Socialite Obsession: Isabella Blow

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You know you’re someone when Anna Wintour speaks at your memorial service. Or when Joan Collins speaks at your funeral. Joan would never waste her time on mere mortals.

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Isabella Blow didn’t need to die to get such reverential treatment. She chose to end her life in spite of it, after battling depression and being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But let’s not have her death and much-publicized disappointments overshadow her  brilliant  life.

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When one thinks of Isabella Blow, they think of her outrageous hats. This post will feature a few of these, and highlight some creative achievements that get overshadowed by her personal tragedies in the media.

  • She began as an assistant to Vogue’s Anna Wintour. Did not freak out.
  • She was a muse for designer Phillip Treacy, with whom she shared a lifelong collaboration after he created a wedding headdress for her.
  • She was the Fashion Director for Tatler.
  • She discovered the fashion world’s enfant terrible Alexander McQueen and model/actress Sophie Dahl.
  • She consulted for DuPont Lycra, Swarovski and Lacoste.
  • She made a cameo in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic

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And these accomplishments are just the icing. She was a socialite, but when out and about in the fashion scene, she didn’t merely get tipsy with friends. She made deals and enjoyed creative collaborations. She was more interesting than she was beautiful. More business-minded than she was bubbly. And more sensitive than many of us. She left us too soon.

Simon Blow

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Socialite Obsession: Millicent Rogers

Millicent Rogers Muse 1The word “socialite” is thrown around too loosely, just like the term “genius.” I have a slight obsession with socialites – the classic ones. I don’t favor the nouveaux riche girls – gold-digging, ostentatious and all too willing to use a sex tape to bolster them to very temporary tabloid fame.

At least socialites back inRV-AE203_ROGERS_G_20110909030651 the day had a tougher time breaking into a man’s world. And those glass ceilings gave a lot of them gumption; one of the reasons why so many gay men adore them.

Take Millicent Rogers. An heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, she’s regarded as a fashion icon and art collector. All of these things are true. But she was also a pioneer. With art, she didn’t collect just the standard European classics. She was an early champion of Southwestern-style art and jewelry. In fact, she’s credited for bringing international attention to this style.

Most New Yorkers retreated to Palm Beach or Italy to get away from the city, but Millicent retired to Taos, New Mexico. Back in the 1940’s, Taos was but a small artist colony. It wasn’t yet the spiritual stomping ground for Julia Roberts and Dennis Hopper. She was ahead of her time. So ahead of her time, that she was one of the first celebrity activists for Native American civil rights.

But the thing I am most impressed by, is that she wasn’t a whiner. Her heart was bigger than the average heart. I’m 03-18-12-dogs-in-vogue-book-05not talking about kindness. At her autopsy, her heart was discovered to be four times the size of a regular human heart. She had rheumatic fever as a child, and doctors said she wouldn’t live past ten. While they were wrong, she suffered poor health the rest of her life. This included heart attacks, bouts of double pneumonia and by the time she was 40, she was mostly crippled in her left arm. She died following surgery for an aneurism.

That didn’t stop her from marrying three times, and having romantic trysts with the likes of Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales. She raised three children. She lobbied for civil rights in Washington. She was a hot item on the New York social scene and photographs of her were often featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

She never dwelled on her ill heath, failed marriages and she certainly never tried blending in with the pack. Every time she veered off the reservation, she did something great she was remembered for.