BLOW BY BLOW
Daphne Guinness is determined to keep alive the legacy of her friend, British fashion icon Isabella Blow
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
Isabella Blow, top, and Daphne Guinness, above