BLOW BY BLOW

Daphne Guin­ness is de­ter­mined to keep alive the legacy of her friend, Bri­tish fash­ion icon Is­abella Blow

The Weekend Australian - Life - - STYLE - GLYNIS TRAILL-NASH Fash­ion Ed­i­tor

Nine years af­ter her death, Is­abella Blow is still writ large in the minds of fash­ion lovers the world over. Those of us who never met her can im­me­di­ately con­jure up her black bob, topped off with a Philip Treacy sculp­ture mas­querad­ing as a hat, a slash of blood-red lip­stick on her mouth.

For those who knew her — this ap­par­ently ec­cen­tric, clever, witty crea­ture — the loss must have been dev­as­tat­ing.

Daphne Guin­ness was one of those who felt her loss keen­est, but she is also one who helps to keep her mem­ory alive. When Is­abella Blow: A Fash­ion

able Life opens at Syd­ney’s Pow­er­house Mu­seum, part of the Mu­seum of Arts and Science, next week, it is thanks to Guin­ness’s im­pul­sive act in buy­ing Blow’s fash­ion col­lec­tion.

Orig­i­nally ap­proached by Treacy to “bid on a hat” at an up­com­ing Christie’s auc­tion of her fash­ion es­tate in 2010, Guin­ness in­stead stopped the auc­tion go­ing ahead and bought the lot.

“Not be­cause I wanted to wear the clothes,” Guin­ness points out to Life. “I did it im­pul­sively, from an emo­tional point of view. I thought: ‘This is what should be done.’ I was in a po­si­tion I could do that. There are a lot of crows every­where that hover around when some­one dies.”

The sig­nif­i­cance of Blow’s per­sonal col­lec­tion can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated, es­pe­cially in terms of early work from some of Bri­tain’s most sig­nif­i­cant de­sign­ers. Blow fa­mously bought the en­tire grad­u­a­tion col­lec­tion of Lee Alexan­der McQueen, and nur­tured the de­vel­op­ment of oth­ers in­clud­ing Treacy, Julien Macdon­ald and Hus­sein Cha­layan.

“I’m very, very glad we kept the col­lec­tion to­gether,” Guin­ness says. “I would pre­fer to have my friend, but this is the sec­ond best thing (you can do), to pro­tect their mem­ory and hand them on to the next gen­er­a­tion, be­cause we’re all mor­tal.”

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing the two women should have be­come friends, given their back­grounds.

Blow came from an aris­to­cratic fam­ily she could trace back to the 1300s (her grand­fa­ther Sir Henry John Delves Broughton was em­broiled in the Nairobi mur­der scan­dal of the 1940s drama­tised in the film White Mis­chief); Guin­ness is an heir to the Guin­ness brew­ing fortune, was mar­ried for 15 years to Greek ship­ping heir Spy­ros Niar­chos, and is grand­daugh­ter of Diana Mit­ford. “We went back a long way, her grand­mother al­most mar­ried my great-grand­fa­ther, our fam­i­lies were in­ter­twined,” Guin­ness says. “When I came back (to Bri­tain af­ter my mar­riage) she was the first per­son I con­nected with on a se­ri­ous art level.

“She took art se­ri­ously and took peo­ple se­ri­ously and was ex­traor­di­nar­ily clever.”

Both women have de­scribed us­ing fash­ion as a sort of ar­mour (Blow said the hats were “to keep ev­ery­one away from me”; Guin­ness that fash­ion is “def­i­nitely a form of de­fence”).

Both have strad­dled, in­flu­enced and worked within the art and fash­ion worlds; and both have been de­scribed as fash­ion icons. (Guin­ness’s lat­est project, her de­but al­bum, Op­ti­mist in Black, is re­leased this month; the ti­tle track cites the bleak pe­riod fol­low­ing the deaths of Blow and McQueen at their own hands.)

While Blow started her ca­reer at US Vogue as Anna Win­tour’s as­sis­tant (then col­league Ev­ge­nia Citkowitz de­scribed her as “com­pletely baroque com­pared to her co-work­ers”), it took full flight back in Bri­tain, in fash­ion ed­i­tor roles with Tatler, The

Sun­day Times Style and Bri­tish Vogue. Her shoots were provoca­tive (she fa­mously in­tro­duced nip­ples to so­ci­ety bible Tatler, with a fash­ion shoot in the al­lit­er­a­tively aligned Naples), var­i­ously in­clud­ing el­e­ments of the sur­real, the aris­to­cratic, the ma­cabre and the gothic.

“She was vi­sion­ary, ec­cen­tric,” says Guin­ness, “and ex­tremely ef­fi­cient, ac­tu­ally, and very, very pre­cise. She didn’t want some type­face ru­in­ing a pic­ture, for ex­am­ple. She would be very up­set if things were not edited the right way.”

The show in Syd­ney will in­clude more than 45 out­fits, in­clud­ing pieces from her afore­men­tioned pro­teges, McQueen, Treacy, Macdon­ald, Cha­layan, as well as Dutch de­sign­ers Vik­tor & Rolf. There is a strong fo­cus on pieces cre­ated from wool, given the ex­hi­bi­tion is sup­ported by the Wool­mark Com­pany’s an­nual Wool Week.

De­spite Blow’s in­flu­ence on emerg­ing tal­ent and the broader fash­ion in­dus­try — it was Blow who con­nected Aus­trian crys­tal com­pany Swarovski with McQueen to em­bel­lish his pieces (“That was pretty rad­i­cal at the time,” says Guin­ness), a ubiq­ui­tous con­nec­tion to­day — Guin­ness be­lieves Blow

TIM PETERSEN

Is­abella Blow, top, and Daphne Guin­ness, above

ROX­ANNE LOWIT

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