exceptional “backstage” women of fashion

I read a lot of fashion books, articles and blogs and I often come across women who were exceptional for true fashion insiders but others, the shallow crowd who don’t see past runways and Anna Wintour, haven’t really heard of them. Too bad for them. These women were patrons of fashion. They often enabled young designers to get recognised and famous, their personal style was unique and stunning, their energy and influence seductive. It is not an exaggeration to say they changed fashion, each in her own way and in different time but they were special and fashion world wouldn’t be the same without their discoveries and incentives. They are:

1. Diana Vreeland

I’ve heard of Mrs Vreeland long time ago and read many articles that were full of glory and praise for her and her work. Then I bought her book Allure cause I wanted to read what she had to say about beauty and style and I was hoping to find good advice and inspirational thoughts in this book. For those who don’t know, Diana was a famous fashion editor in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar (where she had a famous and hilarious column called “Why wouldn’t you…?”). She was such a forceful person, so over-the-top yet completely genuine. So many lasting trends in America can be credited to Mrs. Vreeland. Red nails are one of them. And she introduced thong sandals to that country too. She had this exotic sense of style and so many good ideas in the ‘50s and ‘60s that still hold up. Her idea of beauty was not conventional, she was always looking for something different, long-lasting and eye-catching.

She worked with photographers like Irving Penn and Avedon in times when fashion photography was completely “raw” and so much different from it is today. She sought the best artists to show her unconventional ideas and she paved the way for modern editors and photographers to do what they’re doing today. I’m afraid there are not people like her in fashion anymore. Correct me if I’m wrong. I love her quote “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”

2. Dodie Rosenkrans

Every day was theater for Rosekrans, who passed away in November at the age of 91. Designers like Gaultier and Christian Lacroix mourned the death of a client who was as likely to be found in their couture as Comme des Garçons. For John Galliano, whose first couture sale was to Rosekrans, the loss cut deep. “Honestly, without her patronage and encouragement, I would not be where I am today,” he says. “Dodie was a true original. … She opened doors for me to a kingdom beyond my wildest dreams, and just like a fairy godmother she not only invited me in, she gave me the keys.”

“My mother was simply born with a restless, inquisitive eye that knew what it liked or disliked the minute she saw it,” says her son Ned Topham. “Much has been said about her originality and style. But she always seemed surprised when someone would ask her about it.” What Rosekrans will be remembered for most is her sense of adventure. There was little she refused to do, except wear vintage, even from her own sensational archive. “If an old lady shows up in old clothes,” she once said, “she just looks old.”

3. Isabella Blow

The late Isabella Blow, influential fashion stylist and champion of the avant-garde, launched the careers of many of fashion’s household names, including the model Sophie Dahl, designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy. She will always be known her extravagant hats and immense contribution to fashion. One of the most unforgettably original and eccentric figures on the international fashion scene, died at the age of 48 after drinking some kind of chemical. She tried to commit suicide several times before but this time evidently no one managed to save her.

Her colleague wrote for the Observer: “In some ways, she was a monster. She was dismissive of anyone she considered to be unimportant or – worse – uninteresting, and her “eccentricity” was more of a put-on than she cared to admit. Then again, in full sail, she was a wonderful sight: Rod Hull’s emu as styled by Salvador Dali, a human triffid who smoked Benson and Hedges, who never wore underwear and whose touchstones in life were good jewellery and high birth, and not a lot else. She was filthy and funny and ridiculous. She was born in the wrong time. I cannot quite believe that she really existed, much less that I once shared a desk with her. The desk was grey, but the woman who sometimes deigned to visit it seemed to be permanently aflame, a dazzling heap of feathers and fur and leather. We laughed at her, but a tiny part of us was in awe. No one else was going to earn the Murdoch shilling while wearing a lampshade on their head.”

I will keep looking for other “backstage” icons. They have so much to tell, they are the real thing. If you have someone to recommend, please do.  

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