10 April 2009


The Fashion World always creates its Chameleons- and sometimes It must just stand off to observe (themselves in a fish bowl) -the few others that swim in the sweet tidal pool all there own.

One that has struck me of late is Isabella Blow. It is certainly her uniqueness that attracted so many.

“She would say, ‘I’m going to be a bag lady, I just know it,’” says Treacy. “She talked about the Marchesa Casati, who lived on a park bench and every time she got money, she spent it on gardenias.”




What struck me was her resemblance to Elsa Schiaparelli. That's what this story is about. The physical appearance is there,the rarity of a unique beauty- the black swan. Both women were photographed by the greats of their day and there are many portraits of them to consume. Their beauty was unconventional but potent. It is their sense of knowing themselves and what their strengths were that enhanced that potency and makes us go back to portrait after portrait and look for their secret. Fashion plays it role, brilliant photography too- But it is the women themselves that capture.

"There is no excellency of beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."
Sir Francis Bacon

Isabella Blow by photographed by Phil Poynter

Elsa Schiaparelli by Man Ray

George Hoyningen-Huené photographed fashion legend Elsa Schiaparelli

Isabella Blow by Steven Meisel

Isabella is credited for the discovering and launching Alexander McQueen (above pic) and when McQueen was hired by Givenchy everyone assumed his muse -Isabella would go along with him. It never happened and the once tight relationship was fractured. Isabella was hurt- though she had the constant appearance of not just style-but money- she needed to earn a living. Her creative collaborative efforts were accepted but never financially rewarded. Many of Blow's friends felt she should have owned an agency or designed her own line -the ultimate outlet for a fashion force like Blow.

Schiaparelli's relationship with the Dada and Surrealist movements led to collaborations with Dalí, Cocteau, and Giacometti. Chanel referred to her as 'that Italian artist who makes clothes' (not nice-Cat.) Her collaborations with various artists contributed to the vast range and variety of her work. Schiap was extremely successful and able to call her own shots throughout her career. Perhaps this is just one area that frustrated Blow in her fashion quest.

Isabella and crustacean (above and below)

Schiap's Crustacean Dress

Elsa Schiaparelli's famous crustacean dress was made in
collaboration with Salvador Dalí and worn by Wallis Windsor. The Duchess was one of Blow's much loved fashion icons, as exhibited in her London flat- a painting of WW.

WW in the dress

Isabella's Duchess painting of Wallis Windsor

Schiaparelli in her apartment

THE Ladies' APARTMENTS in the color purple-above( photograph by Fritz von der Schulenburg)

...more images of the two~ by famous photographers-

1. Since most women do not know themselves they should try to do so.

2. A woman who buys an expensive dress and changes it, often with disastrous result, is extravagant and foolish.

3. Most women (and men) are color-blind. They should ask for suggestions.

4. Remember-twenty percent of women have inferiority complexes. Seventy percent have illusions.

5. Ninety percent are afraid of being conspicuous, and of what people will say. So they buy a gray suit. They should dare to be different.

6. Women should listen and ask for competent criticism and advice.

7. They should choose their clothes alone or in the company of a man.

8. They should never shop with another woman, who sometimes consciously or unconsciously, is apt to be jealous.

9. She should buy little and only of the best or cheapest.

10. Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.

11. A woman should buy mostly in one place where she is known and respected, and not rush around trying every new fad.

12. And she should pay her bills.

and a little love from Isabella Blow







  1. conjures the thought... the woman's fashion designs were not only insights into humanity but also a comment of society at large...amazing

  2. Yes- I can get the same feeling about that today though- what do you think? G

  3. I missed this stunning post at the time. Your juxtaposition with Schiaparelli (Elsa and Isabella) is inspired. The tragedy of her suicide is redeemed by the surrealist fact that she did it by weedkiller - her symbolic act of stamping out pervasive mediocrity is what I salvage from it!

    I saw Blow standing outside a couture show in Paris in a mad hat. Do you know, I just can't remember now whether I went up to her and told her how wonderful she was or whether it was just that I meant to. I think and hope it was the former.

    I met Detmar Blow at the Groucho club, but truth to
    tell it wasn't a very easy encounter. And whilst, I am name-dropping (oh how easily that comes to me!) I was at art school with Stella Tennant. She is tenuously related to D. Blow and I was interested to
    see in that film that it was Isabella who introduced her to modelling. Us art students were all amazed at the time but how wrong we were proved.

  4. I think Elsa Schiaparelli is probably the only designer who pushed the envelope and created "edgy and avante garde " designs that were still "beautiful and aesthetically pleasing". She doesn't achieve this through symmetry, classic cuts, traditional colors and color combinations, the golden ratio, perfect proportions, none of the elements that make something beautiful. She just mixes things together - color, shape, texture, size etc. - to come up with something edgy but still beautiful. Even her misses (aesthetic-wise) - like the shoe hat - are so much fun and funny, making beauty unnecessary. No wonder Chanel felt so insecurely competitive about Schiaparelli. She should have just given up, enjoyed her own success, and felt proud that she created a design so classic and perfect it never, never went out of style (don't tell me you don't know I'm referring to the Chanel suit).

    1. Lani, thank you for revisiting this story-I am always glad when someone prompts me to go back as well. I could not agree more! I especially find you comments about feeling secure of one's own contributions-success. It seems the most talented are often the most insecure-having to scorn the work of others around them, or simply giving them a cursory glance. We always elevate ourselves when we can be appreciative of other's successes. Makes Us look good. Chanel stands as the classic, indeed. pgt



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