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FASHION FEATURE

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Blow's New Job

By Sophie Laffont
Fashion Wire Daily NY - "I have girls on top of each other... I'm ripping the knickers off a girl and we've got her bare bottom. It's really erotic," said Isabella Blow, entering her fourth week as Fashion Director of Tatler magazine. Blow, 44, is describing her first spread for the magazine, a 20-page homage to Manolo Blahnik featuring Grace Jones, Damien Hirst's wife and the Duchess of York, among others. She is excited about this shoot, and has some rather strong words: "It's like they can't take the heat here [at Tatler]." Editor-in-Chief Geordie Greig has some words too: Blow is "like having too much oxygen."

Already raising eyebrows in the new issue of Tatler is a photograph of Fergie looking "very hot" in a revealing Alexander McQueen outfit, lounging by a pool with a boy jumping into the water - a tongue-in cheek reference to the scandalous photographs of The Duchess frolicking by a pool a few years ago. The Duchess thanked Blow and photographer Donald McPherson for making her look so good. "She looked sooo sexy," coos Blow, who though opinionated and controversial, doesn't hold grudges. Even though a Fashion Wire Daily scoop about her departure from The Sunday Times caused her, in her own words, "a nervous breakdown," she still granted FWD her first in-depth interview since joining Tatler.

Tatler is the bible for blue-blooded Brits, a younger, cheekier Town & Country. Mothers are proud to see their daughters in its pages but their attitudes may soon change with all the heavily charged sexuality and outré style that is Blow's trademark. Greig, who does not come from a fashion background, will certainly benefit from Blow's clout. One of the most respected names in fashion in the industry, she is a household name even to those who know little about fashion.

"We've always gone for great talent who are innovative, exciting, surprising, and modern," Greig said of Blow's appointment. "She absolutely comes into the tradition of Tatler. She's what we're about. We're a witty magazine which is based on beauty and intelligence."

In addition to her talent, Blow has the required pedigree. Her ancestors date back to the 14th century and still owned 34,000 acres of land in the region in 1914, although most of the family money was eventually squandered.

Tatler has given Blow a platform to express herself and puts her back in the front rows of fashion, after being let go from the Sunday Times in late September 2001. Blow said she finds the new Sunday Times "dreadful. I'm so disgusted by it."

Although Greig hopes Blow's presence "will make Tatler essential viewing for anyone interested in the best of fashion," two people could hardly be more different than Geordie Greig and Isabella Blow. "He is the brain and I am the eyes," says Blow. Whether two such different personalities will coexist in harmony under one masthead is subject to speculation in some fashion circles.

Blow said she wants to mix art and fashion in Tatler and is particularly excited about David Hockney's eight-page contribution to the next issue. "[Greig]'s really into art," explained Blow, noting both she and her boss want to turn Tatler into a more serious, exciting magazine, respected for its features and fashion coverage.

And indeed, Blow is aware that revamping Tatler is difficult. "I have a huge amount of challenges because it's going to be difficult...it's going to be hard to change the magazine. I need lots of support [at Tatler] and I need people that feel the same way and people who want to use young photographers and are prepared to take a risk - that's the tricky part."

These days, Blow is busy assembling a dynamic team of contributors and photographers. She hired many of her friends, whom she describes as "British Bohemians with a passion. People with brains." Bringing a continental European touch to the magazine are Countess Deborah Von Bismarck and Daphne Guinness, an heiress to the Guinness fortune, and her newest contributor is HRH Majed J. Homoud Al Sabah, who Blow alternatively calls "The Puffy Prince of Fashion" or "The Sheik." The Sheik owns a shop, Villa Nova, in Kuwait and buys almost 200 new designers a year, making him one of the largest buyers of fashion in the world. In a time when most people are running away from the Middle East, Blow is turning her eye there.

As for photographers, Blow has hired big names such as Juergen Teller, David LaChappelle, Craig McDean and Edward Einenful, along with recruits such as milliner and long-time friend Philip Treacy. Blow's current protégé is photographer Donald McPherson, who's a "very sexy, straight, fuckable man." She describes McPherson's style as "Helmut Newton meets Mario Testino with a little zest like David LaChappelle."

McPherson said he loves working with Blow because, "She brings the ideas out of me and she helps me take the idea to the next step." Helping creative people is probably Blow's biggest talent, and she has recognized and nurtured talents like Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, and Sophie Dahl (who graces Tatler's April cover). She even commissioned James Gooding, Kylie Minogue's ex, to shoot a story in Miami, "because he is so sexy." Of that shoot, Blow said, it "mix[es] art, fashion, and architecture. It's the modern renaissance...."

She stops mid-sentence, worried that British Vogue or Vanity Fair will "pinch [her] ideas." Blow is notoriously paranoid about people stealing her ideas and using her, due to the fact she has nurtured so much talent for little financial reward. A particularly painful moment occurred when Alexander McQueen chose stylist Katie England as his right hand and not Blow. The impulse in her to discover and encourage new talent is strong though, and she is still looking to "bring on new young Brits.... I want to try and encourage young talent."

Blow loves color and wants Tatler to have "masses of color in the shoots." She had "initially banned black, but it hasn't worked," she laughs, and she's trying to combine her eccentric vision with the commercial demands of a magazine. This time, Blow will attend all the fashion shows, whereas in the past she was criticized for only seeing the shows of her favorite designers.

"I've become advertiser-obsessed," says Blow, a new concept for a woman who often spent so much on editorials at the Sunday Times, that it angered management. "I hope I'm not going to miss any fantastic new silhouettes," explained Blow. According to Greig and Blow, ads are "pouring" back in. "The [advertisers] are really excited because they know that I love fur, jewelry, glamour and I work with a passion ... I've been wined and dined almost to death in Claridges [Blow's other office]," she chuckled.

Blow is both excited and anxious about her new job. But in the end, she says, "it's just about looking good and that's all...it's not a complicated thing."

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