Keiran Moore
The Purpose Behind The Walking Billboard

Isabella Blow was a woman of incredible talent. She was the ‘enfant terrible’ of the fashion scene who pushed the limits of creativity for over two decades.

I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the exhibition Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life at The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (The Powerhouse Museum). An exhibition that brought to life her eccentricity, creativity and wonderfully subversive vision.

Aside from Blow’s talent and the tragedy of her life, what struck me most at this exhibition was the ability one person can have on influencing others. Not just the individuals who surround them, but the ability they have to influence a whole industry.


Image Credit: Isabella Blow / Courtesy of The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences at the Powerhouse Museum

For Blow, an English stylist, editor and muse who discovered, nurtured and drove the fashion careers of some of the world’s most well-known designers including Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Julien Macdonald, it was all about influence…Or was it?

An “it” girl of her generation, Blow was a one person influencing machine on British fashion. She not only wore, and celebrated, emerging designers but she was prolific in both her creative work and enthusiasm for celebrity.

She knew that she had influence and boy, did she know how to use it.

This style icon’s mantra: ‘I’m a walking billboard. That’s my pleasure,’ summed up her awareness of her power to influence others.

Her mantra gave me cause to reflect on the role influence plays in our everyday lives; not only how we are influenced but who influences us and why? Why do we trust certain people to shape our perceptions and why are we happy to be ”led” in the view we take on a particular issue that we care about, the decisions we make or the things we buy?

Blow was influential because even in her eccentricity, people were able to see the authenticity knowledge and trust that was synonymous with the very public persona she had created. But more importantly, in my mind, is that she was acutely aware of her driving force – her purpose.

Brands can learn a lot from her.

Some of the most forward-looking brands have now realized that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. The really successful organizations we see have put purpose at the center of their decision making.

Time and time again, research has proved that there is a cause and effect between business performance and a business’ ability to connect with fundamental human emotions, hopes, values as well as tapping into each individual’s greater purpose. A success story is Swisse. Radek Sali, their CEO, is on the record saying that his job is “to make people healthier and happier”. Swisse has been able to harness its core values to engage the whole organization behind a common cause. This common cause provides the leadership and strategic direction for his teams.  Swisse has been successful because its leader has demonstrated a commitment to a higher purpose and has been able to take his team and his organization on this journey.

It really doesn’t matter how good a marketing team is, a true purpose cannot be artificially constructed – it needs to come from within the very heart of an organization. A purpose is built on the values each business has at its core. It is organic, it evolves and needs to be lived and breathed by every individual who works in that organization.

It was clear for many of us who attended the Isabella Blow exhibition that she harnessed her creative energy to identify what intrigued her, what she saw as the ‘next great thing’ and her understanding of the impact her vision could have on others. Her authenticity was enhanced by a boldness that influenced a generation. She was unashamed of being a key influencer and setting the direction that others could but follow.

Organizations have the ability to exploit these same sentiments. They can take the same genuine, authentic and passionate approach to their values and purpose in doing so, be the next key influence that sets the direction that others want to follow.

The big question is are we bold enough to be part of this journey?

The exhibition is open until 28 August. Photos can be seen here:

    We'd love to hear from you.