Just over six years after her tragic passing, the life–and death–of fashion icon Isabella Blow are the subject of a new play premiering this month at Miami’s Mad Cat Theatre.
Blow Me, written by Miami-native Jessica Farr, follows the British fashion editor on the eve of her final suicide attempt as she remembers the events of her life. Blow, who was famously credited with discovering designer Alexander McQueen, attempted suicide six times before succeeding on her seventh attempt. The play follows Blow’s life events out of sequence and includes appearances by her friends and loved ones.
“It takes place in the last moments of her life where these characters from her life come back to her and she gets to rifle through it and figure out what it all means,” playwright Farr says. “It focuses on her shortcomings as well as celebrating who she is.”
Farr admits she’s a longtime fan of the legendary editor. “Me and my best friend Mark would read about her, and dress like her, and find out where she was going to show up and when,” she says. “I wanted to delve into her brain and try to illuminate some stories from her lifetime–there’s more a focus on the fashion world than anything.”
And since Blow had so many friends in the industry, several of them make an appearance: Mario Testino, Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, Philip Treacy, and a character inspired by Andre Leon Talley each have small roles. “There was a version of the play that Anna Wintour was in, but it didn’t make it to this [final] version because of casting issues,” Farr adds. “I wanted Karl Lagerfeld and Manolo Blahnik, but they didn’t make the final cut [because of budget].”
Farr, who calls Blow Me a “dark comedy,” has already received criticism from audience members who feel she doesn’t sufficiently explain Blow’s motivation for suicide. Farr calls that criticism “unfair,” adding, “It’s not my place to answer why she killed herself.”
“It was a challenge writing someone who comes from such entitlement and who has fallen so greatly, because a lot of people have a hard time relating,” she continued. “You’re writing about someone who lived, who existed, who died not too long ago. So I wanted to keep the family in mind, and the industry in mind, but still raise questions.”
Since this is a play about a fashion icon who regularly wore outrageous headpieces by Philip Treacy with couture garments, the costumes are just as important as the actors. Costume designer Karelle Levy put together the wardrobe, a combination of thrifted items and handiwork. Levy, who has her own fashion line, was excited to work on the production. “It was so fascinating because she was a major icon, and my fiance is in London so I’ve been traveling back and forth anyhow,” she told me. “It was kind of like kismet.”
Levy spent her time traveling back and forth from London, where she visited Philip Treacy’s shop for research and took a summer course at McQueen’s old haunt, Central Saint Martins.
Farr isn’t the first to be inspired by Blow’s life; in 2010, the play Blow by Blow had a limited run at New York’s Midtown International Theatre Festival. It was also previously reported that there was an Isabella Blow biopic in the works, produced to be produced by John Galliano, though nothing has been heard of the project in a while.
Blow Me is currently in production at Mad Cat Theatre through September 1; Farr has hopes to bring the production to Edinburgh and New York.