Fashion Galore! at Somerset House is a celebration of Isabella Blow's life in clothes, a seduction as hardcore as her lipstick in Tamara de Lempicka red. She's no longer with us, of course. When she got fed up with the world and everybody in it, she drank weed killer. Sometimes when I'm fed up, I wear Fracas, her favorite perfume.
"In the end I was just lips and a hat," she said. But Izzy was always more than the MAC lipstick she designed (they wouldn't let her call it Blow Job) and the Philip Treacy hats she wore to stop people from swooping in for air kisses. "Fashion is a vampiric thing. That's why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me."
While Isabella had her armor, I have a Please Don't Kiss the Baby sign stuck on my Kelly bag, because hats mess up my hair. Besides, who wants to be loved by the undiscriminating?
I never met Isabella, but I caught glimpses of her enough times to notice what we had in common. And what we didn't. She hated Egypt, and I know that I never want to go back to Cairo, even if it is the only place on the planet to get burnt orange toe paint.
The first time I saw her was in the Tatler office, where I'd gone for a summer job as a sub, but failed the test. "You're not boring enough," the editor told me, as he interviewed me in a closet. "We'll find you something else." I wondered if that meant samples to take home with me. Through a crack in the door, I saw a girl with her sweater open, revealing a black lace Rigby & Peller bra. The queen's lingerie maker never had better publicity than this corrupt angel. "That's Isabella Blow," he said, anticipating my unspoken question.
In those days her name was always followed by the story of her grandfather, Jock Delves Broughton, whose decadent life was made famous by the movie White Mischief, about sex-mad cokeheads in Kenya.
Death always hung over Isabella. This can be seen in Fashion Galore! in scrapbooks and press cuttings about her aristocratic ancestors. When she was a child, her baby brother drowned in a puddle on the grounds of their ancestral home. After his death, her mother moved to London and her father moved on to a new family, disinheriting her.
They never lived in Doddington Hall, but in a smaller house on the grounds. Isabella was homeless in her heart, empathizing with the tramps sleeping rough in Hanover Square park opposite Vogue House. She made art her home, dressing up as a magical installation. "Always accentuate the head and the feet," she said. Her feet belonged to Manolo Blahnik and her head to Philip Treacy, though she planned to have it sent to her father when she died.
Not exactly beautiful, at least in the classical sense, Isabella could have been the Duchess of Windsor on acid with a dash of dachshund on top. Except she didn't need the acid. She had a love-hate relationship with her bipolar self. She must have known she was glamorous, but Crohn's disease and her English teeth filled her with self-loathing.
The next time I saw her, she arrived hat-first to an art opening and effortlessly upstaged the artist Tracey Emin. "Who's that?" Mr. Lash asked. I told him the story about Isabella Blow's wedding dress, which was, like mine, designed by Nadia la Valle, a designer not heard from before or since. Isabella never managed to escape her marriage. Like Dorothy Parker, she could have left the husband and kept the name.
My last glimpse of her was through the window of her apartment in Eton Square. Her black head bowed over a pile of olives she was arranging on a plate, she looked like a sad majestic bird from an Edgar Allen Poe story, or the sculpture of her by artist-couple Webster and Noble that opens Fashion Galore!
A few weeks later she jumped off the Hammersmith flyover. She didn't die that day, but she couldn't wear Manolos anymore, a fate worse than death to a trivial but profound soul like Isabella Blow. It was only a matter of time before she finished the job and became a beautiful corpse dressed by Alexander McQueen, who joined her a few seasons later.
Before that, McQueen paid tribute to his mentor and muse in his show La Dame Bleu, creating a Bird of Light through which the models entered the runway dressed as Izzy lookalikes. This is recreated at the end of the Somerset House show. It reminds me of the moment in The Great Gatsby when Meyer Wolfsheim declines to go to Gatsby's funeral, saying, "Show your friendship to the man while he is alive." Or, reward the woman's contribution to your career by offering her a job when you get the top job at Givenchy.
Next time I wear my white fur coat, I'll spray it with Fracas and think of Isabella Blow.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, November 20, 2013 - March 2, 2014, Somerset House
Read more about Vivien Lash in her evil twin Carole Morin’s novel, Spying on Strange Men
Who wouldn't love Rick Owens and his women warriors? However, I'm shallow and prejudiced, and the evil twin in me wonders if big models are as useful as blind pilots. She whispers that clothes don't look good on chubsters. Diversity makes real life more interesting, but fatties on the catwalk, even cool girls, feels like sexploitation. Size-ploitation?
I bet my Louboutins I'm not the only one seduced by schadenfreude when I see people plumper than me on the runway. And there's that delightful burd who, fair play to her, has edited UK Vogue for yonks. No one in England gives a spotted dick what they look like, right? I know, I know, I'm a terrible person.
It's an aesthetic opinion, not a purge. I'm not saying that anyone above a size zero should be executed (just digitally altered). That would be signing my own death warrant. I'm a size 2. I eat! I also lie a lot and drink vodka ice-cream. Clothes just look better on coat hangers — human or plastic. Who wants a mannequin with an ass on display? That's a blow-up doll, which has a different function entirely.
Wearing clothes in real life is a different activity from selling them — which is what runway and advertising is for. Fashion is a business, not a counseling service. Is fat all that's left to wake up the front row from their appetite-suppressed stupor?
Now that I'm older and more idealistic, apart from a greater dependence on vodka and valium, I understand that taste is subjective. You can't be too rich or too thin, as skinny Wallis Simpson said. But Cristina Ricci springs to mind.
Thighs aren't allowed in movies anymore, and is that really such a bad thing? Carrie was a horror movie in more ways than one, with the director's wife cast as a cheerleader with thighs wobblier than my auntie's sponge cake.
Yes, chubsters need clothes and want to look as good as possible in them. The way to achieve this, apart from the obvious (surgery!), is for designers to stock shit above size 6.
Of course the devil in me wonders if this bias toward small sizes may not be a social service? If the only way to get a decent dress is to lose a few inches, maybe that's motivation to stop carby chow? And the money you save not having a heart attack can be redirected to the fash budget.
Just to prove that I'm not perfect, I will share a humiliating story. There I was in Selfridges, wondering whether to try on Vicky Beckham's zip dress first or cut to the chase with Roland Mouret, when I found myself in that no man's land, not quite a size 2 and not yet a size 4. I left the changing room in despair and saw a crazy lady in red knickers walking toward me. As she got closer, I noticed she was wearing the same Louboutins as me, and the rubies Mr. Lash gave me.
Dear reader, this crazy lady was me. In my distress about not being able to zip up size 2, even after exhaling every molecule of breath, I'd exited the fitting room in my underwear. The moral of the story: if you must have a martini at lunchtime, stick to the citrus twist because an olive has 29 calories.
Read more about Vivien Lash in her evil twin Carole Morin’s novel, Spying on Strange Men.
No one goes to an art opening to look at the art, especially when the show is a celebration of decadent artist Sebastian Horsley, who was famously crucified with glitter nails in the Philippines at the start of the millennium.
Being nailed to the cross without opiates is a true vocation — or totes bonkers. Either way, unsaintly Sebastian's daring act makes Tracey Emin's condom-soiled bed seem as risky as Auntie Nellie's on the maid's day off. You can almost hear Sebastian take a toke from his crack pipe and exhale, "Blow some gas out of your pompous ass, Trace."
Given that the dress code at the retrospective, The Whoresley Show (Outsider's Gallery, London, August 9 - September 14, 2013), was Dress Dandy, the crowd was a disappointment. Poor Sebastian must have been reclining on his chaise-longue in hell, with a silk mask shielding his eyes from dirty sneakers and bodies, which could benefit from less beer and more calorie-free debauchery.
I wore the Chinese red silk dress I had on when I met the scarlet goth, who got a slap for touching me inappropriately to verify the authenticity of the fabric. He begged me to slap him again with my small white hand and blood-red fingernails, which perhaps reminded him of his Jesus impression. His crucifixion nails are on display at Outsider's Gallery, but disappointingly cleaned of blood.
He died in 2010, possibly by his own needle, though Horsley's friends do not believe he committed suicide — he would have left a note. However, his autobiography, Dandy in the Underworld, is possibly his de facto suicide note. A hilarious and heartbreaking love letter to himself, his story includes incest, love affairs with prostitutes (one of whom was the main beneficiary of his estate), and a perverse relationship with a notorious murderer who reinvented himself as an artist after his release from 'life' imprisonment.
Horsley had escaped his wealthy family in the neanderthal north for St Martins art school and lived in London's Soho for most of his life, with a sign on his front door that read: "This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address." Though Horsley did write a poem that begins with "I sold my bum in Soho..."
With a life like that, who needs art? Yet Sebastian Horsley's paintings are almost good. With a bit of hard work, he could have been a first-rate painter, maybe. But he didn't have time for early nights. His life was his art: the touchingly vulgar suits and hats, and the decadent habits that seem charmingly old-fashioned in a world where people exercise and drink water to excess. As shallow-not-stupid Sebastian said, "My fate lies not in the stars but in a star — myself."
Death is never far away from glamour for a Soho aesthete. "Soho used to be dirty sex and clean air," Sebastian once remarked. "Now it's clean sex and bad air."
See Vivien Lash play herself in the Spying on Strange Men film
When I was seven my mother hired me to murder my father. I'd always wanted to be an assassin and I had to get the job done before my eighth birthday. Eight was the age of criminal responsibility for children in Scotland last century. Now kids have until age twelve to commit patricide and any other wee job Mom requests.
These days Mummy's evil plot would be nipped in the bud. "They" would have been watching us as she hired me over a glass of Irn-Bru with a knickerbocker glory chaser. (Yes, dear reader, last century I used to eat!)
Is anyone really surprised that governments snoop? It's nice that Mr. Snowden is getting to travel around the world, deciding where he's going to take off his mask, but I pity the poor man in the Pentagon who's reading my text messages. I hope he was never stuck in a loop between myself and my Beijing driver, Gang Bang, whose English is even worse than my Chinese. When I thought I was asking him to pick me up nearby, I was really requesting a big shit.
The cinema has made us all voyeurs and now Apple has equipped everybody to be a spy. All you need is something to spy on.
When billionaire art collector Charles Saatchi appeared to be strangling his wife over Sunday lunch, it was the couple's private business, ccording to some columnists. (And am I the only Noseyparker who can't help wondering what they were eating?) But if you put your hands on your wife's throat then flatten her largish nose in front of the paparazzi, you make it the world's business.
It was only after these pictures were published a week later that Big Nigella felt obligated to flee the Chelsea coop she shared with Chas for a £10,000-a-week apartment. Could the moral busybodies pontificating on Twitter have forced her to make a stand? To take off her wedding ring, cook a big batch of brownies, and down them in one?
Nigella gives good schadenfreude because while she's considered hot as a muffin by lots of men, she is lardier than most ladies want to be. The director of her hit US show allegedly bends over backwards to avoid shots of her rear end. To quote the New York Post, "Nigella has way overeaten. The result is a butt like a horse." Horse isn't the animal that springs to mind, but my lips are sealed in sisterly solidarity — or do I mean smug delight? — that I'm ten sizes smaller than Pigella without even holding my breath?
Will Saatchi, a shadow of his former size a decade after marrying the chef who advocates gluttony, now go out on the pull with Rupert Murdoch? Was Nosegate a stunt to stop the media speculating about Mrs. Murdoch's alleged affair with Tony Blair? Tony's "people" have issued a denial on his behalf, but conspiracy theorists note the use of the present tense: "He is not having an affair with Mrs. Murdoch." But did he shag her senseless last week?
And is this just distracting us from the real issue, that Blair, Murdoch, and Saatchi are all past their sell-by dates? Power may be an aphrodisiac, but bad hair needs a better barber. Wendy Deng (pronounced Dung) is possibly the only woman on the planet who dresses worse than Cherie Blair, who has the additional disadvantage of looking bonkers.
Mr. Lash called security when the ex-Prime Minister's wife advanced, grinning, at a party. The Spice Girls had the same reaction when she appeared backstage at a concert. I'm sure she's a nice lady, she just happens to look like a nut-job who'd be more at home in a straitjacket with a stomach staple than a black-carpet do.
What next? Is Rupert going to give Nigella a show — Pigella Bites Back? — or maybe ask her out for a spit-roast? And will Snowden be offered a new face so that he can hide better, as a reward for distracting the media from marriage meltdowns?
Snowden becomes more visible when he disappears. Garbo understood that wanting to be alone would just make her more famous, lying in bed reading her press cuts. Being visible contains the desire to be invisible. Garbo fantasized about dying in a car crash wearing a green hat. I want to be blown up, leaving no trace.
Even in death nobody's safe from the camera's lens. Princess Diana couldn't, like Marilyn, die in the nude. Somebody would have been there ready to snap her cellulite. And I'm over the idea of being a beautiful corpse. You would just be unable to resist kissing me goodbye.
See Vivien Lash play herself in the Spying on Strange Men film
Nothing is ever as bad as it used to be. (Even flared pants look better reinvented than they did on the thunder thighs of 1970s stars, before it became illegal to be filmed if you were above size 2.) But nostalgia for things forgotten has ensured that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby had a good kicking from the critics, before they had even seen it. They prefer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel (which most of them probs haven’t read) or the 1974 version of the movie starring Robert Redford in the title role.
Ok, Leonardo DiCaprio is a bit Fatsby compared to the young Rob Redford. But Luhrmann’s Gatsby has a manic energy similar to going into the Burberry shop and trying on all the metallic trenches in the Prorsum range. You can’t decide which color to pick so you buy them all! Surely a movie about a morally bankrupt world full of violence, betrayal, and good old vulgar money needs to be a bit flash?
Poor Baz hasn’t had a massive hit since Moulin Rouge and nobody criticized him for jizzing up Paris in that. But The Great Gatsby is a masterpiece and there’s a theory in the movie industry that trashy books make good movies and good books are hard to film.Read More
David Bowie was always a reflection of his times, but the mirror he used looked into the future, giving us what we didn’t yet know we wanted. Clever, but not too clever. Now Bowie’s back, reflected as the grandfather of rock in a new spaceship, in the best-selling exhibition "David Bowie Is" at London’s V&A Museum. Apparently 70,000 tickets were sold in advance of opening.
In 1973, David Bowie walked into our lives and out of our dreams singing Starman on Top of the Pops, one of those iconic memories that’s equally memorable to people who didn’t witness it. It’s easy to imagine the young Kate Moss locking herself in the bathroom with scarlet hair dye, having just seen the future — except she wasn’t born yet.
Still, Kate's never looked better than when photographed as a lady David in French Vogue last year. And John Lydon was never cooler than when he had Bowie-red hair and took on the moniker of Johnny Rotten. Is the Bowie Juice Bar and pile of oranges at the entrance to the show an homage to Ziggy Stardust? Should it be a bunch of carrots? A good haircut can change your life and Bowie’s never looked back since becoming a phallic carrot top, even though he’s since returned to his unnatural blond.
The oddly pale and almost pastel Starman onesie isn’t quite able, in real life, to live up to its vibrant myth. But there it is, trapped in a glass display case, the costume that launched a billion bisexual fantasies. Bowie was always more than just a pop star. The first asexual supermodel is an artist whose appeal lies somewhere between scaring your mother and seducing your brother.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live, punctuating eternity with obsession and fantasy. David Bowie, like all the best actors, is good at creating a character. "I wanted to be free…from David Bowie or the Thin White Duke or whoever I was at the time," Bowie said on a mid-80s talk show, with a throaty laugh reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich, whom he starred with in Just a Gigolo.
"David Bowie Is" has most of his alter egos, thematically arranged—Major Tom, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke—with Bowie’s voice in your headphones the whole time, being funny and fabulous, laughing and throwing in the occasional song. No sign of the Laughing Gnome, or any pictures of him overweight and faltering onstage in New York in his first public appearance after his heart attack—a painful sight of the man who inspired a million diets. If the coolest skeletor on the planet can gain weight, anyone can!
The golden years around Hunky Dory and Scary Monsters couldn’t last forever. In Uncle David’s middle years there were ugly rumors that he’d traded his talent for stardom and—shock, horror—wanted to make millions. Does one prefer not to be paid for his work? At the end of the affair, he killed off his evil twins with the sexy lack of conscience of a lad insane and moved to another town. From London to Berlin to, um, Geneva, and finally New York, a city that must have been made just for him. Though in the 21st century, perhaps it’s time to pack a bag and move on—maybe to Mars.
If Bowie were just a pop star, we could measure out our lives with his songs. Youth never dies, it’s just hiding in your heart. But Bowie is a Svengali of the collective imagination. And so, as we exit the show, a picture taken on his 66th birthday watches from the wall looking like a cross between Tommy Newton, the alien he plays in The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the aging vampire he plays in The Hunger. One gets the sense David Bowie’s still in there jamming good with Weird and Gilly, the Spiders from Mars.
David Bowie Is, V&A Museum, through August 11, 2013, in partnership with Gucci.
Normally I have an insult ready for every occasion. May your child be born without a butt-hole is my favorite. But the accusation of being a porker yesterday left me speechless. Imagine my horror when I registered with a new quack and his cheery Chinese male nurse said to me, "You are clinically obese."
Ok, I’m not size zero, or even size two, like I pretend when signing my name V Lash Size 2 Eats. But a size four—with the help of a coat hanger and the manservant to pull up my zip—is hardly obese, even in Beijing, where the skinny little bitches have been chomping too many pork buns lately and have grown asses the size of America.
Of course I sent Mr. Lash around to interrogate the nurse, who, not exactly the male Kate Moss himself, claims he said, "Clearly very sweet." Which is not an appropriate comment to someone who has just handed you a urine sample. I will admit I’ve been deaf in one ear since catching pneumonia on the night flight back from Havana—and it was a relief to hear the bores only on my right—but sometimes it leads to problems.
The last time I misheard something was when I met Mr. Lash's mother for the first time. Mrs. Lash Senior said, "You’re gorgeous." I slapped her hard on the face. I thought she’d said, "Your nose is enormous." Red faces all around when Mr. Lash translated her remark, her face quite a bit redder than mine.
I would have taken her to the emergency room for stitches but I’ve always been allergic to hospitals. In my experience, doctors are perverse. My evil twin was briefly a student at Harvard Medical School and has told me stories about trainee surgeons simulating sex with skeletons. Then there’s the TUBE—totally unnecessary breast examination—which all women with their own hair and teeth under 90 are subjected to. Then there are the docs who suggest an internal exam when you ask for hay fever tabs.
At least the new quack didn’t try to touch me. "You have not shrunk," he said, staring at my notes. "You are the same height as it says on your chart." Well that’s good to know. Now I don’t mind at all that I was called obese! I do shrink when I take off my Louboutins, but since I sleep in them nobody needs to worry about that.
Now I’ve had enough of the world and everybody in it. I’m staying in bed watching Freaks until the winter’s over.
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More people commit suicide on weekends and holidays, or at 3 am, when everyone else is trying to sleep. It’s only $50 an hour to have a moan-on-the-phone at rentafriend.com.
But Crazy Keiko calls me every night with an update on her lack of a date for Valentine’s Day. She can’t get a man and she’s not even fat. What hope is there for chubsters who use any excuse, including St. Valentine, to chow into chocolate? Despite taking Mr. Lash’s advice not to wear her blow-up ass with her plastic jugs, Crazy Keiko has stalked men who have either died, left town, or threatened her with prison. She’s even considering Sneaky Pete from work, who robbed her last time they had sex. Or her creepy neighbor Cheesy Walter, whose socks I can smell from here. He’s a hard man to avoid but it’s well worth the effort.
Her best bet is to fake a date. Have a hot bikini wax on the big day, whisper into the phone to someone who isn’t there, and send herself more flowers than usual. Chocolate hearts are out of the question because she hasn’t eaten since 2003. "It’s not fair," she wails. "Bad Viv married Mr. Lash and I’m still flying solo." She’s not flying at all. She’s on her back in a vodka coma. But nobody said it was fair, as Joan Crawford told her kids before locking them in the cellar.
The Western world has a number of weird rituals, increasingly adopted by other cultures, designed to cause calorie addiction. There’s creepy Claus who sneaks into children's bedrooms leaving behind chocolate images of himself. Then Easter, when a hairy dude’s crucifixion is celebrated by the mass consumption of chocolate eggs. And Thanksgiving, when the President gets to talk to a turkey slathered in sweet stuff.Read More
Normally it starts with a kiss, but my marriage to Mr. Lash started with a tubercular toe. He saw it immediately, which wasn’t hard. I was wearing a Louboutin on one foot and a bandage on the other, while wielding Grandfather Money’s silver walking stick like the chib used by the Nazi nightclub owner in Gilda. "You’re the immaculate consumptive," Mr. Lash said.
The tuberculosis had bypassed my lung, leaving no shadow, and gone straight to my toe. I’m the only person in England since records began who’s ever had this type of osteo-tuberculosis. "Someday the shadow on your lung may appear," doctors have warned me, and they haven’t stopped looking since—any excuse to take my blood, or an X-ray, or to amputate the toe "just in case." But I’d need the one on the other foot done, too, to be symmetrical. And how would that look when the man-servant gives me a pedi?
This illness was payback for years of hypochondria. I’d always wanted to be pale, frail and dangerous to kiss, like Emily Bronte and the actress I’m named after, Vivien Leigh. Eating ice cream for breakfast and staying size zero is a diet Kate Moss would spit blood for.
Fortunately for me, consumption is Mr. Lash’s fantasy illness too. Susan Sontag makes a good case in Illness as Metaphor for there being no such thing as romantic bacteria, but there's no denying that coughing blood the color of MAC Viva Glam is just sexier than cancer. And now that there’s a cure for TB, you don’t have to die for your glamour, just lose a few kilos.