Lucire   Lucire home page / Fashion / / Volante: travel features and news / Living / Lucire: Insider blog
News headlines / Lucire Reader Forum / Subscribe to the print editions of Lucire
Lucire Community 
Lucire feedback 
Subscribe to the Lucire Insider feed
Subscribe to Lucire

fashion: feature

Donna Loveday: unravelling the mystiqueDonna Loveday: unravelling the mystique

Donna Loveday, photographed by Douglas Rimington/Detune Photography
Jack Yan interviews Donna Loveday, the senior curator from the Design Museum behind When Philip Met Isabella, on Philip Treacy’s hats for Tatler editor Isabella Blow
Donna Loveday photographed by Douglas Rimington

Adapted from issue 25 of Lucire


DONNA LOVEDAY knows her stuff. The senior curator from London’s Design Museum has helmed exhibits on everything from Porsche to Saul Bass. She curated Unseen Vogue, featuring the unpublished and sometimes rejected work for British Vogue, the book of which was reviewed three years ago in this magazine. On a non-work note, she banks at the same branch as Philip Glenister from Ashes to Ashes. As I discovered, she can hold a conversation with a design-fascinated male as much as a female fashionista impressed with her work with another Philip—one Mr Treacy.
   Out in New Zealand to launch her exhibition, When Philip Met Isabella, showing at the New Dowse in Lower Hutt, Loveday talks about her love for things with a historical bent. Discussing Philip Treacy to a guest audience, she brings up the names from his client list: Madonna, Boy George, the former Camilla Parker-Bowles, Grace Jones, and the woman who discovered him and nurtured his career, the late Isabella Blow.
   Blow—then Isabella Delves Broughton—and Treacy met in 1989 when she was a stylist at Tatler and he was a fashion student at the Royal College of Art. She can take credit for bringing Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, Julien Macdonald, Stella Tennant, Donna Fraser and Tristan Webber to our consciousness, discovering them along the way, too. She introduced Treacy to Manolo Blahnik and André Leon Talley. By the time Treacy was 23, he was ‘totally intimidated’ when he met Karl Lagerfeld.
   Loveday says that the inspiration came from an article by Larissa MacFarquhar, ‘The Mad Muse of Waterloo’, published in The New Yorker in 2001. A film has been commissioned, says Loveday.
   There, Blow spoke of her passion for hats and her relationship with Treacy as well as some of her own personal setbacks: she and her husband, Detmar, could not have children; while she had been disinherited by her father, who left the Delves Broughton fortune to his new family. The family history, outside of The New Yorker piece, reads like a dramatic mini-series: her grandfather, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, was acquitted of murdering the Earl of Erroll in the White Mischief case, which itself was made into a film with Joss Ackland and Greta Scacchi. Her brother died when she was four in a ‘freak accident,’ according to Detmar Blow in the Murdoch Press. Her mother walked out when she was 14.
   By the time the exhibition came round, Blow had recently taken her own life by possibly drinking Paraquat, a herbicide, something that was not mentioned in any detail. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer: again according to her husband, ‘she was riddled with it.’
   The audience was told that Blow had simply passed away, rather than the gruesome request in The New Yorker that MacFarquhar noted: ‘Isabella recently drew up her own will, and in it she included a provision that her head be chopped off and delivered to her father in his vault, to symbolize the way he cut her off.’ Loveday was right to keep things tasteful, highlighting the work rather than the hidden torment behind Isabella Blow.
   Drama aside, it’s a great topic. At the New Dowse exhibition, there is one sculptural hat composed of dead birds. In fact, bird feathers feature strongly in works such as Opium Den (1994), which features eagle and peacock. Another hat (The Ship, 1995) is in the shape of a sailing ship—literally a feat of engineering in black satin, feather bones and antique bird of paradise feathers. His Anarchy Hat (1999) is in Neoprene. Shocking Pink Roswell Hat (1998), in stretch Lycra, is meant to evoke aliens, just not in the grey colour that science-fiction films show them in. An orchid hat, made the same year, is a favourite of Loveday. In 2003, a “Warhol collection” used pop art, with one hat showing an image of Marilyn Monroe. Another, in an update, has David Beckham (Blow wore this to a Manchester United game and Beckham’s mother enquired why she would have her son’s photo on her head). Treacy is to millinery as Dali was to art.
   One might read these words too often in magazines like this, but Treacy did have a lifelong passion for fashion. ‘Philip made dolls’ clothes for this sister initially,’ says Loveday. In his native Ireland, Treacy grew up on a farm where his interest was considered unconventional. However, he was permitted to indulge his interests and attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, and afterwards the Royal College of Art.
   Treacy admits that there was some connection with Blow, who spotted one of his hats while working at Tatler, and commissioned one herself. They met when he was collecting one of the hats he had lent to the magazine. Soon after, she commissioned a hat for her wedding.
   While New Zealanders may remember the over-the-top millinery of the mid-1980s’ soap opera Gloss, hats were somewhat out of fashion when Blow discovered Treacy at the decade’s post-stock market crash close. But somehow the two managed to bring them back into fashion, with an extravagance that seemed to tap well into a decade which was forecast to be more caring and sharing, but which stylistically was more selfish than the last.
   Treacy was installed in Blow’s Belgravia home’s basement, where he began his business. With Blow, ‘[We were] like Harold and Maude: all the talk was of hats,’ he once said.
   In 1994, Treacy opened his first store. Blow remained a regular customer, but Lagerfeld at Chanel became one, too, as did McQueen at Givenchy. Blow went from Tatler to Vogue, then to The Sunday Times. She consulted for du Pont, Swarovski and Lacoste. She continued a contributing editor stint for Tatler.
   The association with Treacy continued up till Blow’s death. As Detmar Blow recalls: ‘She wore his hats ever after, hats in the shape of lobsters or sailing ships.’
   Unsurprisingly, Treacy was fraught after Blow’s death. As Loveday recalls to us after the public presentation, Anna Piaggi of Vogue Italia said, ‘No one can replace Isabella. She was iconic. There was no down time with her.’ Anna Wintour, Geordie Grieg of Tatler and Suzy Menkes all paid their tributes at her memorial service.


AT THE TIME of the talk, Treacy was at Paris Fashion Week working with McQueen. Loveday, however, proved a more than capable ambassador for one of fashion’s biggest names.
   It is unusual for a living designer to have his work regarded as art to such a degree, but Treacy deserves it. The descriptions of hats in paper, bird feathers or Lycra are more than enough to elicit admiration from art lovers. Off the top of my (hatless) head, I could only think of Neville Brody as a living British designer who had his own exhibition. Even Gianni Versace did not have an exhibition at the Met (and later, Te Papa) till after his murder.
   Loveday answers this by saying that she is interested in ‘contemporary culture and how history impacts on today.’ In such a context, Treacy and Blow fit into that criterion—as did Brody during his heyday.
   ‘Contemporary design is an accessible area, because we are surrounded by design, craftsmanship and skill,’ she tells me. ‘[It reaches] as wide an audience as possible.’
   Loveday could be thought of as an exponent for the ideals of modern design as the Bauhaus saw it, as she continues: ‘There is no élitism and there shouldn’t be. There is something for everybody.’ Her task, as she saw it, is ‘unravelling the mystique’ of modern design. ‘[It’s about] how designers work.’
   With her earlier exhibition, Unseen Vogue, she aimed to deconstruct the catwalk for the public. She had even headed an exhibition on Formula 1 motor racing from the 1950s to the 2000s. On Porsche: Design Dynasty, she says, ‘Car design is an experience.’
   Loveday explains, ‘You amass a huge amount of information very quickly,’ describing the learning process behind her exhibitions.
   Our conversation went to her exhibition on Saul Bass, the American designer who, perhaps most famously, did the title sequence for The Man with the Golden Arm. This was an area that needed plenty of deconstructing for audiences, I thought.
   ‘It’s my favourite,’ says Loveday, ‘but it cannot tour because of copyright.’ She would like to show it to more people in different countries, because there is an opportunity to unravel more of the mystique behind modern design.
   ‘Film has a large audience and it’s another section for graphics. With Saul Bass, we collaborated with Martin Scorsese and got a statement from him.
   ‘Crude methods were used [by Bass]: there was no computer,’ she adds.
   On that, I bring up Pablo Ferro, to which Loveday says I must be reading her mind. To me, Ferro should be as well known as Bass if it comes to title design, particularly for his hand-lettering for movies such as Men in Black; however, it is probably his work in The Thomas Crown Affair (the graphic design, optical effects and titles are his) and Bullitt that truly influences design today.
   ‘I saw him in Los Angeles. He has all his stuff in his home.’
   As if it were a perfectly natural segue, we discussed Robert Brownjohn, the British (though New Jersey-born) designer who was the subject of a Design Museum–British Council exhibition in 2005–6. ‘I am in touch with Eliza Brownjohn, his daughter,’ she says. She explains that Brownjohn was inspired by New York and London, looking at doorways and street signs. Again due to British good manners, Loveday only touches on Brownjohn’s alcoholism. I remarked that the man only began drinking as a substitute for doing heroin.
   Loveday and I discuss related topics, such as the music of British film composer John Barry, which I learned she had used for her own wedding. She admits to being a fan of Aston Martin’s design—we touch on Touring and William Towns, who created some of the marque’s classic shapes—and would like to find a way to get Barry’s music into one of her future exhibitions. Somehow, I don’t think she means Barry’s work on the James Bond films, but his other influential scores (Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa).
   She was preparing for another exhibition, this time on Matthew Williamson, after her return to the UK after a week in New Zealand. Loveday also helms an MA course for 23 students at the Design Museum, the first of its kind linking contemporary design with a career in the creative industry sector. By May 2008, she expects to continue travelling with When Philip Met Isabella, as it heads to Portugal, St Petersburg and Dublin.
   But in the future, she would like to do another exhibit on cars. ‘Concept cars: why don’t they get produced?’ she asked. They are an expression of current trends and moods, after all, and are relevant to explaining contemporary culture.
   I knew of Loveday’s background, but I hadn’t expected we would wind up chatting about modern design—nor had I expected her deep love of industrial and graphic design. After our farewell, I had to conclude that there just might be one person on this planet with a cooler job than mine. •


Jack Yan, founding publisher of Lucire, interviewed Donna Loveday in 2007.


Add to | Digg it | Add to Facebook

From top: Philip Treacy with Mr Pig. Isabella Blow, photographed by Steven Meisel. hair by Neil Moody (copyright to Mr Meisel). Shocking Pink Roswell Hat, 1998. Orchid hat, 1999.



Shocking Pink Roswell Hat (1998), in Lycra, is meant to evoke aliens, just not in the grey colour that science fiction films show them in. An orchid hat, made the same year, is a favourite of Loveday. In 2003, a “Warhol collection” used pop art, with one hat showing an image of Marilyn Monroe. Another, in an update, has David Beckham. Treacy is to millinery as Dali was to art

Related articles
Lucire 2008 | The Global Fashion Magazine New Zealand’s first fashionista
Jack Yan says Katherine Mansfield was New Zealand’s first fashionista, as a tribute to her takes place in Wellington
Expanded from issue 26 of Lucire
Lucire 2007 | The Global Fashion Magazine

All in the jeans
Sylvia Giles examines the history of denim jeans in the context of popular culture

thumbnail photograph by Getty Images
Expanded from issue 23 of Lucire