Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Isabella Blow: Why Make a Movie?
News yesterday that there is to be a film about Isabella Blow, the colourful stylist who died by her own hand three years ago, does not inspire confidence. The major excitement seems to be that John Galliano will play himself in the film, which seems to be the brainchild – if that isn't too strong an expression – of milliner Philip Treacy.
Those of us who knew Isabella, worked with her and found much to empathise with in her life and to admire in her work cannot fail to be apprehensive when nobody as yet has considered it important to announce who will direct this enterprise. Or, indeed, why.
Isabella was a unique character who had many personae, ranging from the grandest of grand – seen only rarely – to the lowlife of London. In this and other respects, she always reminded me of Diana Vreeland. They were both instinctive, could talk with wit and memorable drama and could pluck the essence from cultural and historic moments about which their actual knowledge was hazy to say the least. Both had a filter which screened out the tedious or unnecessary facts and left them with the romantic nugget of gold for which they craved. What if they didn't know their Valois from their Viscontis? Who cared? They always knew what mattered.
Isabella had great zest for the funny, outrageous and shocking, daring herself to go further, to push beyond the limit every time. Her humour was frequently coarse and even cruel and her laugh Rabelasian. She adored extreme fashion, loved to be different and always managed to wear her mainly ludicrous hats with panache. Eccentric? of course not and she was rightly angered by suggestions that she was. Hers was a daily performance, calculated, clever and frequently inspired. Nothing was random or unconsidered. And that was her strength. She was a consummate performer. She needed her public … and she never let it down.
But I think we all knew that there was a terrible vulnerability and insecurity behind it all, something she could not hide. Her self-esteem could dip horribly low. She once summed up her professional life as a stylist as being on a par with working as a trolly-dolly taking food to the captain of the plane. Like a child who cannot grow up, she needed to shock, to draw attention to herself and yet she never wished to be discovered for her real self.
She surrounded herself with young designers, whose careers she promoted with more vigour than judgement in some cases, almost using them as a shield. Their names were a carapace that deflected criticism. Most obviously, she hid behind her costumes and her 'eccentricities', both of which were carefully calculated to obfuscate.
Lightweight and insubstantial as a shimmering dragonfly, Isabella was willful, unreliable and as changeable as the wind, dancing soley to her own inner music, never really heard by the rest of us except as a lingering fairy bell somewhere over the hills and far away. And now this fugitive, vulnerable creature is apparently about to be given 'the treatment', with at least two books rumoured to be coming out this autumn and now the film on the horizon.
Who needs any of them? Certainly not Isabella nor, I would have thought, the reading and film-going public. She should be left in peace, and those of us who have dear memories of her should be allowed to savour them as intensely personal things, to be shared only with those who will understand.
Isabella Blow was a pleasure for connoisseurs, not someone to be shamelessly paraded for the masses to deride.