In Part 1 of this exclusive excerpt from the afterword of Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion, Lauren Goldstein Crowe examined the widespread allegations that fashion was to blame for the tragic suicide of Isabella Blow. Today, in part 2, she looks at whether these allegations actually point to the fact that the fashion industry suffers from an image problem.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen toiled in an industry notable for its high profile. These days, even magazine stylists are household names thanks to the onslaught of reality TV shows. The deaths of Isabella and Alexander made news because they were recognizable names, not because they were an example of an industry-wide epidemic.
The fashion industry is just that — an industry — but people seem to hold it to a higher standard than they would another industry. Would people complain that not enough farmers came forward to help when one of their own is in trouble? Some people are able to deal with the obvious hypocrisy in the industry, just as some lawyers are able to deal with the hypocrisy in theirs. And those who can’t, leave. David LaChapelle stopped taking fashion photographs four years ago at a time, he said, “when it was raining money.” He thought he’d move into something like farming, but then art galleries began calling him. He hoped that Isabella would be able to make the same shift, but even if she had, a change of career alone would not have saved her.
What the fashion industry has — somewhat ironically for an industry focused on creating images — is an image problem. Because photographs featuring young and beautiful people are used to sell fashions that change rapidly, people assume that the fashion industry also churns through the old in favor of the new when it comes to those who toil in its ranks. (This isn’t helped by the fact that workers in the industry tend to wear mostly black, the color of death, making them all too easy to mock.)
But the history of the industry is filled with jolie laides like Isabella who work happily until their twilight years. Carrie Donovan from The New York Times, Diana Vreeland at Vogue and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art are just two famous examples. The front row of any major fashion show is filled with more than its fair share of coloured-over gray coiffures. Photographers Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier were both born in the 1940s and Helmut Newton was working right up until his death at the age of 84. The ages of Karl Lagerfeld (77), Oscar de la Renta (78), Diane von Furstenberg (64) and Carolina Herrera (71) do not stop them from creating clothes that young women still dream of wearing. Of course not every fashion student that gets touted as “the next big thing” makes it, but the same can be true of those deemed young star musicians, actors, writers and even fund managers. The fashion industry is not alone in being a fiercely competitive industry, but it is uniquely singled out as the root of the problem when one of its workers trips up.
When Isabella was born, it was unthinkable that a woman from her class would have to work for her living. But work she did — and it was work she enjoyed. This did not kill Isabella Blow, but neither could it save her. The business did value what she brought to it, and she was rewarded with ample opportunities for financial independence. But it could not provide her with what she needed. Isabella wasn’t looking for just a career when she began to work, she was looking for a place she could feel at home.
She once said to a client, “Let me speak to Donald. He’s my artist. He’s shooting for you, but he belongs to me. Eloise (the model) belongs to me. This is how I work. They’re my family and I work with my family. I work very, very closely with the people I’m with. And the problem was not that Donald and Eloise didn’t feel the same — likely they did. But trying to extract that kind of love from a job is too much to ask of any occupation — even one filled with equally passionate people.