For those of you who participated in our first-ever Fashionista Book Club session on Friday, thanks for logging in! Since author Detmar Blow wasn't able to respond directly to your questions, we've put together a Q&A. More than anything, we think you'll find Detmar's answers sincere. Again, many thanks to Detmar for participating. More info on January's Book Club will be posted soon!
From @bongenre: I'm curious as to Rona (Isabella's stepmother's) cooperation with the book. It seemed as though she came off so badly, but then at other parts that she must've been aiding the writing of the book. Was it that perhaps that she could easily see how slighted Sir Evelyn's daughters felt about his will, and was trying to make amends? Or perhaps she wasn't involved at all and I'm just talking about nothing. haha.
Detmar Blow: Issie’s stepmother was very very helpful about Issie and her brother Johnny’s death. It was Issie’s stepmother who told Tom that Issie felt blamed for her brother’s death. It was really important information as Issie had never told me that she felt blamed for Johnny’s death. It was too dark for her to talk about it to me. Issie had tried with marriage to me to put the sad things behind her.She told me that there were things she was not proud of or interested in going into. We must look to the future.
That Issie felt blamed for her brother’s death was corroborated for me when I interviewed her school contemporaries who told me that Issie told them she felt blamed and responsible. It was a terrible burden for Issie. I had noticed that she refused ever to drive other people's children in a car.
Issie never got over that her father had left all his money to her stepmother. Issie talked openly about it. It was a cruel, cruel rejection by him of his children. He was a weak man to have done that. It tormented Issie for the rest of her life. She had loved him and he had betrayed her. Ultimately her stepmother may be a hard woman--but it was Issie’s father who let her and her sisters down.
From @hcastanon:Do you have any regrets? Do you think you could have done more to help Issie? I know it's mentioned in both books that you took a lot from people who thought you didn't do enough, but i want to know from YOU!!! Yourself what you think?
Detmar Blow: I gave Issie all the love, support, and encouragement I could to live. But I am not God.
And Issie did try hard to fight her depression, which was partly genetic. (As she knew.) Her grandfather had committed suicide and his half brother had drunk himself to death.
At the end she became determined to kill herself. She went to three private hospitals and two state hospitals in the last two years of her life.
It was Issie’s decision to take her own life. As I know from her and my father’s suicide it is something I will never get over--and the legacy leaves a scar on many people.
Issie was angry that a few people, who loved her and could do nothing themselves, decided out of frustration and love use me as a scapegoat and to criticize me at the time. Issie told me that I was an angel, blameless--it was her choice--and that I had given her, as I had done for 19 years, unconditional love.
The blame game is a wrong one. Issie would have hated it. Everyone tried to help Issie--myself, her sisters, Conde Nast, and her friends.
No one wanted her to die. Sadly it was her decision. And Issie was determined.
Now we must celebrate her amazing life. She achieved beyond her wildest dreams.
From @bongenre: Detmar, were you surprised by how beloved Isabella was? You wrote that she would've been surprised and delighted by how appreciated she was by high flying industry figures and fans alike, but did you see it before her passing?
Detmar Blow:I was very proud how Issie inspired and encouraged so many people. I feel Issie was let down by the fashion industry--that was in all three addresses at her memorial service. I am comforted though that when Issie was dying she told the nurses “Google me--I am important." Issie died proud--she knew she had made a mark. Coming through customs she told me proudly that the immigration officers had seen her and said “We know who you are. No need to show your passport.” She was proud.
I am sorry the dark depression got such a grip on Isabella. It was as she suspected partly genetic. Her feckless grandfather had committed suicide--and suffered from depression, as did his half brother. Issie was dealt a tough hand in life but she fought hard. She could not see herself as an elderly childless woman.
From @bongenre: Not a question (yet) but thank-you for writing such a personal book. A lot of criticisms I've read have said you wrote an account of your own life that happened to include Isabella, and that there were moments where you wrote about yourself in ways that weren't necessary. I largely don't agree, it seems that you two shared so much, especially the anguish in your childhood, and seeing it on the page like that only added to the readers empathy for how Isabella might have felt. I'm still interested in reading the outsider's account, but I picked up the insiders account first for a reason and you delivered.
From Detmar Blow: Thank you. The book is called Blow by Blow. I was married to isabella so it is definitely about my own life, our life and and our families as well. I wrote 130,000 words which Tom brilliantly edited and polished to approximately 73,000.
My first conversation with Issie at the wedding on September 24, 1988 was about the sadness and deaths in our families.
Issie was very inspired by my family. We lived partly at Hilles the arts and crafts house my grandfather designed and built. The tradition was creative and egalitarian. It has been like that for 100 years. Issie was inspired and very proud about it. It inspired McQueen and artists since it was built.
I think it is hard to write about Issie’s life without knowing her family history--the places she grew up and went to, where she lived etc.
From @anne: I was wondering why he felt the need to write a book about his late wife?
Detmar Blow: There were several reasons:
I wanted to make sense of why issie had taken her life. She told me when we met and became engaged in 1988 that she wanted to draw a line on her early life. She was not she said proud of some of the things. I knew it must have been dark. When i researched it I found it much darker than I had suspected, ie the blame for the death of her brother, heroin, a real anger with the first boyfriend, babies.
I wanted to deal with my father’s death on paper.
i had kept a diary before and during my life with Issie that i needed to write it up. I relived our lives and now it is committed to a book. I am released from the adventures we had-- good and bad. i was interested in describing Issie factually and not the fantasy myth. Issie was a great bubbling creative person funny brave mischievous etc – she also carried a dark emotional burden. Her school friends recognized it at Heathfield but not many others later in life. She put a mask up.
I was interested in describing the person underneath the hats, clothes and “armour.” A courageous woman who had been dealt a bad hand in life-- death, suicide, poverty, homelessness, childlessness--who courageously fought hard and achieved beyond her wildest dreams.
I based my book on 19 years of living and knowing Issie, what she told me about her early life, our archives--letters, cuttings, papers which she gave me--I did a history degree and then practiced as a lawyer an am interested in fact not fiction, her medical notes, and interviewing some key people. The book is about my wife who I knew better than anyone else.
I believe Issie to have been an important person whose creative legacy will become more and more important.
From @leahchernikoff: I am only interested in my book.
It is a tribute to issie. And I as her husband am very proud that there is so much interest in her life with people wanting to write about her and make films, etc. She will not be forgotten anytime soon.
(I do like the Thames and Hudson “coffee table” anecdotal with beautiful pictures book by Martina Rink and Philip Treacy.)