MORE shocking, to me, than anything made known about the Fashion profession in The Devil Wears Prada, was the revelation of a surprisingly unethical approach taken by Piaggi, the Italian trendsetter, uncovered in the V&A exhibition, Fashion-ology, sponsored by Topshop in 2006.
She had happily written press releases for Missoni, while working as a journalist for Italian Vogue in the 1980s; an activity the well-regulated Public Relations profession in Britain and America would have regarded as rather unethical, at the time.
However, with Machiavelli’s dictum, ‘the ends justify the means’ as part of the Italian psyche, and Piaggi’s flair for creation, her double life, simultaneously, as both publicist and critic will not have damaged her reputation nor astonished her flocks of fans.
Piaggi and the English aristocrat Isabella Blow, who died in June 2007, were the champions of hatter Philip Treacy and designer Vivienne Westwood, and Blow was an actual assistant to Anna Wintour at US Vogue. When she died Isabella Blow’s extraordinary life story appeared everywhere, in the Fashion and style press and on radio and television.
She had moved to New York in 1979 to study Ancient Chinese Art at Columbia University and a year later abandoned her studies, to move to West Texas working in Fashion with Guy Laroche. In 1981, her big break came when Bryan and Lucy Ferry introduced her to the director of US Vogue, Anna Wintour. She was hired first as Wintour’s assistant and then to organise fashion shoots under the discerning eye of André Leon Talley, then US Vogue‘s Editor At Large, and was soon befriending the likes of Warhol and Basquiat. In 1986, Blow returned to London to become assistant to Michael Roberts, then fashion director both of Tatler and The Sunday Times and later as Style Editor at Tatler.
In a feature length piece in New York magazine, in 2007, Issie Blow’s meeting with Anna Wintour is described:
On Wintour’s desk, there was a biography of Vita Sackville-West. “I’ve read that three times, and it always makes me cry,” she told Wintour. “Issie,” Wintour responded with her signature sangfroid, “there’s nothing to cry about”. But they were a match. “I loved coming to the office,” Wintour says, “because I never knew what to expect. One day she’d be a maharaja, the next day a punk, and then she’d turn up as a corporate secretary in a proper little suit and gloves.”
My descriptions of these two wonderful influencers, told to Anton Storey, resulted in these remarkably sensitive and charming illustrations.