This article made me cry. I remember seeing Isabella Blow in the streets of Paris with a dress made of plastic cards. All the heads on the street did a double take. She always had the most amazing clothes and hats while perched in the front row.We even went to the same hairdresser in the 6th arrondisment. So, I was a bit shocked when I read that Christie's in London was going to auction all her life away in the form of clothes and objects. It felt like a rape. Thank god for Daphne Guinness' love and friendship to save Issie's s estate from turning banal. What a real friend and soul you are Daphne. Respect.
‘Why I stopped the sale’
By Daphne Guinness
Published: July 3 2010 00:13
The first thing I thought of when I heard earlier this year that Isabella Blow’s personal effects – including her wardrobe – were due to go under the hammer at Christie’s London was a sonnet written by Oscar Wilde and entitled “On the Sale by Auction of Keats’ Love Letters”, specifically the lines: “These are the letters which Endymion/Wrote to one he loved in secret, and apart/And now the brawlers of the auction mart/Bargain and bid for each tear-blotted note.”
It is now an open secret – though I did not want any publicity for my action – that, by purchasing the entirety of the lots, I stopped the auction. Since then, however, there has been so much speculation about why I did this, I have realised an explanation is needed.
The story begins on the morning of May 7, 2007, when I was woken in New York City at 4am by a telephone call from Alexander [Lee] McQueen. I had been dreading, but half-expecting, this call for quite some time. Issie was dead, he said. She had poisoned herself. It was an awful death, an agony that lasted for two days. I don’t think either of us stopped crying for the full hour and a half of our conversation. Lee had seen her just the week before and he was so grateful for having had that time with her; I had, for various reasons, been regularly uprooted from London, and the last time I saw Issie was a fleeting visit before Christmas, though we had spoken in the weeks afterwards and she had seemed more positive about life. Still, I will regret not having seen her during this time for the rest of my days.
God knows, we – her sisters, her friends – had tried to stop this tragedy. Issie had made several attempts to take her own life as her depression took hold over the last few years; often it seemed she could not speak of anything else in her quintessentially English, moving and often hilarious way. Only Issie could make you laugh about a terrible thing like a fatal attraction to suicide. She would describe her obsession in detail, combining her gallows humour with her vast body of knowledge and finishing it all magnificently with her incomparable laugh. Still, she was stubborn and eventually had her way, and we failed. Or, maybe, she won.
My resulting fury at what was, to me, the most tragic loss, is something I cannot, even now, describe. Indeed, I shall never get over Issie’s absence, and when I heard her estate needed to be settled so that her sisters could pay off its debts, the realisation of what that would entail was really the last straw. The planned sale at Christie’s could only result in carnage, as souvenir seekers plundered the incredible body of work Issie had created over her life: the hats she wore every day and had made in duplicate; the laser-cut black leather dress Alexander McQueen had made her with the fitted bodice and full skirt; the shocking pink Jun Takahashi burka she had insisted on wearing to a show in Paris. (Issie had worn the burka after convincing David LaChapelle to shoot models backstage at the couture; before the Dior show an especially earnest journalist from Le Monde had attacked her for her choice of dress. Issie just brushed her off like a vague annoyance, defending her right to dress as she pleased and adding that she was standing solidly beside the women upon whom the burka was imposed.) Isabella never dressed down.
Indeed, in many ways, the auction would not be merely a sale of clothes; it would be a sale of what was left of Issie, and the carrion crows would gather and take away her essence forever. That so much of Issie’s history has become bound up in her death and the way in which she died meant that the main theme of the event would be her end, which is not, by a long shot, the whole story; it should not define her. With biographical books and movies about to appear, the timing made me absolutely nauseous and I know she would have hated it.
Isabella and I belonged to similar worlds and we were educated in much the same way. I knew her, but not as well as I would later, first in the 1980s when I was a teenager and she was married to her first husband. Upon my own marriage I left England for Europe, not to return until about 1998, when we bonded completely. After 16 years London was almost unrecognisable to me: the boom had brought huge amounts of money, and the urban landscape was a shadow of the one I had left. But Issie remembered what I – we – had known, and brought to that an adventurous imagination and spirit that matched my own.
I didn’t think it was a coincidence that her grandmother, Vera Delves Broughton, and my great-grandfather, Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne had been very much an item for years, spending their time on the Rosaura, his boat, sailing around the world in the 1930s, from Papua New Guinea to the jungles of Africa and the deserts of the Middle East. (Walter wrote two books on the cultures he found there, and brought the first living Komodo dragon back to Britain before being assassinated in Cairo as the last British minister in the Middle East.) It seemed as if an invisible hand had drawn us together.
We would often lament the passing of this older England, which was in the process of being poisoned by the presence of so much money that it had become almost impossibly expensive for artists – or indeed, anyone – to live in the city. Issie was often described as eccentric, because it is easier for most people to write off individuality in that hackneyed way, but I would say instead that Issie was irrepressibly generous with her time and her friendship, and had an incredible impact on the worlds of design and art.