Clement-Jones family - Person Sheet
Clement-Jones family - Person Sheet
NameHarriet Charity Vivian VERNEY , 516
MotherLavinia Mary DELVES BROUGHTON , 271 (1965-)
Notes for Harriet Charity Vivian VERNEY


“Harriet Verney is a London based writer who currently contributes to both i-D and American Vogue. She has been shot by both Mario Testino and Nick Knight (for i-D's 30th birthday issue) and recently launched her own online magazine, "Pigmee". The niece of the late Isabella Blow, Harriet is also the founder of the 123 store, an online shop with access to new British designers, affordable art and quirky gifts.”


Harriet Verney: ‘Living with the Blows, all these creatives and depressives,
was just normal’


UPDATED: 00:01, 28 October 2012

Rising stylista Harriet Verney has inherited a flair for fashion from her famous aunt, the late Isabella Blow. She tells Richard Dennen about her unconventional childhood and the bond with her beloved ‘Issie’

Without a doubt, Harriet Verney will be the next British fashion superstar. When US Vogue was looking for someone to write a piece about cool hair for the September issue, it turned to Harriet. She is a 19-year-old eccentric, a fashion-mad, posh, anarchic, stylish girl about East London who has already founded her own magazine, an online fashion shop and starred in an independent film. She is also the niece of the late Isabella Blow – the fashion director of society magazine Tatler who famously discovered Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy – from whom she has inherited her love of fashion.
We are at Hilles, the famous Arts and Crafts house near Painswick in Gloucestershire where Harriet grew up with her mother Lavinia, Isabella’s sister, who still lives there. With sweeping views across five counties, the rambling house was built by the grandfather of Isabella’s husband, Detmar Blow (also called Detmar, he was the great society architect of the early 20th century).

It’s midday. Harriet is lounging on a sofa in the drawing room, wearing a 1930s tea dress and bright red lipstick, smoking furiously and talking enthusiastically. Lavinia – another fashion eccentric often spotted around the Cotswolds replete in a boiler suit, and the spitting image of sister Isabella – is busy making lunch, while Harriet’s best friend Scarlett is running back and forth bringing glasses of port to her friend.

‘Issie would pick me up from school in those amazing hats and then my mum would arrive in a US army boiler suit’

Harriet’s parents – her father Harry Verney is a lumberjack – divorced when she was small, and she and her brother and mother moved to the Blows’ estate. She has inherited a team of half-siblings: Rosie, 27, Freddie, 23 (both from her mother’s first marriage), and Ralph, 11, and Honor, nine, from her dad’s second marriage. Lavinia, now setting up a bespoke candle company from her HQ in the garden shed, has moved among the seven houses on the estate and the main house – the setup has a vague whiff of aristo-commune as the Blows, their families and friends drop in and out for 
tea (the writer Plum Sykes lives in one of the houses and Detmar Blow divides his time between Hilles, Lisbon and London).

Growing up among her extended family, Harriet was the daughter Isabella never had. ‘Everyone asks if Issie has been an influence on me, but when you’re young you don’t think about fashion or the industry like that,’ says Harriet of her aunt, who committed suicide at Hilles in 2007. ‘Her death was like a bludgeon to the family. She was the most maternal person. She couldn’t have children so…she was more of a mother to me. She was a catalyst and the energy behind the whole clan, orchestrating the most absurd ideas.’

What for other people could have been embarrassing left Harriet unfazed: ‘She would pick me up from school in those amazing hats and then my mum would arrive in a US army boiler suit – to me these were the most mundane things. And living with the Blows, all these creative minds and depressives…it was just normal.’
Her fashion education started at a young age. ‘One of my early memories is of going to a Philip Treacy show – we were always backstage afterwards.’ At weekends, Hilles was a mecca for the fashion and arts world, filled with the likes of Bryan Ferry and Daphne Guinness. Harriet was photographed by Mario Testino at the age of three, interned at McQueen at 16, and was photographed by Nick Knight for style bible i-D at 18. ‘Everyone was here and I was too young to know about the outside world or how important someone like McQueen was. I wasn’t fazed about who came to visit. It was only later that I realised how amazing these people were. I didn’t need to read magazines – we had enough stimulation here.’

Harriet had access to Isabella’s famous wardrobe which filled the attic of Hilles. ‘She would give me things the whole time. She’d say, “Can you get me a cigarette from the other room and I’ll give you this Pringle jumper,” and she’d just take it off. And I thought, “Cool, OK.”’ Upstairs Harriet has a Julien Macdonald fur and assorted Treacy hats that never made their way into the fantastical Isabella Blow Collection saved for posterity by Daphne Guinness after Issie’s death. (The recent Guinness auction at Christie’s was for the upkeep of Blow’s archive, hopefully to be exhibited in the next year.)
For fashion connoisseurs, saving Isabella’s clothes was wise. In Harriet’s hands they might not have been so well preserved. Harriet – like her aunt – is a firm believer that clothes are made to be lived in. ‘Not long before Issie died, I was in the attic with a friend putting on a £25,000 McQueen jacket and I ripped it down one side. Luckily when Issie came upstairs she thought she’d torn it and just said: “Look how clumsy I am!”’

Harriet also shares another obsession with Isabella – Isabella’s grandmother Vera Delves Broughton, who was married to the baronet Sir Jock Delves Broughton. After their divorce, Sir Jock remarried and moved to Kenya where he became one of the protagonists of  the Happy Valley scandal in the early 1940s, later turned into the film White Mischief. Sir Jock, having been acquitted of the murder of his love rival, the Earl of Erroll, returned to England where he committed suicide. Vera, meanwhile, devoted much of her time to travelling.

‘We have 20 leather-bound photo albums from Vera’s travels,’ explains Harriet. ‘We grew up looking at them – photos of polar bears and the Arctic. Vera also flew planes. Until 2000 she held the record for the biggest tuna ever caught. For a woman to travel in those days was unheard of.’ There’s a decrepit cage still at Doddington Hall, the Delves Broughtons’ family seat in Cheshire, which was built for a monkey and a bear brought back from one of her great-grandmother’s travels. ‘Vera was someone who was flamboyant, completely fearless and ahead of her time, which Issie was too,’ explains Harriet. ‘I think Issie mimicked that. She couldn’t stop talking about Vera – and of course, we’re all influenced by her. It makes you quite competitive when the other women in your family are very high-powered and ambitious. I think Issie wanted to beat that.’

Harriet won a scholarship to Westonbirt, a smart girls’ boarding school in Gloucestershire. ‘They want to make you into the perfect wife. But I couldn’t do that so I rebelled a bit.’ After four suspensions she was expelled at 16. ‘They said, “You’re a danger to yourself and everyone around you – get out.”’ After a brief stint at state school in Cirencester she headed to London with her mother’s blessing but no money, writing for i-D and living in a small flat in Shoreditch. Days were spent working at a clothes shop in Bethnal Green and hanging out at a tiny recording studio called HQ. ‘It was painted black and was full of old, drunk men. You slept on the sofa if you didn’t have anywhere to sleep.’
Now Harriet has launched an online magazine, the name inspired by one of the family tales about Vera Delves Broughton. ‘She was with a tribe in Papua New Guinea. They offered her food and she was polite and ate it. They asked if she knew what it was, then told her it was a pygmy.’ So Harriet has named her trendy, wacky lifestyle mag Pigmee. ‘It’s meant to be fun. I was told I needed a proofreader but I said, “No way!” There are so many spelling mistakes in it.’ Scarlett Carlos Clarke, daughter of the late photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, is her partner in the operation. The idea for the magazine came when she put together a piece for i-D. ‘It was about stylish and talented 18-year-olds, who have no constraints’; i-D loved it. ‘I started thinking that’s what I want to do: to showcase young, talented, creative designers and artists. People who aren’t inhibited or influenced yet by the world around them.’

Harriet’s other big project is The 123 store, an online shop with access to new British designers, affordable art and bizarre gifts. When she arrived in London she came across a four-storey shop called 123 Bethnal Green Road, which was predominantly used as a gallery. She liked it and became their buyer. ‘I changed it into being about the “Best of British” and went to all my friends who are designers and said, “Please put your graduate collections in, I’ve got to fill this space!”’ She started with two brands – by the time she’d finished she had more than 200. ‘They were new, young designers and ethical brands. One dress you clapped at and it blew up. Another you poured water on and it changed colour.’

But then she fell out with the owners and bought the name. ‘And I took all the designers with me – it was very September Issue – and put them online.’ They are fashion graduate friends and discoveries; new kids making a name for themselves. She’s also thrown a bit of ‘anarchist art’ in there too, as well as gifts (such as ‘tooth’ necklaces and cuffs), funded through her writing and an investment from her uncle, Amaury Blow. ‘I’m trying to celebrate that British thing, something that was big in the 90s with McQueen. Now we’ve had it again with the Olympics. I want to get artists and designers to make things together and not outsource to other countries. We’ve got great talent in Britain.’
Being a bit anarchic, a bit fashion – that’s what Harriet does best. It’s in her genes.
Last Modified 27 Apr 2013Created 26 Jan 2020 using Reunion for Macintosh