One of my earliest memories from childhood is a cold day at the beach in San Francisco, my sister and I walking with my mother and my father. I don’t remember how old I was, but I must have been very young because my dad was still around, and the ocean was a new experience for me.
As I walked the shore with my father at my side and my mother and sister trailing behind us, I collected treasures from the briny, surf-soaked sands. There was a multitude of shells, pieces of glass and driftwood, and a plentitude of pebbles, each a tiny work of art from nature, and each a masterpiece in its own right.
I would gather my souvenirs from the sea and contemplate their perfection, or lack thereof, in my tiny hands as we walked. None of the treasures were without flaw. Perhaps a gnarl in a shell or a blemish on a stone rendered them, in my mind, inadequate. So upon reflection I would inevitably discard each treasure that I discovered by simply dropping it along the walk until we came back to the car to leave, at which point I saw that I had nothing.
My sister, however, had the most intriguing collection of beautiful little things as we came to the end of our walk. In her findings were darling shells and colorful stones with character and wonderful, memorable relics that I examined in awe. I remember telling my mother with incredulity how lovely each item was, and asking how my sister found these beguiling mementos on our walk when I had seen only imperfect specimens.
My mother simply smiled for the longest time as I fawned over the glorious treasures. How could my sister have found such wondrous art, I asked, when I found nothing? My mother finally replied, “Shannon, she picked up the things that you discarded.”
The story reminds me of a quote by Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
The story also reminds me that imperfection is interesting, flaws equate uniqueness, and nothing in life should be taken for granted. Beauty is everywhere, and when you seek beauty in all things and all people, you not only find it, you become it.
This thinking brings to mind one woman so mesmerizingly unique that, despite her flaws, she remains radiant, beautiful and memorable long after she was discarded as an imperfect specimen in an industry obsessed with perfection. I’m referring to Isabella Blow, the British stylist and fashion editor whose suicide death in 2007 left a bittersweet legacy, as well as an imperfect wardrobe–a diary in clothing, if you will–which is now on display until 28 August at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia.
“Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life,” provides the opportunity to examine more than 45 of Issie’s outfits, as well as rare photographs of her in her finery. In addition, you can see some of her favorite jewelry and shoes, and of course the signature hats that made both her, and her protégé, milliner friend Philip Treacy, pictured above with Isabella, famous.
The remarkable thing about Isabella, to me, was her unwavering authenticity in an inauthentic world. Like any artistic community, the fashion industry is filled with superficial people–talentless clingers scented with insincerity and insecurity–who really couldn’t give a fuck about anyone else. Issie, on the other hand, she cared. She cared about talent and vision and genius, fostering countless “unknown” artists and promoting their growth and flourish. She was the real deal, and she had heart.
Issie discovered the meaning of life when she sought beauty, and fulfilled her purpose in life when she gave it away. She unearthed the curious, the interesting, the magnificent, when she brought us Philip Treacy, Alexander McQueen, pictured above with Isabella, and many more. Thank you Issie. You are neither gone nor forgotten.