#fashionblows: Philip Treacy’s touching tribute to Isabella Blow
The Fashion Blows exhibit runs until November 1 at The Room at Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street in Toronto. Photo: Courtesy Hudson’s Bay
If you haven’t made it down to the Fashion Blows exhibit at the The Room at Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street in Toronto, you’re missing out on experiencing a slice of fashion history. The free exhibit, which was created by Hudson’s Bay and The Isabella Blow Foundation, showcases 55 pieces from the famed fashion director’s collection. It’s a rare chance to see iconic work from Alexander McQueen, Dior, Galliano and Deborah Milner.
There are also 15 fantastical hats from Blow’s long-time friend Philip Treacy. Last week, Treacy and fellow designer Daphne Guinness attended the gala dinner held at The Room. Funds raised will be used to send a
Canadian fashion student to London’s famous Central Saint Martins College as well as support programs at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). In a touching tribute to his friend and muse, Treacy recalled meeting Blow in the 1980s and being struck immediately by her attire. “Most women who worked at magazine offices wore pearls. Isabella was wearing a transparent cobweb top with a skirt and high-heeled Manolo Blahnik shoes—she looked completely different from everyone else.” The pair were entwined in each other’s lives from the moment Blow asked Treacy to design hats for her wedding. “I was expecting a bride in white, but it soon became very clear that for someone like Isabella, this wouldn’t be a traditional dress," laughed Treacy.
What did Blow say when someone questioned why she chose a student hat maker for her wedding?
“She didn’t really care what anybody else thought," recalled Treacy. "If she set her mind on you, then there was no getting away from her. Every other day, she would throw out different references for the wedding, like
The Lion in Winter. I didn’t really understand what that was—it’s a play and, more famously, a 1968 film—her references and knowledge were so far beyond that of most people who work in fashion…. We started to develop ideas for her wedding, which would have a medieval theme. She wanted knights—nothing was going to be easy. But that was Isabella’s great knack: She filled you with fear and enthusiasm—fear about what you were taking on, but her enthusiasm was infectious. I made a gold headdress for her. I remember the expressions on all the faces when they saw her; they were absolutely stunned. After the wedding, I went back to London thinking what an amazing experience it had been and that I would miss her. Within an hour, I had a phone call from her on her honeymoon from a Bedouin tent in Morocco asking what her next hat was going to be. I had encountered the world of Isabella, and it was mind-blowing. Life was never dull with her around."
On how Treacy met Karl… “The word ‘commercial’ didn’t really figure in her mind. To Isabella, the word ‘commercial’ was a hat in the shape of an 18th-century sailing ship. She said everybody would want one, and she was right. I could have sold hundreds because they appealed to people’s sense of fantasy rather than their sense of appropriateness. Appropriateness was not a word she was interested in; she just focused on the fantastic. Early on, she called Karl Lagerfeld’s assistant and said that he must ‘come and see this boy.’ And he came. Before we knew it, Isabella and I were off to Chanel in Paris to show [Lagerfeld] my work. And just before we met with him, she turned to me and said, ‘Don’t call him sir.’ Fashion runs on fear, and Isabella was fearless."
On Blow’s struggle with depression… "It was very difficult for her friends to get through to her. Part of the problem was that she had a black sense of humour. She could be hilarious about her suicide attempts so people didn’t know whether to take her seriously. She felt so low before she died that, in a strange way, I’m happy her life has become bigger than when she was alive. She would have been charmed by that. Some people’s personalities come alive in history. They have a light, and she is one of them. Everyone wants to be remembered in some way once they go—and she’s getting that in spades with exhibitions, books, plays and movies. She would have loved this exhibition, and she would be thrilled that it’s here in Canada."
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