Elevate Difference

Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion

Before Lady Gaga adorned her poker face with a diamond-encrusted lobster, there was the original eccentric fashionista Isabella Blow, the flamboyant muse to couture designers who, despite being the toast of London’s glitterati, would die at age forty-eight by her own hand. As a fashion director, she survived as one of Anna Wintour’s assistants to later become champion of the avant garde. From hot pink cobwebs to towering peacock feathers, there was nothing that Blow wouldn’t dare crown herself with. While she discovered both fame milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen, none of her accomplishments could prevent her suicide by swallowing poison in May 2007.

Even in death, Blow continues to make headlines and is now the leading lady of two books based on her extravagant life. One was written by her husband Detmar Hamilton Blow and the other by journalist Lauren Goldstein Crowe. Although she never knew Blow personally, Crowe was compelled to investigate the addict of lavish hats. Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion is more than just a biography. Rather, it’s a love letter that faithfully depicts who the icon really was. From a tumultuous family history to the final moments of an even more tragic life, Crowe expertly crafts a tale that’s more awe-inspiring and heartbreaking than anything ever written about Blow.

While Blow’s husband claims that Crowe’s biography is riding on the “Issie bandwagon,” she took on an even greater challenge than rehashing old diary entries. Crowe proves to be a masterful reporter in her investigation of Blow’s 600-year-old legacy and gives readers clues why the successful editor chose death over further redefining a world in which she ruled supreme. The dark cloud that shadowed Blow wasn’t unknown to her family. According to Crowe, her grandfather Jock Delves Broughton “injected himself fourteen times with Medinal, a barbiturate.” Then there’s her brother John Delves Broughton who, at age two, choked to death. It comes as no surprise that, after interviewing countless friends and relatives, Crowe would find out that Blow once told a nurse:

So many people kill themselves, it’s not unusual. It’s just unusual to have someone who wants to die so much to have been left here... I had eight suicides in my family. It comes like that to us. It’s like bacon and eggs. It’s like cheese and toast. I just have to make sure it happens the next time.

Crowe successfully questions what others haven’t dared asked: why is it that the elite were surprised that the patron of the obscure wouldn’t want to live? And more importantly, why didn’t her closest friends, including the husband that continues to mourn her, further attempt to give her the treatment she so desperately needed? Crowe exposes what many of us refuse to accept: that when someone is suffering from a serious depression, they will show anyone who’ll listen that they need help, whether they ultimately want it or not.

It’s difficult to overlook the glitz and glam shielding Blow’s mysterious life, yet Crowe never stops at digging for the truth behind the editor’s fears. From having an Italian lover named Casanova, to spending the last of her money on a luxurious picnic basket to share with her non-existent beau, the author implies that, despite how she felt about her looks, Blow could have been anxiously searching for the one person who could make her feel as beautiful as she so greatly desired. Instead of romances, she sought salvation with crowns of monarch wings, veils of delicate petals, and glorious sun bonnets, ensuring that not even statuesque sirens of the runways could attempt to steal the spotlight from the “ugly’ star. Sadly, her light would quickly dim before audiences throughout the world could fully appreciate a style she created.

Would Crowe have written Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion if it’s main character wasn’t famous and fatally flawed? Probably not, but does it matter? The point of Crowe’s book is to introduce readers to a real-life woman, one who didn’t shy away from exposing the wounds she attempted to shield. And while Blow didn’t live long enough to obtain the aid that could have encouraged her to live, we can now be assured that her legacy in fashion will continue to shock and inspire artists forever.

Written by: Stephanie Nolasco, February 11th 2011

Thank you for this review. The book really sounds fascinating.

Dear Stephanie,

I only just found this review online. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a careful study of the Blow book. You've got a great style and I look forward to reading your books one day.