many of the key talents who defined Britain's renaissance as a creative powerhouse in the 1990s. Never a bandwagon-jumper, she was there right from the start. At Hussein Chalayan's graduate show, she sent him off to find a roll of bin bags, helped him pack the clothes in them, and marched him over to Browns boutique, where Joan Burstein put the collection in the window. At one point early in their careers, she had both Treacy and McQueen living and working in her Belgravia house. There was a kind of magic in the air: as Blow puts it, Treacy's incredible hats were appearing in his little basement studio "like muffins popping out of toasters". Blow "wasn't just providing money or opportunity, she was grabbing people by the collar and leading them into their future", says curator Alistair O'Neill. "I look at fashion now and I don't see who those people are."

Clothes that someone has worn are much more fun than an 'archive'

When O'Neill and the curators first examined the collection, they were hit by a wave of Fracas – the scent that Blow always wore, and with which McQueen perfumed the venue for his La Dame Bleue collection after her death, which was dedicated to Blow. "There is a very physical presence of Isabella in these clothes," says O'Neill. "We've got an exquisite McQueen hawthorn jacket which has a huge cigarette burn in it. Her hats were endlessly getting damaged where she would lean forward to light a cigarette off a candelabra at dinner." Sedately displayed on a pedestal are a pair of Givenchy haute couture mules, their silk-wrapped heels ripped to shreds at some party or another. There is a kind of innocence to this way of dressing, a storybook joie de vivre. Unfortunately, like all the best fairytales, it ends badly.

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! is at Somerset House, London WC2 from 20 November 2013 to 2 March 2014
Notes for Isabella DELVES BROUGHTON
Fashion journalist (former fashion Editor of the Sunday Times), consultant and promoter and “style queen”. Style Editor Tatler 1987-90

Blow by Blow

Isabella Blow, style queen and promotor of fledgling designers including Alexander McQueen, has been a walking billboard for years. Now she's getting her own exhibition at the Design Museum. Tamsin Blanchard takes her hat off to a true English eccentric

Sunday June 23, 2002
The Observer

You hear her before you see her. She has an unmistakable voice - loud and distinctly English. And then she appears, at the top of the stairs in the small Georgian hatter's cottage she shares with her husband, Detmar, and whichever friends are in town at the time. Isabella Blow has not had much sleep. She got to bed late because she was working on the catalogue for the forthcoming exhibition of her collection of hats by the celebrated milliner, Philip Treacy. And she doesn't look like the sort of woman for whom sleep comes easily at the best of times. But there she is, at the top of the stairs, dressed in a severe black trouser suit and wearing a simple little bun of a hat with a single feather curling off in an attempt to take flight.

Article continues

She is a startling-looking woman, not least because she is usually topped off by one of her many famous hats. But even in this most basic of numbers - the hat she would wear to do the housework if that was something she ever felt the urge to do - she is as striking as the portrait she is standing in front of. It's a stylised image of Wallis Simpson by one of Blow's art dealer husband's young artists, Simon Periton. And Blow has similar haughty, handsome, horsey looks. She follows in a line of strong, impenetrable women; she would make a great Mrs Danvers. There is something mesmerising about her strong, well-defined features and, at the same time, quite terrifying.
Her grandmother, who died in 1968, is one of her great inspirations in life. At times, it seems as though she is in competition with her, to see who can be the most colourful, outlandish, or plain bonkers. 'My grandmother caught the biggest fish in European waters, off the coast of Scarborough,' she boasts. 'It was a tuna fish. Deep sea. She had the world's record until last year. It took her 16 hours to pull in. She was a photographer and an explorer, and was famed to have been a cannibal. But she was n't strictly a cannibal. She was in Papua New Guinea and she had some dinner and she said, "God, that was delicious. What was it? It's so sweet!" And they admitted it was a poor local tribesman who had been grilled up. That was in the 30s and she didn't do it knowingly. In the back of Who's Who, where people have their pastimes, she just put "once a cannibal". Ha Ha.' Blow has (of course) a very distinctive laugh. A little hoarse and often on the edge of being out of control.
She has a touch of the cannibal about her, too - but her preferred diet is one of roasted fashion designer. Blow likes to tear at their flesh and suck the blood out. She loves to talk in graphic terms of battlefields, blue meat, birds of prey and carnal savagery. She feeds off other people's creativity. And she has a voracious appetite. She collects fashion designers like a hunter collects trophies. Instead of hanging their heads on her castle wall, their clothes are the rewards of the hunt.
Her first encounter with Philip Treacy was with one of his hats rather than with him. She was working at Tatler with fashion editor Michael Roberts, and the hat in question might have swum straight out of the Amazon jungle. Blow knew she had to have it. 'It was a green felt hat that had been cut to look like crocodile teeth, and I thought, "Wow that's really 3D."' It was 1989, and Treacy was soon to graduate from the RCA, where he was the only student making millinery. 'It's the clothes or the hat first. Normally, all I'm interested in is what the person has created. Hopefully they're not a mass murderer or a mass rapist, but their personality is not important to me at that stage. They've got to be pretty extraordinary to make things like that anyway.' Thirteen years later, Blow and Treacy are about to celebrate their many collaborations (he makes them, she brings them to life) with an exhibition at the Design Museum, called When Isabella met Philip.
Since the first crocodile teeth, Treacy has created an endless stream of confections for his most daring and ambitious customer, and Blow gave her protégé as much support and encouragement as she could. She even provided him with somewhere to live - a house on Elizabeth Street in Victoria. He worked in the shed, with water dripping down the walls. 'It was like magic everywhere,' she remembers. 'They were like muffins popping out of toasters. I said, "I really want to keep an eye on you this year, I really want to make sure that you're well and you're healthy." They were popping all over the place. Mine was like an orgasm. We call it the Polo hat because it was like little Polo mints around your eyes and it moves tremblante. I'd told him about these tremblante tiaras.'
She says Treacy is like a baker, just like his father. 'I think Philip has been watching bread in the oven. I think everything looks as though it's got yeast in it and it's slightly risen. If you look, all the basic shapes are buns. This is a bun,' she says, holding up the simple feather number she is wearing. 'I'm sure of it. He isn't admitting it, but I'm absolutely positive.'
As well as the orgasmic Polo, there's been the Lobster, a Dali-esque jewelled crustacean which Blow wore at the fashion show of her friend Julien Macdonald; the Alexander McQueen-veiled antlers she wore for lunch with Nicholas Coleridge ('"How are you going to have dinner in that hat?" he asked. "How are you going to eat?" I said: "Nicholas that is of no concern to me whatsoever."'); the Pope's hat ('It's a penis. With a hard-on. Not that I would know what they look like... I haven't seen one for so long'); the smart little Matador she wore with a black snakeskin corset to attend her godson's sports day; and the Pheasant ('I know why I want that hat so much: it's because Philip has caught the movement of the bird. I'm almost thinking of being buried in the Pheasant'); a talking hat, ('Everytime you talk, it moves. He based it on me'); and the hat with 100 veils, made for Isabella to attend the funeral of her first cousin, Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat ('It was designed to absorb the tears - they soaked into the veil, it was really beautiful').
Issie Blow is not properly dressed without a hat. And she doesn't plan her hat around the outfit. The hat comes first. 'It's not a mad hatter's tea party,' she says sternly. 'It's meant to be a sensual, erotic display. You're there to get a new husband, a new boyfriend, a new girlfriend, whatever. And you can get it. The hat is a means to an end, a marriage contract. It's everything. It's a sensual thing - the idea of catching somebody like a spider in a web. It's the old fashioned cock-and-hen story, the mating dance. Men love hats. They love it because it's something they have to take off in order to fuck you. Anyone can wear a hat.'
She wears them to match - or lift - her mood. 'I wear them for different reasons,' she continues. 'For instance, today, I'm almost hatless because I'm so exhausted.' And it's true, the single feather doesn't look as though it needs much effort. It's Blow's idea of a pair of slippers. 'I wear them pretty well every day, but to make myself look better. If I'm already looking ill, I just wear a pair of sunglasses.' As with her hats, she has hundreds of pairs of sunglasses and is considering bringing out her own range with Alain Mikli. 'I don't use a hat as a prop. I use it as a part of me. If I am feeling really low, I go and see Philip, cover my face and feel fantastic. If I'm on a real low it requires going to the doctor. Ha ha ha! For a prescription! And the prescription usually works.'
A session with Dr Treacy is worth more to Blow than all the surgeon's knives and happy pills put together. A fitting might take up to four hours, when Blow sits as still as she can while Treacy teases his feathers this way and that. It's like sitting for a portrait. Except that she is the portrait.
Blow's other favourite fashion doctor is Alexander McQueen, but a fitting with him is a different matter altogether. 'I had a fitting with McQueen for a ball dress, and he was slashing away, and it was like Jack the Ripper. The fitting is, "Turn round you stupid cunt, get this way, go backwards!" And you can hear him like a pig snorting. You'll have the whole of the Marquis de Sade fitting you because there are so many different animal noises. Philip is the silent flower. He has naughty thoughts, too - but he doesn't express them.'
For Isabella Blow, fashion is life. She is totally consumed by it. And she has managed to make it her lifeline, too. For years, people within the fashion industry (which, as she says, is one of the most conventional businesses in the world) have regarded her as a pariah. But things are changing. 'In the old days, people were frightened by my hats. But in the last year or maybe two, Philip has single- handedly broken through all the barriers. And now people want what I'm wearing. It's really weird. I'm being hotly pursued for my head now. I feel like Marie Antoinette.'
Although her family has lived in Doddington, a castle in Cheshire, since the 14th century, and owned 34,000 acres of land at the turn of the century, her grandfather, Sir Jock Delves Broughton sold most of it off to pay gambling debts. After his flesh- eating wife left him, he moved to Kenya where he was accused of the White Mischief murder of Lord Erroll. He was acquitted, but eventually committed suicide. Isabella's father, Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton, ran off with another woman and disinherited Isabella when he died in 1994, leaving her just £5,000 of his £6m estate. These days, weekends are spent at her husband, Detmar's family home, Hilles - an Arts & Crafts house built in 1913 by his architect grandfather, also Detmar Blow - in Gloucestershire. She feels as grand as she looks, but she is by no means a lady who can afford to lunch. Her eye for extreme fashion talent is something she has discovered can earn her money, through consultancies for companies such as Swarovski and Du Pont as well, provide her with a wardrobe that the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the V&A in London would love to get their white gloves on.
For all her grandeur, Blow is not proud. She once worked as a cleaner. 'I've done the most peculiar jobs,' she says. 'I was working in a scone shop for years, selling apricot-studded scones. I was a cleaner in London for two years. I wore a handkerchief with knots on the side, and my cousin saw me in the post office and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "What do you think I look like I'm doing? I'm a cleaner!"'
She found her way into the fashion business through the route most posh girls take: Vogue House. She worked at Tatler, assisting the fashion editor, Michael Roberts. In 1997, she was given the position of fashion director at the Sunday Times Style section, where she commissioned fashion shoots and occasionally actually got her hands dirty herself. During her reign, she used the pages to promote her favourite designers and used her front-row position at the fashion shows of London, Milan, Paris and New York to host one-woman catwalk extravaganzas of her own. There was the one-legged trouser suit; the flesh-coloured, see-through dress; and perhaps the most memorable, the Joan of Arc, complete with chains, which she dragged along behind her. And, of course, there were always the hats. She would arrive after everyone else had sat down (presumably because she was so busy getting changed between shows) and there would be the usual commotion; the cameras loved her. There were times when she would change six times a day. She is also extremely vocal, clapping and shouting when she saw something she wanted to own herself. Last year, however, she was 'let go' - although it appears nobody quite dared to tell her to her face.
At the age of 43, Isabella Blow is at a turning point. In a world of brand names, she is well aware of her worth. 'I'm working out at the moment what I'm going to sell. Jasper Conran said: "Look, you've got to sell something. You can't go on doing all this work and not selling anything." But Isabella's idea to make pewter fashionable again ('Have you ever eaten off pewter? You cut roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and it looks like you have a battlefield on your plate') is not going to make her millions overnight. Her other idea is to create a range of cutlery inspired by a set she found at Hilles - 'One is Napoleon, and one is Wellington, and their heads have been carved out of ivory. One is the fork and one is the knife. I thought it could be fun to do celebrity heads. You could have a picnic with yourself.' She would carve her artist friends, Sue Webster and Tim Noble, who are making one of their rubbish sculptures for Blow's exhibition. (Her rubbish seems to consist mainly of various birds of paradise, as well as a Norfolk shag, along with black pearls, her scent Fracas, a dead mole and some porn mags they found on a walk in the country). Or else, she would do the parents of her godson, Bryan and Lucy Ferry. 'I'll find someone who wants to do something really great and I will endorse it. I'll brand it.' She's not so interested in becoming a designer herself. Instead, she sees herself as a 'taste arbiter'. And as her hat exhibition goes on tour with the Guggenheim - to Venice, Bilbao, New York and Las Vegas - she intends to strike while the iron is hot. Her family motto, since the 13th century, is 'Haud Muto Factum', or 'Nothing happens by being mute'.
She's happy to be the facilitator and promotor, the Peggy Guggenheim of fashion. 'I'm a walking billboard. That's my pleasure. But I can't do it for free anymore. Young designers don't grow on trees.' She doesn't have the Guggenheim fortune so she links designers with companies that do. Over the past five years, she has worked with the crystal company Swarovski, putting it together with designers such as McQueen and Julien Macdonald. It's been a very fruitful relationship. In Brazil, she says she sold 183m crystals in 30 minutes.
'Fashion is a vampiric thing,' she says. 'It's the hoover on your brain. That's why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me. They say, "Oh, can I kiss you?" I say, "No, thank you very much. That's why I've worn the hat. Goodbye." I don't want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love.'
Blow made her name championing those she loves, but British fashion is famously rich creatively, and bankrupt financially. And despite her fervent support over the past decade, the cheques are not rolling in. Three years after meeting Treacy, she discovered Alexander McQueen. He also moved into Blow's house in Elizabeth Street. She bought his entire postgraduate collection, which he presented to her in a binbag, for £5,000, paying in weekly installments of £100, and made herself part of his world. She introduced her favourite milliner to her favourite fashion designer, and the two have collaborated ever since. 'They both love birds,' she explains. 'And they are both obsessed by nature. But they don't talk about it in a pretentious way. McQueen once told me that he wanted to be a bird. They have the same thing and it's quite useful for them to have me, because I have the same thing. I have a love for both of them.' The love, however, has a price. 'As my therapist says, the umbilical cord has a price tag on it. I'm not doing any of this nannying stuff. I'm willing to nurture and help. But there's only so far you can go.'
It is preposterous to think that McQueen would not have made it without Isabella Blow's help, but now that things are going well with him at Gucci, she wants payment in cash rather than kind. 'He's become a multi-millionaire,' she says. 'Oh, he's got it all stashed away. His nest is all piled up with stuff. Everything is money. And he always says that's all I ever think about, and that's unfair.' It was she who brokered the Gucci deal. 'I said to Tom, "Buy McQueen." It was totally me. And McQueen was, like, snorting and huffing away, and I said, "Get out of fucking bed and ring him up! He fancies you."'
She loves McQueen and enjoys bossing him around, but, ultimately, she also enjoys the fact that he has power over her. If you cut off her lifeline to his clothes, she would go into cold turkey. 'When we fight I get very very upset and depressed and my whole life falls apart if I can't get what I want.' What do they fight over? Clothes, of course. 'I'm having my body cut up when I die and I'm leaving my heart with Detmar in a heart-shaped box. McQueen says he wants my head, because he wants to wake up one morning and see my lips move, saying: "Where are my clothes?" He likes to make a joke of it, but he likes to use the clothes as power over me. The thing is, I wish he'd just get on with it and give them to me. But you know it's a constant battle and I think he likes it to be that way, and it's always been that way. I understand the aesthetic so well that I only want what I know I've seen his hands on.'
But McQueen's creative soulmate is not Blow. It is his stylist and long-time collaborator, Katy England. Blow understands that, but still has to be involved. 'The truth of the matter is, I'm there as a figure, as the other mother he'll never get rid of. Whatever he does we still have something that no one can touch. And everyone gets very frustrated and annoyed with me in the office. I'm sure they find me a complete pain, but every marriage has its in-laws, and it's sibling rivalry, that's all it is. Family.'
Blow has a strong voyeuristic streak. She likes to create situations and then sit back and watch. The thing that fascinates her almost as much as clothes - and it is no doubt related - is sex. She describes her own styling aesthetic as 'chic pornography', and unless something has a strong sexual charge, she isn't moved by it. 'I always think sex has been such a disappointment to me. I think such a fuss is made of it. It's not that I don't enjoy it, I think I'm frightened of it. The way to have fun is to let other people have fun and you just observe, and get pleasure from watching. When you're married it's difficult to have sex with everybody because I'd get kicked out on to the street. But I think inherently I'm probably a total slag. Desire is the strongest human emotion - desire for a hat, desire for a dress, that's what drives people to buy and want things.'
· When Philip Met Isabella is at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1, from 5 July to 27 October; 10-5.45pm daily (10-9pm Fridays). Telephone: 020 7940 8790; The book When Philip Met Isabella, is published by Assouline, £12.95.

Saturday May 12, 2007
The Guardian

Isabella Blow, fashion stylist and muse, told doctors just before she died that she had drunk weedkiller, a coroner has revealed.

Blow, 48, who collapsed at her country home in Gloucester last Saturday, had spoken to one friend not long before she died of being "very, very depressed" and of her intention to take her own life. Early reports of her death wrongly suggested she died from cancer.

Her sister-in-law, Selina Blow, told the Guardian she had recently undergone an operation for ovarian cancer and her health had suffered badly as a result. "We are all very upset," said Ms Blow yesterday. "It is a devastating loss of an extraordinary personality."

Tests carried out on Blow's body proved positive for weedkiller, according to the Gloucestershire deputy coroner, David Dooley.

The renowned talent spotter, best known for her love of flamboyant hats, was notably absent from February's fashion shows, leaving friends worried about her health. Her father-in-law, who struggled with depression, also took his own life by taking weedkiller.

Last weekend she had hosted a party at Hilles, her Cotswolds country home, with guests including royal milliner Philip Treacy, whose career she had helped promote by wearing his most colourful creations. She told them she was going shopping, but was found later in a "poorly state" by her sister.

She died in Gloucestershire Royal hospital on Monday.

Mr Dooley, who opened the inquest on Thursday, said the initial cause of death was given by the pathologist, Neil Shepherd, as being from the effects of a drug overdose. "I have queried this with Prof Shepherd and he says that is the right way of describing the pharmacological effect of any chemical on the body.
"We will need to take formal statements and investigate all the circumstances and this will be dealt with before the main inquest on October 24."
A stylist who helped launch the careers of Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald, Blow was once described as one of the 20 most important people in fashion.
Born Isabella Delves Broughton in 1958, she was the grandaughter of "Jock" Delves Broughton, who was tried and acquitted for the murder of the 22nd Earl of Errol in Kenya in 1941. He later returned to Britain and committed suicide.
Her funeral will be held on Tuesday in Gloucester cathedral, where she was married to her art dealer husband Detmar in 1989. It will be private and her family have asked that their privacy be respected. A memorial service will be held later.

Daily Telegraph
Isabella Blow loses her battle with cancer
By Nigel Bunyan and Caroline Davies

Obituary: Isabella Blow
In pictures: Muse and master
Hilary Alexander: Death of a true original
Isabella Blow, the fashion stylist famous for her extraordinary hats and vibrant lipsticks, has died of cancer aged 48.

Isabella Blow died early yesterday morning after fighting ovarian cancer

The contributing editor to Tatler magazine was the muse of Philip Treacy, one of the world's leading milliners, and is credited with discovering the models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant. She died early yesterday morning after fighting ovarian cancer.

Her husband Detmar Blow said she had been ill for some time and had died in the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.

Speaking at the couple's home in the Cotswolds and clutching her cherished black pug Alfie, he said: "She was a ray of sunshine.

"She was a beautiful, brave woman: indefatigable, courageous and brilliantly intellectual. She loved this house. It's very theatrical, of course, which suited her."

Although his wife had been confined to hospital "for a while", he had continued to hope for a recovery.

The daughter of Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton - himself the son of Sir Jock Delves Broughton of Kenya's "White Mischief" notoriety - and his second wife Helen Shore, Blow often recalled the moment when, as an eight-year-old, she tried on her mother's pink hat and knew fashion was to be her life.

After taking A-levels at Heathfield School and then enrolling at secretarial college, she moved to New York in 1979 where she studied ancient Chinese art at Columbia University.
While in America, she became friendly with Anna Wintour, the then fashion director of US Vogue and worked on the magazine.

She swiftly moved up the fashion magazine career ladder, and by the late 1980s was a good friend of Andy Warhol, as well as emerging as a talent herself.

On returning to London, she worked for Tatler and then The Sunday Times Magazine.
While she was style editor at Tatler she met a young Philip Treacy. She asked him to make the hat for her wedding to Detmar, and then set him up in the basement of her London home while he worked on his collection for two years. Mrs Blow watched Mr Treacy's career take off. They remained collaborators and good friends.

Detmar Blow, an art dealer, was her second husband. Her first marriage had ended in divorce after two years.

The Blows met at a wedding in Salisbury, became engaged 16 days later and married the following year. They separated in 2004, but had been reconciled since.

During her career Mrs Blow was credited with discovering the designer Alexander McQueen, having bought his entire graduate collection, and making Sophie Dahl, whom she described as "a blow-up doll with brains", into a catwalk star.

Last year a bad fall left her with serious injuries. She was also known to have suffered from depression.

Geordie Greig, editor of Tatler, said he was shocked at the suddenness of her death and had been expecting to meet her in the near future to discuss future projects.

"She was original, impactful, generous-minded and spotted some of the greatest talents," he said. "She was the most intelligent and creative person in fashion. In many ways she was the British queen of fashion.
"She was intoxicating. You could never get enough of her. And she did not know the meaning of 'boring' or 'clichéd'. She was a free spirit."

Daily Mail
8th May 2007

Mystery today surrounded the death of Isabella Blow, one of the British fashion industry's most eccentric characters, amid claims that she may have poisoned herself.

The 48-year-old fashion director of Tatler magazine, a self-confessed depressive, was found collapsed in her Gloucestershire home on Sunday and pronounced dead in hospital yesterday morning.
Her art dealer husband, Detmar Blow, said she had been very ill after fighting ovarian cancer but declined to say whether she took her own life.

However, friends staying at Hilles, the couple's Arts and Crafts home in Painswick, Gloucestershire, suggested that Blow, who suffered intense bouts of depression, poisoned herself on Saturday after telling house guests she was going shopping.

Her death follows at least two other suicide attempts. Last year she was in hospital after taking an overdose and in 2005 tried to kill herself by throwing herself off a bridge over a motorway.
Her husband, to whom she became engaged 16 days after meeting him, said: "She was a ray of sunshine. She was a beautiful, brave woman: indefatigable, courageous and brilliantly theatrical.
"She had money worries like all artists. She suffered depression. She said to me once, 'I'm fighting depression and I can't beat it.'"

"Thoughts of suicide were a big part of her existence and her persona," said designer Zac Posen. But so too was her ambition "to better people's lives by exposing them to creativity," he added.

Blow was one of fashion's most influential personalities, and famed for her originality and boundless enthusiasm as a stylist.

Geordie Greig, editor of Tatler, led the tributes. "She was without doubt one of the great figures of fashion of the 20th century," he said. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, called her "a free spirit that really believed in individual talent". Blow began her fashion career in 1981 as Wintour's assistant.

"In a world that's largely driven by corporate culture she was a joy to have," Wintour added. "She was not too good at getting to the office before 11am, but then she would arrive dressed as a maharaja or an Edith Sitwell figure.

"I don't think she ever did my expenses but she made life much more interesting."
Blow wore the clothes of the designers she discovered, including milliner Philip Treacy whom she spotted in 1989when he was a student at the Royal College of Art. She was also credited with discovering Alexander McQueen, buying his entire graduate collection.

Michael Roberts, fashion editor of Vanity Fair, remembered working with Blow at Tatler in the Eighties. "She was like an exotic bird," he said. "Issy was living rather like Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion editor of the Fifties. She seemed to be trying to translate the styles of the Fifties and Sixties to modern life in a dull office in Hanover Square.

"At times it could be difficult for her. Life tramples on people like that."

Daily Telegraph Obituary of 10/5/07:

Isabella Blow, who died yesterday aged 48, was a stylist once described as one of the 20 most important people in fashion, and was seen by many in that peculiar industry as a visionary figure; a wider public thought her a wildly, wilfully eccentric figure, mainly because of her hats: pheasants, lobsters, and antlers were often perched on her head.

Isabella Blow was often described as a Muse to designers; it might be truer to say that she occupied in fashion a facilitating role similar to that played by Lady Otteline Morrell in literature or Peggy Guggenheim in the visual arts.

Her primary talent was to identify talent in others, at which her record was second to none.

She was responsible for discovering the milliner Philip Treacy and bought the entire graduation collection of the then unknown Alexander McQueen; she worked with Julien Macdonald as well as being instrumental in the early careers of photographers such as Juergen Teller, Alistair Thain and Sean Ellis, and models such as Sophie Dahl, Stella Tennant and Honor Fraser.

She was born Isabella Delves Broughton on November 19 1958, the eldest daughter of Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton, 12th Bt. She grew up in Cheshire, 34,000 acres of which her family had owned since the 14th century, until her grandfather, Sir "Jock" Delves Broughton, sold most of it to pay off his gambling debts.

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Isabella Blow, May 2007
Isabella Blow (née Isabella Delves Broughton, 19 November 1958 – 6 May 2007)[1][2] was a British magazine editor and international style icon. The muse of hat designer Philip Treacy, she is credited with discovering the models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl as well as the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
Contents [hide]
• 1 Early life
• 2 Career
• 3 Illness and death
• 4 References
• 5 External links

Early life
The eldest child of Major Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton, 12th Bt, a military officer, and his second wife, Helen Mary Shore, a barrister, she was born in London in 1958. Blow often said her fondest memory was trying on her mother's pink hat, a recollection that she explained led to her career in fashion. When Blow was 14, her parents separated; they divorced in 1974. She had three siblings: two sisters, Julia and Lavinia, and a brother, John, who died in a drowning accident at the age of two.
She studied for her A-levels at Heathfield School, after which she enrolled at a secretarial college and then took odd jobs. As she told Tamsin Blanchard of The Observer in 2002, "I've done the most peculiar jobs. I was working in a scone shop for years, selling apricot-studded scones. I was a cleaner in London for two years. I wore a handkerchief with knots on the side, and my cousin saw me in the post office and said, What are you doing? I said, What do you think I look like I'm doing? I'm a cleaner!"[1]
According to the Blanchard interview, Blow was disinherited by her father in 1994 and received only ?5,000 of his reported ?7 million fortune.

Blow moved to New York City in 1979 to study Ancient Chinese Art at Columbia University and shared a flat with the actress Catherine Oxenberg. A year later, she left the Art History program at Columbia, moved to Texas, and worked for Guy Laroche. In 1981, she married her first husband, Nicholas Taylor (whom she divorced in 1986), and was introduced to the then fashion director of the US edition of Vogue, Anna Wintour. She was hired initially as Wintour's assistant, but it was not long before she was assisting Andre Leon Talley, now the USA Vogue's editor-at-large. While working in New York, she befriended Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat; according to the September 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, quoting Vogue editor in chief, Anna Wintour, Blow seemed to have been romantically involved with Basquiat at the time.
In 1986, Blow returned to London and worked for Michael Roberts, then the fashion director of Tatler and the Sunday Times Style magazine.[3] In 1989, she married her second husband, art dealer Detmar Blow, in Gloucester Cathedral; he is a grandson (and namesake) of the early 20th-century society architect Detmar Blow. Philip Treacy designed the bride's wedding headdress and a now-famous fashion relationship was forged. Blow established Treacy in her mother-in-law's basement flat, where he worked on his collections for two years. Blow eventually appeared, wearing a Treacy hat, in the 2004 Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. According to an interview with Tamsin Blanchard, Blow declared that she wore extravagant hats for a practical reason: "to keep everyone away from me. They say, Oh, can I kiss you? I say, No, thank you very much. That's why I've worn the hat. Goodbye. I don't want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love."[2]
In 1993, she worked with the photographer Steven Meisel producing the Babes in London shoot featuring Plum Sykes, Bella Freud, and Honor Fraser. Isabella Blow had a natural sense of style and a good feeling for future fashion directions. She discovered Alexander McQueen and purchased his entire graduate collection for ?5,000, paying it off in weekly ?100 installments. Spotting Sophie Dahl, Isabella described Dahl as "a blow up doll with brains" and launched the model's career.[3] According to Vanity Fair, she also was responsible for the resurgence of the crystal-rhinestone firm Swarovski after convincing her designer friends to use the company's products in their fashions and accessories.
Blow was the fashion director of Tatler and consulted for DuPont Lycra, Lacoste and Swarovski. In 2002, she became the subject of an exhibition entitled When Philip met Isabella, featuring sketches and photographs of her wearing Treacy's hat designs. There is a book of the same title. In the winter of 2005, the exhibition went to Dublin, Ireland, and was sufficiently successful that it was extended into April 2006. In 2005, Blow starred in a project by artist Matthieu Laurette, commissioned and produced by Frieze Projects 2005 and entitled "What Do They Wear at Frieze Art Fair?" It consisted of daily guided tours of Frieze Art Fair led by Blow and fellow international fashion experts Peter Saville, Kira Joliffe, and Bay Garnett. According to an interview with Dominic Lutyens in The Independent in 2005, Blow was particularly enamored with the fashions worn by Nell Gwyn, a mistress of Charles II, whom she described as "my all-time style icon", adding, "I love her necklines".

Illness and death
Toward the end of her life, Blow had become seriously depressed and reportedly was anguished over her inability to "find a home in a world she influenced", wrote Cathy Horyn of The New York Times on 10 May 2007. As one of Isabella's friends, Daphne Guinness, told Horyn, "She was upset that [Alexander] McQueen didn't take her along when he sold his brand to Gucci. Once the deals started happening, she fell by the wayside. Everybody else got contracts, and she got a free dress". According to a 2002 interview with Tamsin Blanchard, it was Blow who brokered the deal in which Gucci purchased McQueen's label. As the photographer Mario Testino told Vanity Fair in September 2007, "She was brilliant at finding new things and could always find new ways of looking at things but it was hard for her to define her job, and it was hard to find ways to pay her. So you find a designer, or you find the model, but how do you invoice for that?"
Other pressures included money problems and infertility; according to an article in the Daily Mail, Blow and her husband had unsuccessfully tried in vitro fertilization eight times. "We were like a pair of exotic fruits that could not breed when placed together", she said.
Following a row with her mother-in-law over which member of the family would inherit her husband's ancestral home, Hilles, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, Isabella and Detmar Blow separated, reportedly so the latter could father a son with a fertile woman and ensure his particular branch of the Blow family would remain in charge of Hilles.[4] Detmar Blow went on to have an affair with Stephanie Theobald, a lesbian who was the society editor of British Harper's Bazaar[5] while his estranged wife entered into a liaison with a gondolier she met in Venice, but they reconciled 18 months later.[6]
In 2006, Blow attempted suicide by sleeping pills, according to Vanity Fair, and after her recovery began receiving electroshock therapy to control her bipolar disorder. According to The New York Times, Blow also attempted again that same year by jumping from the Hammersmith Flyover, which resulted in her breaking both ankles. After this, the paper noted, the fashion icon "became more and more remote, convinced that she would end up as a bag lady". According to an article published in the Evening Standard after her death, Detmar Blow confirmed that his wife suffered from depression and had once declared "I can't beat it". [7] She also tried to commit suicide in 2007 by driving her car into the rear of a supermarket truck, by attempting to obtain horse tranquilizers, by overdosing on a beach in India, and by drowning herself in the lake where her younger brother had drowned as a child. Shortly before her death she was the creative director and stylist of a series of books about beauty in the Arab world; the books were being produced by Kuwaiti fashion entrepreneur Sheikh Majed al-Sabah. Blow was dismissed from the project for unknown reasons and attempted suicide again.
On 6 May 2007, during a weekend house party at Hilles, where the guests included Treacy and his life partner, Stefan Bartlett, Blow announced that she was going shopping. Instead, she later was discovered collapsed on a bathroom floor by her sister Lavinia and was taken to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, where Blow told the doctor that she had drunk the weedkiller Paraquat. Though reports stated that Blow had discovered that she had ovarian cancer around this time. [8], a posthumous profile in Vanity Fair stated merely that she had had an ovarian cyst removed shortly before her death, with no mention of ovarian cancer.
She died at the hospital two days later. The Times reported on 9 May 2007 the details of Blow's death and noted that her husband's father had also used Paraquat to commit suicide. [9]
She was buried from Gloucester Cathedral on 15 May 2007.[10] Her coffin, made of willow, was surmounted by one of her Philip Treacy hats instead of a floral tribute, and her pallbearers included Otis Ferry, a son of the rock star Bryan Ferry. The actor Rupert Everett delivered one of the eulogies. [11]
A memorial service is due to be held in the Guards Chapel on 18th September 2007.

1. ^ Hilary Alexander (7 May 2007). Death of an Original. The Telegraph.
2. ^ "Isabella Blow, ‘Fashion's Nutty Aunt’, Is Dead", New York Magazine, 7 May 2007. 
3. ^ a b Guy Trebay. "Isabella Blow, Flamboyant Discoverer of Fashion Talent, Dies at 48", New York Times, 8 May 2007. 
4. ^ Edward Helmore, "Final Blow", Vanity Fair, September 2007, page 394
5. ^ Edward Helmore, "Final Blow", Vanity Fair, September 2007, page 394
6. ^ Glenys Roberts. "Isabella Blow: Eccentric to the end", The Daily Mail, 9 May 2007. Retrieved on 2007-05-10. 
7. ^ Toshiba Reynolds (9 May 2007). Isabella Blow Suicide?, Friends Of Style Guru Suggest So. The Post Chronicle.
8. ^ Obituary in Daily Telegraph
9. ^ Staff (9 May 2007). Isabella Blow Died of Drug Overdose. The Post Chronicle.
10. ^ Isabella Blow died from drinking weedkiller
11. ^ "BBC report on Isabella Blow's funeral", BBC. Retrieved on 2007-05-19. 

From Times Online

August 12, 2007

Fashion victim
Models, designers, editors — Isabella Blow had them all under her sartorial spell. So what drove the queen of style to end her life with weedkiller?

David James Smith


Haluk Akakce, modern artist, was a casual dresser whose art was all invested in his videos and his paintings and drawings. He had initially been taken unawares by the living theatre of Isabella’s existence, meeting her for the first time at the London restaurant Baltic, where she had turned up in a white headdress and an extravagant outfit. The entire restaurant had stopped to gawp at her. She went straight up to Haluk. “You must be Haluk,” she said. “Can you zip up my dress?” There was no zip, just hooks, and he had obliged.
It was 2003, and Haluk was about to begin renting a house in Theed Street, Waterloo, owned by Isabella’s husband Detmar Blow, the gallery owner. Isabella and Detmar had recently separated. Detmar had told Haluk they were getting a divorce, so the house would be empty for a few months. At the last moment, Isabella had decided she would live there too, with Haluk, and had proposed getting together at Baltic.
With her dress now securely hooked up, they had sat down at the table and Isabella had said, shall we have caviar? The caviar was still on the table when Isabella’s estranged husband, Detmar, arrived. “You f***ing c***s,” said Detmar.
“Who’s ordered the caviar? Who’s paying for it? I’m not paying for it.” He and Isabella had begun shouting in the restaurant. Haluk, who was Turkish and unencumbered by English anxieties over polite behaviour, took the view that there was nothing wrong with a bit of drama, which was just as well, as the next few years of his life with Isabella and Detmar would be full of it. He flew to New York the next day for work, and arrived back to begin his tenancy at Theed Street at 2.30am, with Isabella playing the Sex Pistols so loud you could hear it for miles.
Isabella was then the fashion director at Tatler, arranging and styling photo shoots and spreads. She did not like the Theed Street house, and called it the NCP car park on account of its narrow, multiple floors. Taxis never knew it, and she would spell out the street name when ordering cabs to take her around town or up to Vogue House in Hanover Square: “Yes, Theed Street, that’s T for tits, H for horny, E for erection…” She would try to vary it each time:
“T for testicles…” Isabella had an earthy turn of phrase and gave the impression she thought a lot about sex. Her mobile-phone number ended with the digits 69, which were rendered like a seductive come-on in her voice-mail recording.
Haluk and Isabella became close friends and spent a great deal of time together. She had not long since left the Priory, where she was treated for depression, but Haluk adored her, thought she was absolutely amazing, and learnt to live with the ups and downs, never knowing which of the two Isabellas he would meet today. Would it be the supremely confident Isabella who could go anywhere, do anything, be the Queen of England, or the worthless Isabella who would say: “I’m nothing, I’ve no talent… Philip can make hats, you are an artist. What can I do? Nothing.”
In these last years of her life, Isabella was increasingly troubled by her past. According to Detmar, she had always been “highly strung”. Her aristocratic, well-connected life of glamour and fantasy was beginning to look more like an unsuccessful attempt to flee reality. She had demons, as Detmar called them, that she could not overcome. Isabella had been on the front row of the catwalk shows for years, and had been influential and highly regarded as a talent spotter, as well as a muse and inspiration for young designers, stylists, photographers and models. She was now in her mid-forties and fashion was for the young. Still, it was hard to believe someone so vivid and seemingly full of life could be so unhappy. Many thought her depression was part of her “performance” and didn’t take it seriously.
On his own account, Haluk was barely domesticated, but Isabella looked after him like a mother. Not that he could have told her that – “Oh, Issie, you’re like a mother to me” – as she would have killed him. He had upset her once, trying to describe her appearance, telling her she was not beautiful in the popular sense; meaning her beauty was in her character (not to mention her near-perfect figure and much admired, often displayed breasts). She misunderstood: “You’re just saying I’m ugly!” It was one of her themes, her “ugly” appearance and her fading looks. She sometimes said Philip Treacy’s hats, the surreal, spectacular creations she nearly always wore, were her alternative to plastic surgery, covering her eyes. She had considered plastic surgery, canvassing friends for their views. She decided she’d do it and then changed her mind.
One day in 2004, when Haluk came home from the studio, Issie told him, you’re coming with me to Paris next week, you’ll photograph couture, 22 pages for Tatler. Issie loved Haluk’s video work, but this was different. Haluk had never taken a still photograph in his life. “I can’t do it,” he told her. “You can do it,” she said, in her breathy, resonant, utterly posh tones. “Darling, your work’s a fantasy, couture is fantasy. I need something really beautiful and I can’t just take anyone.” That was typical. With Issie it was always either the very best or a total unknown, a new discovery. “I’m like a pig snuffling out truffles,” she would say. Her discoveries had made her famous – though not as famous as the discoveries themselves, nor nearly as rich, which had become a constant source of tension for her.
Though she remained close to Treacy, whom she had championed from her first encounter with one of his hats, something in green felt cut like teeth, at Tatler in 1989, she often complained she had made a lot of money for unnamed others among her “discoveries” and rarely got anything back. I was told that her cousin, the aristocratic model Honor Fraser, once presented her with a cheque as a thank-you. Issie had also famously helped Sophie Dahl become a highly paid model, defending her at the first shoot during a furious argument with the editor of Italian Vogue: “But she’s too fat!” Issie: “I don’t care – she’s beautiful.” And of course, in addition to the designer Hussein Chalayan, there was Alexander McQueen, the rough diamond who was described to me by one of Issie’s assistants as being like a pig at fittings for her in his studio, snorting and sweating as he moved around Issie, pinning and adjusting the clothes in an animalistic way she found exciting. Issie had bought everything in McQueen’s first collection and promoted him tirelessly. Of course, having a reputation for finding talent was part of Issie’s status as a fashion icon, so she got something from it, but her discoveries always seemed to get the better deal.
She idolised McQueen, but they did not see each other so much latterly, and her assistant said his press-office staff were patient with her and suffered – “a lot!” – on McQueen’s behalf, with Issie’s demands for clothes and her complaints that he was not paying his dues to her.
Issie ought to have been rich, and indeed lived more or less as though she was. But she wasn’t.
Her family’s principal estate in Cheshire could be traced back nearly 700 years, and at the turn of the last century still occupied nearly 35,000 acres, with the substantial country house Doddington Hall at its centre. But Issie’s grandfather Sir Henry Delves Broughton, known to all as Jock, had indulged himself so much that he had been forced to start liquidating assets, selling off land in sizable chunks to finance his horses, his gambling, his estates in Ceylon, his travels in East Africa and elsewhere, and his idle life of bridge, croquet and extravagant weekend house parties, when he hired a band to entertain guests on the train up from Paddington. The parties were sometimes written up in Tatler. In those days the family appeared in Tatler rather than worked for it.
Jock was said to have raised and spent £1.5m, a colossal sum in the days before the second world war. By 1939 there were less than 4,000 acres left. Jock’s wife, Vera, went off with Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne, and they travelled together around southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the frozen north. Lord Moyne produced two books, with photographs by Vera Broughton – Walkabout and Atlantic Circle – before he became a government minister, and in 1944 he was assassinated in Cairo by Zionist extremists.
Jock and Vera had two children: a daughter, Rosamund, and a son, Evelyn, who would become Issie’s father. With Vera gone, Jock met and married an aspirant blonde socialite, Diana, who was younger than his own son, and together they went to start a new life in Kenya, joining the dissolute white aristocratic settlers known as the Happy Valley set, who drank, took drugs and swapped partners for sex, apparently oblivious to the fact the Nazis had begun a world war and the old days of empire were all but over. Within three weeks of Jock and Diana’s arrival in Kenya in late 1940, she had begun an affair with Lord Erroll. Less than two months later, on January 24, 1941, Lord Erroll was shot and killed in his car.
Jock was tried and acquitted of the murder and returned home to England. His son, Evelyn, confronted him about his excessive spending, which was effectively cheating Evelyn out of his inheritance. Jock was said to have chased his son out of his study with a riding crop. Jock was now also suspected of two insurance frauds, arranging for the theft of pearls and paintings he owned and claiming for them on recently enhanced insurance. He must have been desperately broke.
Jock killed himself just before Christmas in 1942, overdosing on the barbiturate medinal at the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool, where he had evidently gone to commit suicide, asking not to be disturbed in his room. The writers Cyril Connolly and James Fox wrote about the murder of Lord Erroll in this magazine in 1969. Connolly referred to medinal as oblivion’s boarding card. Fox went on to publish an account of the case, White Mischief, which became a film with Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi, and Joss Ackland playing Issie’s grandfather Jock.
Issie was said to be bored with the whole thing, that tedious White Mischief mystery, but Fox’s book carried an intriguing thread, describing how Jock was said to have suffered “headaches and an excitable mental condition” from a young age. He nursed a “lifelong sense of injury and disadvantage” because his own father kept him short of money. He can never have stopped to think he might pass on this unhappy legacy, as his own son, Evelyn, Issie’s father, complained that he and his father were strangers by the time he was a teenager, Jock having visited him only once at Eton during his whole time at the public school, and never once during his years at prep.
Evelyn, too, had a taste for the good life in his early days. Even though his inheritance was much denuded, it was still substantial, with a house in London and numerous properties on the land around the hall, which became a school, while Evelyn went to live in one of the staff cottages, where Issie was born and brought up, until she too was packed off to boarding school. Issie won the “cheerfulness prize” three times during her six years at Heathfield school, Ascot.
Evelyn had married Issie’s mother, Helen Shore, a young barrister, after a brief earlier marriage that produced no children. Helen gave birth to Issie in 1958, followed by Julia in 1961, John in 1962, and Lavinia in 1965. John died in a freak accident in 1964 at the age of two, which Issie always described as a drowning but, according to the records, was actually a result of choking on food. Somehow the boy fell in some shallow water – possibly fresh rainwater in an otherwise empty pool – in the garden of his house on the estate, while his parents were elsewhere. The water caused him to regurgitate his lunch of baked beans, and one or more beans lodged in his throat so that he choked to death.
According to Issie, John died in her arms while their mother, Helen, had gone to put on some red lipstick for a family photograph, and this was the origin of her own fascination with red lipstick and vivid overdressing. Helen has never given her version of events except to say it was different from Issie’s remembering. Helen would not talk to me for this article.
Issie told some friends that the incident tore her parents apart, her mother blaming her father, and both grieving deeply for the loss of a son and heir. Issie and her sisters, in Issie’s version, never felt so valued after that, and their mother eventually left the home and her children in the mid-1970s, shaking them each by the hand before she went.
Issie had limited contact with her mother and did not see her for 17 years of her adult life. It was said that the three girls adored their father and felt adored by him in return, and he was affectionate and kind to them, but something changed after he remarried, to Rona Crammond, a former pupil at the girls’ school on the estate and 25 years younger than him, in 1974.
About a year later, Sir Evelyn went into hospital to have a varicose vein removed. There was a complication and his leg became gangrenous and had to be amputated. The balance in the marriage, seen by some as a trade-off between money and title on one side and youth and good looks on the other, was now lost, and Issie’s father was suddenly disabled, in constant pain and almost wholly dependent on his wife.
When he died in 1993, he left £5,000 each to his three daughters and everything else, the remnants of the estate, the house in Kensington Square, to Rona, Lady Delves Broughton. Isabella was said to have challenged the will, cursorily with a lawyer’s letter, and had the costs of the estate’s response deducted from her £5,000 share. The full value of the estate was finally declared three years later at £3,962,702.
If the death of her brother with its consequent loss of her mother’s love was the first great tragedy in Isabella’s life, this rejection by her father was the second. In her darkest days, I was told, no matter how much the people around her loved her, all she could think about was how her parents didn’t.
As Detmar put it when we spoke, £5,000 was what you might leave a loyal housekeeper: “Five grand is f***-all money, man. People talk about the upper classes, but they are f***ing tough, man: callous, you know.” Some people wondered if Sir Evelyn had been put off by Isabella’s profligate lifestyle, but he had also disinherited her sisters, who did not share their sister’s extravagant tastes (who did?) – Julia, who worked at Christie’s, and Lavinia, who had faced tragedy of her own when her husband was killed by a car while waiting on a motorway hard shoulder in 1989.
Both Lady Broughtons, Helen and Rona, came from a different class from Sir Evelyn, lower down the social order. Helen was apparently anxious for her daughters to be “refined” and then, as Detmar put it, appeared to lose interest in them, abandoning the girls at her divorce. Issie once told a friend, Rory Knight Bruce, that she was ashamed of her mother’s “common” background. If that was true, it was not a typical remark. Issie was blessed with aristocratic social confidence – completely lacking in self-consciousness and rarely snobbish. She was also proud of her mother’s status as a young barrister.
There was no point in Haluk protesting that he could not take a picture. “If I made Bryan Ferry a photographer,” said Issie, “I can certainly make you into one.” Issie and Bryan Ferry had been friends for 20 years, since they met through Lucy Helmore, who later became his wife. Bryan had been instrumental in getting Issie started in the fashion business, arranging an introduction to Anna Wintour at Vogue in New York in 1981, which led to a job, after Issie had previously been turned down. Issie was godmother to the Ferrys’ son Otis, and had kept close ties with both parties and their children after the couple’s separation.
Bryan Ferry was notoriously shy, so shy he found it hard to look people in the eye when he talked to them. But Issie seemed to draw him out. There was a photograph of the two of them together in a frame on the worktop of the galley kitchen of Issie and Detmar’s ground-floor apartment in Eaton Square. Bryan was wearing baggy denims. Issie did not own jeans, Detmar did not own jeans. Issie did not like jeans, but Bryan, of all people, could be forgiven. Issie would always say he had invented glamour.
A Tatler photographer, Robert Astley Sparke, had once told Issie he would love to work with Bryan, meaning photograph him, but Issie had misunderstood. She instead employed Bryan to be the art director on a lingerie shoot with Astley Sparke in Paris.
Astley Sparke had been another of Issie’s “discoveries”. She had called him in originally to work on a project she wanted to call No Muff Too Tough, in which naked women would pose with specially commissioned fur muffs. Issie’s editor had “freaked out” at her suggestion for “muffs and muffs”, so she had reinvented the shoot as Nipples in Naples and orchestrated a posse of “young posh English girls” down to Naples with the idea they would pose on the rocks on the seafront in swimming costumes with one breast exposed. This was a cold November in 2003.
Astley Sparke was new to the game and embarrassed to ask the girls to “get their tits out”, and suggested to Issie that if she took the lead the others would follow. She ordered her new assistant, Jessica Andrews, to take part too. Jessica was then just 20 and mortified – she was only supposed to be the office girl – but didn’t know how to say no. It was tasteful, she told herself, and anyway, Issie had said she would be fired if she didn’t join in. Issie liked to surround herself with beauty, and Jessica was indeed beautiful. “This is Jessica with the blow-job lips,” Issie would say, introducing her assistant to Condé Nast executives, much to Jessica’s discomfort.
Jessica could count herself lucky. Issie had once slapped another assistant round the face during her time at The Sunday Times Style magazine, after the poor young woman had ordered in a disappointing set of clothes for a shoot. The editor, Jeremy Langmead, had taken Issie aside to tell her that you couldn’t go around slapping your assistants any more. “She was a human-resources nightmare,” said Langmead. (Issie was eventually fired from Style by Langmead’s successor, Robert Johnson, and harboured a grievance at the manner of the sacking – a letter delivered by motorbike courier. Johnson said she had not been sacked but “let go”. He denied the couriered letter, but could not now recall the precise details.)
Issie ruined her Manolo Blahniks walking in the Naples surf, then said, “Right, girls, let’s go” and pulled open her corset. Jessica and the other women popped out a breast. Issie, nearly twice the age of the “girls”, appeared on the opening spread…
When Haluk got to Paris, he discovered he would be making his debut as a photographer at the Dior show with John Galliano. I think it’s fair to say he was petrified. He stood smiling and feeling very nervous, his camera hands shaking, while Issie schmoozed the Dior publicist, who told her Galliano would choose the models to shoot. Issie coughed theatrically, excuse me, she said, gesturing at Haluk, do you know who this is, he is an artist, no-one can tell him. He alone will choose who to photograph. Issie demanded, let me see John Galliano! The publicist said Mr Galliano was in a black tent and wouldn’t see anyone. Issie said, tell him Isabella Blow is here. The publicist left. Issie turned to Haluk, looking very stern. Wipe that smile off your face, she said, this is professional, you have to make these people think you are doing them a favour. When you choose the girls you just point and say, you, you, that one, this one. Never, ever, say please.
The publicist returned. Okay, Mr Galliano will see you now. Sure enough, he was in a black tent backstage in the middle of a vast open space, the tent surrounded by bodyguards. They were ushered into his presence. Ah, John, darling! Mwah, mwah. Lots of air-kissing by Issie, then she says, “I’m sure you’ve heard of Haluk…” and goes into her spiel. It seems to Haluk that Galliano is standing there in a daze, then Issie says, and now I’m going to do you a big favour! Great, says Galliano, what is it? “Haluk has never taken one photograph in his life before, but he’s a great artist and you will be his first ever picture.”
Wow, said Galliano, let’s do it.
Haluk’s spread duly appeared in Tatler under the headline Dream Works, which he hated but had no control over, in spite of being a great artist. He was constantly amazed by what Issie could get away with. A couple of summers later they went to a party on an island, Pig Island, near Turkey. Issie had called her accountants and arranged a new overdraft to hire a speedboat – “It’s business, darling, I need a boat” – to take some VIP guests who ended up not going, but Issie was stuck with the cost of the boat anyway, and so none too thrilled when she arrived at the jetty and the woman who owned the island came to meet her. “What a beautiful island,” said Issie, enthusiastically. “It must take its name from you.” “Oh, thank you,” said the owner, not realising she had been grievously insulted.
Issie and Detmar met at a wedding in 1988 and were married the following year, Issie wearing a medieval-style headdress made by Treacy, sweeping up her new young hat-making friend from western Ireland and pulling him into her extraordinary, eccentric, aristocratic world. He arrived at the wedding in Gloucester Cathedral in a helicopter.
Detmar had his own grand lineage, and shared with Issie a passion for art, fashion and history. His family estate was Hilles, near Painswick, not as grand as Doddington perhaps, but not exactly a two-up two-down either. Detmar’s father, Jonathan, had married a Sri Lankan woman, Helga de Silva, whose brother Desmond was a well-known and highly successful QC. Jonathan had been a journalist and suffered from depression, making several attempts at suicide before killing himself by drinking weedkiller at Hilles in 1977, when Detmar was 14. “How romantic,” Issie had once said to Helga, “that he died in your arms.” But he had not died in her arms, he had collapsed on the bedroom floor and the reality had been anything but romantic.
Helga had spent most of the following years back in Sri Lanka, leaving Detmar and his brother and sister to more or less fend for themselves. Detmar said that, in addition to their love for each other and their shared passions, he and Issie were drawn together by a sense of abandonment and, of course, a knowledge of death.
There was an additional burden for Issie, something cleverly identified for me by Issie’s old boyfriend, immediately before she met Detmar. Tim Willis, also a journalist, had met Issie during her earlier stint at Tatler in the 1980s. He recalled her living out of a suitcase on a friend’s floor and never having a home of her own. She was stateless, he said, and this was clearly painfully felt by Issie too, who once told an interviewer she had lived in 29 different homes, including a squat. It appears she did not feel she belonged at her family home in Cheshire. Willis, by his own admission, had not been as kind to Issie as he might have been. She called him the Reptile and would regale Tatler colleagues on Monday mornings with the latest weekend misdeeds of the Rep.
Issie and Detmar lived between London and Hilles, where they often hosted weekend house parties. Detmar said Issie brought the fun back to Hilles for the first time since the 1920s.
According to Helga, Detmar’s mother, she was fond of Issie but wanted her son and his wife to treat the place with respect. She suggested they share it with Detmar’s sister and her family. According to Detmar, his mother began legal proceedings against him and Issie, and eventually served them with a notice to quit. Locks were changed and unchanged. It evidently became quite hostile and unpleasant. His sister had her own family and was wealthy and proper.
Detmar and Issie, despite three attempts at IVF, could not have children, and, of course, had little money of their own either, relatively speaking. Detmar had practised as a family-law barrister, but really wanted to be an art dealer, and first opened a gallery in Shoreditch, later setting up the Blow de la Barra gallery near Savile Row. According to Detmar, the housing situation became a critical issue between him and Issie. She hated the tension with his family and wanted to leave Hilles, but he refused, as it was his home and he had the right to stay. This led to their separation in 2003. Later that year they both had affairs – he with the writer Stephanie Theobald, and Issie with an Italian hotelier who must have been down on his luck, as Issie sold a family painting for £15,000 to support his business and lavished gifts from Jermyn Street on him.
Issie had a brief affair too, during her separation, with Matthew Mellon, the good-looking but notoriously absent-minded former partner of the Jimmy Choo boss Tamara Mellon. Issie continued to care about “Mellon-juice”, as she called him, long after their affair ended. He was one in a long line of her “obsessions”, which were mostly for fads and fashions – saris, for example, or buying a stallion – rather than people. Detmar bought a pug dog he called Alfie, as in What’s it all about, Alfie?” – why are we pulling each other apart?
It was during the 18 months of her separation from Detmar that Issie began to suffer from clinical depression. Detmar thinks it must always have been there, but people who knew her over the years could not recall anything so serious. She was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which seemed to properly reflect the manic highs and desperate lows she was experiencing. Issie spent time at the Priory (supported by Tatler’s publisher, Condé Nast) and, then and later, tried various talking and chemical treatments, including lithium and, somewhat controversially, a bout of ECT – electroconvulsive therapy, also known as electric-shock treatment – which Detmar believed was effective for a while, in 2004.
As Detmar said, she was too impatient for any talking cure. The idea that she would “hang out” in some AA-type environment, complaining “My parents never loved me,” well, that was just never going to happen. She talked to friends, sometimes to anyone who would listen, about how she felt, but it was not directed in any way. And for some friends, it was hard to hear, over and over.
Philip Treacy loved Issie for her honesty. In a world, the fashion world, sometimes seen as populated by superficial, shallow monsters – How are you, darling? I’m wonderful, darling! – Issie was open and true and wore her heart on her sleeve. How are you, darling? I’m suicidal, darling, it’s terrible. Issie began to talk of suicide, of making plans. I have a plan, she would say, but I’m not telling you. Philip Treacy found it distressing hearing her talk like this, and, like everyone else who loved and was close to her, tried to talk her out of it. But of course, in reality, she was too depressed to hear. Detmar said he did everything he could. There was nothing more he could have done to protect her.
Bizarrely, Issie was obsessed with becoming a tramp and really believed she would end up a “bag lady”. The fashion world was moving on, new young stylists were ahead of the game, she was washed-up, forgotten, left over from the 1980s, was how she felt about herself. From there it was a short step to the park bench – that perfect stateless existence, identified by Tim Willis. She often stopped to talk to vagrants and would ask them about how they had ended up on the street.
As far as I could establish, she only tried it once, when she disappeared one day, giving her friends and family an anxious time – they feared a suicide attempt – until she reappeared in the night. She had been on a park bench at Blackfriars, but it had started to rain, so she went home.
The suicide attempts began in April 2006, and though each episode was sad and born of desperation, the stories were comic in her retelling of them, and she would often honk with laughter as the tales unfolded. I want to die, became her refrain. How would you like to die? Her tongue would pop out and wiggle. During oral sex. Blow jobs. She was always going on about blow jobs.
She went out for tea one afternoon while being treated at a clinic in Harrow. Instead of returning to the clinic, she took a taxi to the A4 elevated section near Ealing and climbed up to jump over the flyover. As she described it, she was wearing Prada wedges and a Prada coat. No doubt, too, she was drowned in her favourite Fracas perfume and had smeared her lips with a gash of vivid red lipstick. “Actually, I decided I didn’t want to jump, but it was too late.” She often spoke of losing her courage. She slid down, instead, clutching at the concrete with her fingernails, and dropped, damaging her feet and ankles, so that afterwards she was rarely able to wear her beloved high-heeled Blahniks. Flat shoes, she always said, were for lesbians.
Visited by a friend in hospital, she said, I really want to die, and, pulling something from under the bed, especially now I’ve got these! brandishing a pair of Scholl-type sandals.
On another occasion she should have been with friends in the front row of a Bryan Ferry concert at the Albert Hall. Instead she went to a railway station in Surrey and stood waiting to jump in front of a train. The stationmaster sort of arrested her and called Haluk, who could hear Issie in the background, “Let go of me, now!” Her friends wanted to rescue her, but Ferry, on stage, would have been horrified if they’d all got up and walked out, so Detmar went to collect her instead.
She escaped again from the Harrow clinic, using her old Condé Nast taxi account to call a cab to take her to Cheshire, near her old family home. She went to a hotel, undressed, took pills and vodka and lay naked on the bed – “like Marilyn Monroe”, as she later put it – waiting to die. Frantic phone calls by Philip and others traced her via the taxi firm to the hotel. The manager was called. As she described it, she was interrupted by this gentle knocking at the door and a weak little English voice: “Isabella, Isabella, is everything all right in there?”
“Everything’s fine, thank you. Go away.” But the manager persisted, and she eventually had to abandon suicide and get up and open the door. She ended up being taken by the police back to hospital in Harrow, furious with Philip on the phone at one in the morning for stopping her.
She texted friends from her mobile and signed herself “Miserabella”. She sometimes started to walk off Tube platforms, and would have to be pulled back. She once filled a sink and tried to drown herself by immersing her face in the water. “Oh God,” she would say. “I so want to die.” Then she would burst out laughing. She repeatedly asked one friend to get her a gun. Sometimes, he told me, he became so exasperated with her that he just wanted to give her a gun and say: “Go on, go ahead, do it.”
In the midst of all this she continued to work, sporadically. She and Detmar were reunited after about 16 months – “She’s desperately ill and you’re the key,” Detmar was told by a psychiatrist – and left Theed Street for a flat in Eaton Square, which they decorated beautifully in a baroque style, with large canvases and other art. There was a brass plaque in the hall: Mrs and Mrs Detmar Blow.
She went to Kuwait for a shoot with Sheikh Majed al-Sabah, the owner of the Villa Moda fashion stores. The assignment became difficult and, rather than being the easy return to work her friends had hoped, it led to a new suicide attempt and a spell in hospital, during which a suspected cancerous growth on her ovaries was discovered. Back in England the doctors decided there was no cancer, only cysts that needed to be removed. During that operation a widespread ovarian cancer was identified after all. Many people believed Detmar had made up or exaggerated the cancer to disguise Issie’s true cause of death, but he insists she was “riddled” with it, and though it was not necessarily life-threatening it would have needed chemotherapy.
“It wasn’t caused by smoking,” said Issie, a confirmed B&H smoker when the cancer was discovered. She loved the Cigar Bar at Claridge’s, and was never happier than when sitting there in a revealing black dress with a glass of champagne, wreathed in smoke, holding forth on her latest theme or obsession. “She was clever, eccentric, elegant. She would have amused every century,” said Kamel Belkacemi, a French stylist who was close to Issie in her last months. “She was really an artist.” Issie would have liked hearing that. She planned a party at Hilles for the first weekend in May. Haluk was invited but couldn’t go. Otherwise it was just Detmar, her sister Lavinia, and Philip Treacy with his boyfriend, Stefan Bartlett. Issie decorated the rooms with flowers and placed a book on Wallis Simpson by Philip’s bed. But by the time he arrived she was in hospital, having swallowed weedkiller on Saturday morning, just as Detmar’s father, Jonathan, had done in the same house 30 years earlier.
Detmar spoke to Issie on the Sunday for about two hours. “We both knew, but talked of art, fashion, cooking, a white pony and sunshine. It was very special.”
She died on Monday morning.
Her funeral at Gloucester Cathedral was an extravagant affair, with some “grotesque grandstanding”, according to Jeremy Langmead. André Leon Talley of American Vogue arrived in a navy-blue taffeta cloak with a 12ft train. But it was very moving, too, with an especially memorable speech by Rupert Everett, in which he described how Issie had once likened herself to a tear-sodden Kleenex tissue.
Philip was sorry they had forgotten to place a pack of B&H in Issie’s coffin. She would have needed those. But he had put in the pheasant hat he had once made for her, which she had always said she would like to be buried with, and on top of the coffin, on a black bust, he had placed his favourite of all the hats she’d ever worn, the “ship”, constructed with fine strips of featherbone, which he had ensured would travel into the cathedral at full sail by placing a hidden motor-driven fan in some flowers, so that the sails appeared to be blowing in the wind, as if by magic.
They were kindred spirits, Issie and Philip, and she would have appreciated that last little theatrical gesture
Last Modified 23 Nov 2013Created 28 Jan 2018 using Reunion for Macintosh