Hats off to Isabella
The Dominion Post | Thursday, 27 September 2007
CAROLYN ENTING/The Dominion Post
HEAD TURNER: Isabella Blow, the stylist, muse and talentspotter who died in May, loved the extraordinary in everything, especially hats.
She was his muse, his friend and his surrogate mother. Bess Manson talks to milliner Philip Treacy about the incredible Isabella Blow.
Hats, according to the late Isabella Blow, were the perfect alternative to plastic surgery.
And if each hat she owned amounted to an operation, Blow's body would have been of Barbie-esque proportions.
Blow – stylist, muse, talentspotter – who died in May this year aged 48, loved the extraordinary in everything, particularly when it came to hats, which is what led her to champion the career of milliner Philip Treacy.
The hats Treacy created for her in the past 20 years were works of art. Literal conversation stoppers.
It's not difficult to imagine the audible intakes of breath as Blow entered a room with a ship or a pair of sheep horns on her head.
Thirty-two of the hats Treacy made for Blow are the subject of an exhibition coming to The NewDowse in Lower Hutt next month. And while they will not have quite the same effect as they might have had Blow been donning them, the sheer artistry of his design and imagination will be something to behold. The exhibition, When Philip Met Isabella, was first shown at the London Design Museum in 2002. A book by Treacy featuring photographs and sketches of Blow in some of her most outrageous and memorable outfits was launched at the same time.
Among the hats on show are The Ship – a replica of an 18th-century French ship with full rigging made from miniature buttons, the rose-pink damask Pope modelled on the papal hat, and Birds of a Feather, made from gilded eagle quills that Blow wore perched on her head with an accompanying ball and chain.
The relationship between Blow and Treacy sounds like quite a ride.
They first met in 1989 when he took one of his hats to Michael Roberts, fashion director of Tatler magazine, and met his style editor, Isabella. "Our conversation that day was like 20 seconds and I thought nothing of it. A few weeks afterwards, the secretary at the Royal College of Art, where I was studying, said some lady had been phoning up. She wanted to know what my schedules were like for the next six months. I didn't know what she was talking about, but it turned out to be Issy. She was getting married and had decided I was going to make a hat for her . . . I couldn't believe that I'd hit upon a person who didn't expect tulle and veiling and pearls for her wedding hat."
Blow, who helped launch the careers of fashion greats Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald, and model Sophie Dahl, was so impressed with Treacy's work she invited him to set up a workshop in the basement of her and her husband Detmar Blow's Belgravia house after he graduated from the Royal College with first class honours in 1990.
"All these wild people pitched up at all hours of the night trying on hats. Issy and I were like Harold and Maude trekking around London in a car. We'd go to an exhibition, or go to visit someone. We'd go and get books. We'd go and have a drink. And all our talk was of hats."
Treacy seems almost overwhelmed when describing the kind of person Blow was and the effect she had on his career.
Blow, who had suffered depression throughout her life, was being treated for cancer when she died. Her death, according to a London coroner, was as a result of drinking the deadly weed killer Paraquat.
"She was everything to me and my career. A muse, best friend and surrogate mother.
"She was the first extraordinary, interesting person I met in this country when I moved here from Ireland. In 20 years I have met all my heroes and nobody, in my honest true estimation, surpassed her. She was incredible. I thought there must be others like her, but there wasn't. Everyone was boring in comparison to her.
"With Isabella there was always drama. One of my favourite memories is of her revving up an 80-seat coach at Orly airport dressed in an original green Paul Poiret cocoon coat with a mesh bobble hat. The driver was missing. It was hilarious. Genius. She was taking me to meet Karl Lagerfeld, chief designer at Chanel. When you go to Chanel at the age of 22, well, it was like going to heaven. When we turned up she said, 'We'd like some tea,' just like that."
Treacy was born in Ahascragh, in County Galway in the west of Ireland.
One of eight children, he says one of his earliest memories was of making hats for his only sister's dolls. In school he opted for sewing classes instead of joining other boys in woodwork.
"I was always influenced by beauty. At home in Ireland we were taught about the beauty of nature. We had lots of chickens, pheasants and geese so the prime ingredient of the hats I make are feathers because I know them very well. I now appreciate the profound effect my childhood had on me.
"Some of my brothers became psychiatrists and alcoholic counsellors. They deal with complexities of the mind and it's fitting that I deal with what sits on the head." Treacy says he makes hats simply because he loves them.
A good hat, he says, is the ultimate glamour accessory. "It thrills observers and makes the wearer feel a million dollars." In 1985, he moved to Dublin to study fashion at the National College of Art and Design. Three years later he won a place on the MA fashion design course at the Royal College of Art in London. Hats had always been a hobby for the young designer but here he specialised by doing a hat course – the first the college had offered. A year later he met Blow and the ascent of his career began. He went on to design hats for Lagerfeld at Chanel for 10 years. Treacy, who opened a shop one door up from Blow's home in 1994, has also made couture hats for Valentino, Gianni Versace and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy. He has won the British Designer of the Year five times. Most recently, he has been working on the interior design of a hotel in Galway and he is working on another hotel, this time in London.
Blow had two favourite hats, Treacy says. One was The Ship, the other The Pheasant. Of The Pheasant, he says: "She always used to say, 'I love the Chinese **** in the country. I wear it. I eat it. I want to be buried in it.' She would have loved the drama of the night before her funeral. Alexander McQueen and I were at her flat in Belgravia choosing what she would wear to be buried in. Mr McQueen chose something beautiful and appropriate from the rails and rails of exquisite McQueen she has collected, and I choose the pheasant at her request."
Treacy, who says he has always wanted to visit New Zealand to check out the landscape, says those who knew Blow loved her. Those who didn't thought she was "an eccentric crazy woman with a hat on". She had something common to all of us, but unusual in fashion, he says – "a big heart". "Her dilemma was she worked in the fashion business but was more interested in the fashion than the business. She lived for the art and drama of fashion. She would attend a show with 600 people all sitting there dressed in black, all serious, and there she'd be with a lobster hat on her head and a Nell Gwyn-inspired gown. She would be the only one to woo-hoo and clap. She didn't care. I was so inspired by how she wore my hats. She wore them like she was not wearing them, like they happened to be there. She was never a snob. She believed in talent no matter where you came from.
"I will miss her laugh, her passion and her humanity. I went to my studio today and Isabella is everywhere. In every hat I made, every corner I turn she is there."
When Philip Met Isabella opens at The NewDowse on October 6 and runs till February 3.
I posted this in the designers forum but then saw this thread and thought it might be of some interest here too.
"Let's stop treating models like greyhounds we plan to shoot after a race. We have to remember we are dealing with real people who have real feelings."
- James Scully
i realised her not being there only really at GILES' show where she was always next to me!
she was missing a great deal.
i know its no replacement but i had to look at ANNA PIAGGI instead
weet tweet tweet @w_i_p_monaco
Reading up on her is totally worth the time - she was a true visionary, she lived and breathed the beauty and the tragedy of fashion.
I bow to her spirit- at least she's at peace with herself for once.
She must have been one of the most tormented souls walking on this earth.
Last edited by beatrice_neumann; 11-10-2007 at 03:16 AM. Reason: spelling
Isabella Blow lives on in my mind. Thank you for posting all these articles and photos.
If life deals you lemons, make lemonade . . . if it deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.
Editorial: "La Couture Nature"
Magazine: Vogue Paris March 2000
Photographer: Satoshi Saisuka
Stylist: Isabella Blow with the collaboration of Marie Du Petit Thouars
Assistant Stylists: Oleen Baird, Ludivine Poiblanc
Models: Devon Aoki, Lara Belmont
These are only 7 of 11 pics.
|blow, isabella, stylist|