In May 2007 the suicide of an editor, muse, stylist and icon sent shockwaves through the fashion world. From now until March 2014, Fashion Galore! at Somerset House showcases the sartorial life, love and legacy of Isabella Blow.
Known for her quick wit, eccentricity and infamous style, Blow is credited with discovering models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl, and propelling fashion designers Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen to infamy turning them from graduates into household names. With an endless array of bold, bright colours and textures, Isabella used fashion as a display much like a bird of paradise but behind the elaborate hats, odd shoes and grand exterior, there was an underlying sadness.
The exhibition showcases over 100 pieces from Blow’s private collection, a collection famously bought by her friend Daphne Guinness to save it from being sold at auction. Guinness is also responsible for setting up The Isabella Blow Foundation- a charity which supporting aspiring art and fashion students as well as facilitating research into depression and mental health, both of which were issues close to Blow’s heart.
The exhibition includes Isabella’s quotes, interviews and personal items, giving a unique insight into the darker psyche behind the armour. Isabella’s love of fashion and her association with it’s ability to distract and protect her from the world perhaps originated from her fondest memory; trying on her mothers pink hat as a child. Her mother left her with a simple farewell handshake at the tender age of 14.
Fashion Galore! explores in depth Isabella’s eye for talent, most notably evident in her passion for Alexander (Lee) McQueen’s designs. Seeing his potential, she purchased his entire graduate collection in 1992, paying it off in monthly installments of £100 at a time.
It seems what drew Blow to McQueen’s clothes was the way appealed to her aristocratic heritage but at the same time, they embodied a darker, romantic edge and an element of sadness.
“what attracted me to Alexander, was the way he takes ideas from the past and sabotages them with his cut to make them new and in the context of today” – Isabella Blow
In 1996 Blow re-branded McQueen, and his collection propelled him to another level, resulting in international critical acclaim. McQueen dedicated the entire collection to Blow, whose post show interview can be seen as part of the exhibition.
As well as McQueen, Blow was also heavily involved in the works and inspiration of designer and milliner Philip Treacy. Following their first meeting in 1989, Blow became his muse and the ‘poster girl’ for his creations. The exhibition displays an extensive collection of Treacy’s hats, continuing to explore the theme of Isabella’s use of fashion as a way of protecting herself.
“Fashion is a vampiric thing, it’s the hoover on your brain. That’s why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me” – Isabella Blow
When asked ‘what is the essence of Philips design?’ Blow replied simply ‘magic’ and you can certainly understand why. Glittering fairytale castles, exotic feather and net headdresses, and explosions of red butterflies; Treacy’s creations are almost other-worldly.
Isabella’s love of nature and the English countryside is a key theme throughout Fashion Galore!. To explore her collection of hats and outfits is to understand her sartorial influences, from birds to flowers, to surrealist objects turned fashion accessories. Erik Halley’s lobster carapace (similar to the hat Treacy designed for Lady Gaga in 2011) is a stand out piece. An object heavily associated with surrealism, the lobster headpiece is encrusted with jewels and is deliciously indulgent.
The final stage of Fashion Galore! displays the beautiful result of a collaborative collection from Treacy and McQueen titled ‘Le Dame Bleu’. Inspired by and dedicated to Blow following her death, it survives as a tangible reminder of her significance to the two designers and the essence of her stands proudly in the space alongside their creations.
Since its unveiling nine days ago, the exhibition has already been visited by a number of celebrities including Princess Beatrice, Liberty Ross and Mary J. Blige. Fashion Galore! is both visually and emotionally stunning, its universal appeal is a testament to the legacy of Blow, a legacy which will continue its influence throughout the spheres of art, popular culture and fashion for a long time to come.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! opens on 20th November at Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. somersethouse.org.uk