Isabella Blow on Alexander McQueen

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Style queen and promoter of fledgling designers Isabella Blow tells us why she's such a fan of Alexander McQueen

  • Read our tribute to the late Alexander McQueen

    My relationship with McQueen began in 1994, when I went to a Saint Martins graduate show. I couldn’t get a seat, so I sat on the stairs and I was just watching, when I suddenly thought: I really like those clothes, they are amazing. It was his first collection. It was the tailoring and the movement which initially drew me to them. I tried to get hold of him and I kept calling his mother, but he was on holiday. She kept saying: ‘He’s not here, he’s not here.’ She told him: ‘This crazy person is trying to get hold of you.’ I eventually got to meet him and I decided to buy the collection: I bought one thing a month and paid him £100 a week. He’d bring an outfit in a bin liner, I’d look at it and then he’d come to the cashpoint with me.

    Shortly afterwards, he moved into my house in Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, and I used to cook dinner for him and other designers. Philip Treacy was there, Hussein Chalayan at at one point I think, and Rifat Ozbek and Manolo Blahnik used to drop in. He was exactly the same back in those days as he is today: really funny, very witty, as raw as he is soft – he’s still got that great mixture of fragility and strength.

    We like the same things: we love the country and we love animals. In fact, he’s crazy about animals: he’s got masses of stuffed ones around his house (near Hackney’s Victoria Park). There are two deer when you walk in. He loves anything: pigs, dogs, birds, reptiles, and he collects crocodiles. I gave him an amazing crocodile with an open mouth as a gift but when I went there recently I noticed his paws were falling off so it doesn’t look as good as it did.

    Nothing annoys me about him, except maybe the fact that he snores. We’ve never disagreed for more than about 20 minutes. I might have overstepped the mark a few times. He’s very sensitive and very private, but occasionally, just like brothers and sisters do, we’ve bickered. I was like a mentor and then a mother, and now we are equally respectful of each other – I think it’s changed quite a lot. It’s very balanced now.

    We don’t see each other as much as we used to – these days we speak at least once a week, but we used to speak four times a day. It’s like vampires: you need somebody and then you don’t need the drug any more. He rang me out of the blue to see what I was doing and I said I really needed a holiday and he offered to send a plane for me to go to Mallorca, which was so sweet.

    We’ve had some of the most fantastic times together in the past. I used to go and have tea with his parents in Stepney – his mother’s lovely. She has a wicked sense of humour, and she’s got those McQueen blue eyes. Very comely, and the minute you enter she’s always got a joke. I think Alexander is very like his mother.

    The most exciting time I’ve had with him was when we learnt falconry together at my house in Gloucestershire with two local mechanics who were obsessed about training wild birds. We did it for about two years. He loved it. He was fantastic too – he was very good at getting them back. The birds, that is.

    Yes, he is richer than me now. Ha! All I can say is that he can keep the riches and I’ll wear the rags. I’ve probably got about 40 McQueen pieces in my wardrobe altogether. He gives me some clothes, loans me others, and I have to fight for them. I have a very good relationship with Gucci – we have an agreement and I have an allowance (about three pieces a season). If I go over that I have to pay for them. Going for a fitting with him is great: you have these fantastic moments when he’s breathing like a pig, concentrating. It’s wonderful. He sees everybody’s body as a silhouette; Plum Sykes told me she had 10 fittings for her wedding dress.

    He’s been a success at such a young age; his dreams have come true. I think he will be remembered more like Yves Saint Laurent than Chanel – he changed the way we look at women because he pulled the whole silhouette down beneath the hip and altered the way we walk. His influence is monumental.

    Alexander McQueen - The bare facts


    1969 Born in Stepney, east London, the youngest of six children.
    1985 Leaves school and embarks on apprenticeship at Savile Row tailor Anderson & Shepherd, then Gieves & Hawkes.
    1989 Employed by Koji Tatsuno.
    1990 Moves to Milan to work as Romeo Gigli’s assistant.
    1994 Moves back to London to complete an MA in Fashion. Isabella Blow buys his first collection.
    1996 Named British Designer of the Year (wins three more times); made chief designer at Givenchy.
    2000 Gucci buys in to McQueen brand; launches ready-to-wear, plus scents, eyewear and menswear.
    2003 Honoured with a CBE.
    2005 Launches first handbag range. Everyone wants one.

    Read our tribute to the late Alexander McQueen 

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3 comments
Angela Lau
Angela Lau

Completely moved by the Isabella Blow Fashion Galore exhibition which is on at Somerset House until 2 March 2014. Don't miss it.