Isabella Blow by Harriet Verney
Illustration by Fernando Monroy
Harriet Verney is a London based writer, journalist and producer who contributes to i-D, US Vogue and Vogue.com, LOVE, GQ, TEEN VOGUE, Stylist Magazine, Wall Street Journal, CNN Style and many more. She has previously been contributing editor at WONDERLAND and Senior Editor at LOVE magazine as well as Online Editor and currently sits as a producer at CNN Style.
It was the early naughties and Izzy was at her most exuberant. The outfits were getting more elaborate, bigger, more in danger of getting caught in a closing door and generally wilder. The hats were getting taller, more intricate and louder while Izzy’s fame was reaching its peak. Subsequently, this meant cat callers saw her as an easy target, which was great because there was no one better at a snappy response. ‘What the fuck are you dressed as?’ someone once shouted at her as she got out a cab. She lowered her crystal sunglasses, took a good hard look at the man who had asked the very question I’m sure a lot of people were thinking, and said matter-of-factly, ‘Well you don’t look so great yourself Ducky.’ And off she went.
Izzy was a harbinger of the new, arrestingly loyal, encouraging and accepting. She held the record for the most expensive shoot (I think still to date) at Tatler where she was Fashion Editor--she believed you go hard or go home. She would later be fired from Sunday Times Style for the very same attitude. Nothing shocked her, and my god did we try. Ask anyone who was in her life or met her: it was never, ‘make that smaller’ or ‘tone that down,’ it was, ‘make that much bigger.’
Recently I was in a black cab and we were going passed Vogue House, the driver started telling me the story of a woman with ‘feathers on ‘er ‘ead’ and wearing ‘dress up clothes’ who, as she came out of Vogue House, didn’t even look to cross the road and caused two cars to bump into each other and a traffic jam to quickly build up. Typically, she just carried on walking, oblivious. ‘Fucking amazing,’ he said shaking his head, ‘she looked bloody amazing.’ No prizes for guessing who he was talking about.
There are so many stories I could write that illustrate her kindness, the impact she had on strangers and friends alike, her generosity (she once gave me a piece of McQueen for fetching a fag from the kitchen for her, #winning.) But I don’t think even The Queer Bible has enough room for them, there are that many.
We found out Izzy had died at about 5am on the 7th May 2007. Me and my Mum rushed across the fields to the house she shared with my uncle Detmar. I remember him on the phone, quite composed but squeezing his black pug Alfie Blow so tight his already frightening obtuse eyes were popping out their sockets. He was on the phone to a tabloid newspaper who had been incessantly calling after a tip off from a nurse at the hospital. Trying to bide some time for us to digest what had happened, he told them it wasn’t suicide that had killed her and made up another illness—I don’t think any of us wanted to admit that the illness that had been in her shadow her whole life had finally caught up with her. He finished the phone call, grabbed the dog and as he closed the heavy door put his fist in the air and said, “long live Queen Isabella” and we all repeated, “long live Queen Isabella.” It sounds silly and perhaps pompous to some, but she really was a Queen. Queen of fucking everything, Queen to the Queens, the matriarch of our family. I was asked to write something about her as a gay icon, but her iconography and status as an icon, for me, transgresses every community, its infinite and all encompassing. Just like her.
Fernando Monroy is a Mexican illustrator currently studying in México city. His work references pop culture, reflecting the work of photographers, designers and fashion. Out Magazine named him one of twenty young queer artists to watch.