The past five years have not been easy for Daphne Guinness. Two of her close friends committed suicide: first Isabella Blow, the iconic fashion editor, ingested a liquid weedkiller, and almost three years later, Alexander McQueen, her favourite designer, was found dead after hanging himself on the eve of his mother's funeral.
Their tragic deaths have left a gaping hole in the world of fashion. But through a series of calculated maneuvers, the infamous beer heiress has risen to become a warrior of sorts. Wielding her wealth and social clout, Guinness has taken aim at anything that could tarnish the legacies of both Blow and McQueen.
|Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness.
As the late designer's muse, Guinness lent several of her own pieces to Savage Beauty, the breathtaking exhibit presented by The Costume Institute last summer to celebrate McQueen's contributions to fashion. Last fall, Guinness also made a point to showcase never-before-seen designs created by McQueen as part of a special exhibit at FIT devoted to Guinness' life in fashion.
And now, Guinness will be selling portions of her own couture collection through Christie's of London. The money raised through the auction will go to support her latest charitable endeavour, The Isabella Blow Foundation.
Buried inside the pages of the auction's catalogue, Guinness left a personal note, explaining her motivations behind the sale. "Issie will assume and occupy her true place in the constellation of fashion stars...the sale was the only practical way for me to say thank you to my friend who I carry in my soul."
Unlike McQueen, the contributions of "Issie" (as Blow was affectionately called by those closest to her), have been glazed over. Aside from beautifully worded obituaries, the life of Blow had all but faded into mainstream oblivion. Until of course, Guinness stepped in two years ago and made headlines when she blocked Christie's from selling Blow's entire couture collection. For Guinness, the auction represented a bloodless murder. In an interview with New York Magazine, the heiress imagined how McQueen would have reacted to the news. "I know he would have been horrified with the auction…this is Issie's art. This is her body."
Blow's sisters made the painstaking decision to put her collection up for sale after coming to terms with the massive debt load she bequeathed to the family. Rather than watch her friend's treasured items scatter to different bidders, Guinness paid to acquire the entire collection. The very act of her purchase has morphed Blow's collection - with over 90 McQueen dresses and 50 Philip Treacy hats - from rare gems into endangered historical artifacts. In the same interview with New York Magazine, Guinness hints at the immense pain she felt when going through and organising her friend's outfits. "It's tough, a little bit. I do think, 'Where are you, you're supposed to be here. You checked out on me, why?'"
It was Blow who first discovered McQueen while he was still enrolled at Central St. Martins School of Art and Design. In 1994, after seeing his work during a school presentation, the quirky editor not only offered to buy his entire collection, she welcomed him into her home. While she fearlessly championed his artistry to her contacts, the young designer hemmed together fabrics inside her London flat. Guinness was one of the many people Blow reached out to and no matter how hard she tried, her friend (at first) wanted nothing to do with McQueen. Guinness only began paying attention to McQueen when he began designing for Givenchy. "I would always say, 'No, I don't want to.' And he actually came up to me ... and he said 'Hello, I'm the person you don't want to meet,'" admitted Guinness.
Blow's instrumental role in supporting young talent is by no means limited to McQueen. Before he cut cloth in her basement, it was Philip Treacy who called the studio home. The legendary milliner came to Blow's attention after coming across a hat he created while still a student. Inspired by crocodile teeth, the green felt hat motivated Blow to incorporate Treacy's designs into her daily getup. Even on her wedding day, Blow was outfitted in a Philip Treacy helmet.
|Isabella Blow. Source: noirofficial.com.|
Starting out as a Anna Wintour's assistant at Vogue in 1981 (and later André Leon Talley's), Blow quickly made a name for herself through her unorthodox approach to styling. When she left New York, she served as fashion director of the Sunday Times and worked at Tatler. In both positions, she used her power to nurture the careers of models like Sophie Dahl (whom Blow discovered crying on a corner after arguing with her mother), Stella Tennant, Honor Fraser and Daphne Guinness herself.
The two style rebels became fast friends during a 90th birthday party for Guinness' relative. Blow injected potent levels of faith into her new friend, hiring Guinness as a model and stylist for several editorial shoots. Together they shared an insatiable appetite for all things couture. The women exchanged different veins of creativity; quietly masking inner demons with beautiful tailoring, metals, spikes, taffetas and tulle.
Despite her brazen personality, Blow detested her reflection. She frequently said that she was ugly. Whether it was a lobster encroaching on her forehead (mimicked over a decade later by Lady Gaga) or a feathered mask, Blow's headgear became a way to hide. She famously once told Hamish Bowles, Vogue's international editor-at-large, "if you're beautiful you don't need clothes. If you're ugly like me, you're like a house with no foundations; you need something to build you up."
While Blow perceived herself to be ugly, Guinness appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia. While Blow was desperately trying to have children, Guinness had three. While Blow's father disinherited her from the family estate, Guinness - as we all know - sits perched atop a gold mine. In fashion life, Blow was perceived to be an eccentric, trend pariah, while Guinness became known as one of the world's most glamorous women. When Givenchy hired McQueen, Blow was pushed to the wayside and Guinness' friendship with McQueen bloomed. Despite their differences, the blond heiress and the mad hatter maintained an immeasurable respect for one another.
Both women had a love for bright, bold lipsticks and whimsical outfits. They understood the escapism of couture, how it lets you hide in a world of unforgiving observation. Fashion was a way of speaking without saying a word. Like Blow, many of her outfits were used as shields. Printed on the wall of last year's FIT exhibit (named in her honour) is a quote from Guinness, dispelling a bit of her style logic. "I think it's beautiful to be able to cover yourself in metal. I love the color and the way it reflects. But it is also a protection."
The upcoming auction at Christie's aims to raise an estimated £100,000 (C$160,200). Pat Frost, Director of Christie's Fashion Department announced that the sale of items would allow individual buyers to support the foundation's mission of assisting young designers, as well as mental health charities. Everything from early 21st century designs to the infamous 12-inch "lobster" boots created by McQueen will be featured. "We are delighted," said Frost, "…this [is an] incredible one-off opportunity to buy some of the most iconic and cutting-edge haute couture…owned and worn by Daphne Guinness."
Blow attempted suicide at least twice before she died. Towards the end of her life, she believed that despite her status as a fashion icon, she did not have a real career. As McQueen continued to amass notoriety and wealth (through his dealings with Givenchy and Gucci), the man whom she christened "Alexander" did not carry her along. In her mind, McQueen cheated on her with his other fashion soul mate, stylist Katy England.
Much like McQueen, the promotion and deal negotiations Blow did on behalf of other designers like Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano and Julien Macdonald were largely done for free. As Guinness explained to the New York Times, "Everybody else got contracts, and she [Blow] got a free dress…It may be that she didn't know how to ask for a position…but getting that kind of acknowledgment would have given her esteem. She poured all of that esteem into other people, but had none of her own."
In selling her clothes, Guinness does more than just push painful memories away - she refits Blow's legacy. Choosing instead to turn the reputation of Blow as an erratic trendsetter, into a woman who cultivated a brilliant understanding of creativity and design.
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