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The Sad Hatter


Things got darker still: A few years ago, Detmar’s mother realized how fabulous Hilles had become. Like all the guests, she was taken with the lapis-lazuli lamps topped with golden lampshades. She liked Loïc’s food, she liked that you never knew what you’d hear—Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols, Wagner. But unlike the other guests, Mrs. Blow Sr. had claim on the place, and she wanted it back. She decided that she’d be the mistress of Hilles, and also that it should be a home for exactly the future generations Detmar and Issie had failed to provide.

Blow had no claim even on the “hideous pink” house she’d grown up in, and she’d already seen her family exiled from their grand manse. It was something out of Trollope, this new battle, and it was also more than she could stand. “It was like the whole thing with her stepmother all over again,” Detmar says. “I just said, ‘Fuck it. My mother’s an Oriental death-pot, and I’m over it.’” Detmar was willing to fight his mother, he says, for Hilles. “But Issie said, ‘No, Detmar, I have to go.’”

“Can you imagine,” says Philip Treacy in a slow, practiced voice, swinging around in a Lucite Barbarella bubble chair at his London office, filling the room with cigarette smoke, “putting your heart and soul and life into a house and then thinking you might lose it? When you’ve already lost one home?” He shakes his head at the thought. “Here’s how it works here: People marry the eldest son, they believe they will inherit the house. And Issie brought that house to life. She breathed life into that house for fourteen years, and then to be told you couldn’t go there anymore?”

“Someone finally said, ‘Look, Issie, if you really mean to kill yourself, there’s a pool out back, go drown!’ ”

Blow packed up her hats, and her coats, and her endless pairs of shoes and retreated to London. Officially, the Blows continued to share a house there where, Detmar says, he’d leave Issie elaborate love notes begging her to ignore his mother, to come back to him, but she resisted. She often stayed with Treacy during this time, and Treacy believes that her resistance was mostly self-protective. “She said, ‘Samo,’ which is ‘same old shit,’ which is all that Basquiat ever said,” Detmar says. “It’s not the most original thing for her to have said, but that’s what she said. Samo. I finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll move out,’ and I rented a flat in Shoreditch, which is very fashionable.” He also had some affairs, most famously with Stephanie Theobald, a supposedly lesbian writer.

“I had a lot of loneliness,” he says, defending himself. “Issie was always working. I had to schedule time with her, so I always had these platonic crushes. Because I was married to Issie, I got much prettier dates than I ever could have on my own.”

Blow, for her part, retaliated with the gondolier and his bulging white pants, but in the end, she told her friends that he stole a lot of her money and wasn’t good for much else.

So she made her first attempt at death, with a desperate plunge off a bridge nicknamed Suicide Bridge in London. She survived, but shattered zillions of bones in her legs and in her feet. She was condemned to flat shoes and took, that season, a bye on the collections. Yet Detmar came to her side and she let him. His mother was on to other pursuits by then and they moved back to Hilles together.

But Issie would tell anyone who asked that she was morbidly depressed. She tried all sorts of therapy, even electric shock. Her friends sat and listened as much as they could stand. “The best thing you could do was listen,” says Wintour. “It didn’t make sense from the outside, but that’s the illness.”

“One day she was crying,” Detmar recalls, “and she took this crumpled-up tissue and showed it to me and said, ‘This is me. This is what I am.’ Rupert Everett was there, and he said, ‘No, Issie. That’s a handkerchief.’ And it was good of Rupert to say that, but it was never enough.”

Last Christmas, the fashion publicist Karla Otto convinced Blow to take a vacation with her to Goa. One afternoon, Blow drove her rental car to the beach, took a handful of sedatives, and set out for the sea, determined to die in the manner of Virginia Woolf. “But the beach is very wide in Goa,” Otto says. Blow passed out well before reaching the water and was rescued by a taxi driver who found her hotel name on a key in her pocket and returned her, unconscious, to Otto. “She said, ‘You don’t understand, Karla,’” Otto remembers, "‘because you like to live. I don’t. So let me go.’”

And on the 7th of May, after having taken a great, final swig of weed-killer and gone to the hospital, Blow left for good.


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