There is much one can say of Isabella Blow and it is far too easy to call her a phenomenon and a woman of impeccable taste and yet overlook the entirety of her life. The life battles, the legacy she left behind. There are therefore a number of publications, books and and of course, Vogue’s extensive archive on Isabella Blow for anyone yet to become absorbed by the life of Isabella Blow.
“Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, is proud to present Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a major fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and wardrobe of the late British patron of fashion and art.” – Somerset House
Somerset House has justly opened its basement up to the world of the late Isabella Blow. An underground sanctum which holds a plethora of over a hundred pieces from her personal collection. Friend of the late Isabella Delves Broughton, Daphne Guinness bought the collection from Christie’s after it went up for auction. “I thought the clothes were important… it just seemed very unfair, the whole thing. I’d lost a couple of friends [McQueen committed suicide in 2010], I wanted something good to happen. The Christie’s thing was a shot in the dark. I thought i’d embarrassed everyone, got in the way, because i’m her friend, not her family. But it worked.” said Guinness in an interview for vogue.
On walking around the exhibition, there is a sense of being overwhelmed, but it does not come from the scale of the rooms, or an ornate building, but merely of that on show, in the most humble of forms. The extravagance of each piece speaks for itself. Extracts from magazines, including the December 1993 British Vogue spread ‘Anglo Saxon Attitudes’ featuring Stella Tennant, Honor Fraser, Plum Sykes, Bella Freud and Lady Louise Campbell, is of a number placed within the exhibition alongside installations and mannequins.
Simultaneously,recordings play, films, interviews and catwalk shows are projected whilst an eclectic wardrobe adorn mannequins which set designer Shona Heath took charge of by using photographs to recreate the looks on the mannequins.
The exhibition, quite rightly highlights the clothing in itself. The Alexander McQueen pink, feathered gown is one of the most beautifully crafted pieces. With such solid structure, attention to detail and such raw beauty, it is also the designers work which is highlight celebrated amongst this celebration of Blow. Fashion history plays a big role as well as providing a message. The exhibition plays as an inspiration. The idea of limitlessness, the ability to overcome, the ability to excite, create and build a legacy.
The exhibition is split into various sections, beginning with a selection of hats by Phillip Treacy in a simple layout amongst family photographs before emerging into the artistic world explored by a strong creative team including curator Alistair O’Neill.“I really wanted to challenge that basic assumption that Isabella’s life story is necessarily dark and gothic… It did have a dark side but it had a light side too; she had a filthy sense of humour – quite black, quite British.”
This exhibition is a beautiful example of Blows legacy, and also a sombre reincarnation of Isabella’s life, encompassed in this extraordinary visual display. The garments themselves hold stories, in essence, far more meaningful to those with the knowledge of Isabella’s life. Cigarette burns, loosened threads, minor scuffs. On inspection, all can be seen on these clothes, giving each piece a story, a life in itself, as having been a piece which dressed the woman with such character. The woman who, in all her eccentricity, lived far from a world of eccentrics in many ways. Aristocracy may be rooted in her veins, her upbringing may have been comfortable to a degree and she was no egotist, but by far, Isabella Blow learnt many lessons of life, of trauma and of the atramentous pockets of life.
Her character, her eye and ability to spot young talent and her own creative mind were built on her understandings of life. She studied, she worked, and she worked a number of unconventional jobs for how she is perceived. Cleaner, scone-seller, assisting Andre Leon Talley to working alongside Steven Meisel. In hindsight, already, Isabella had proven her eclectic ways before her flamboyancy thrust her into the world as an icon of such style and finesse. It is to no surprise that Isabella Blow had become more than a scout of talent, of people such as Alexander McQueen and Stella Tennant. She had become a character of her own. As a fashion director, she soon became pinnacle of When Philip met Isabella. Her credentials grew, and in unfortunate circumstances, her life obstacles caught up with her, battling with depression, attempting suicide several times, and finally being laid to rest in 2007 from suicide. Her mind has been pinnacle to many conversations including an essay by Simon Kyaga for Show Studio whom have dedicated a section of the website for interviews, photographs, essays and films surround Isabella Blow (here).
“There is a very physical presence of Isabella in these clothes,”- O’Neill
Alexander McQueen. A name in itself, and yet without Isabella, Lee McQueen may have not become the legacy he is now remembered for. Lee McQueens Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Collection forms an important part of this exhibition. A haunting memory of an extremely talented student who caught the eye of a woman in 1992 whilst she was working at Vogue, who later began to pay for his pieces in instalments and would later be often encased in his clothing. She began paying him £100 per week for one item per month until she has obtained his entire collection. Their relationship grew into one of the most significant relationships of fashion collaborations in many ways.
The exhibition, in all its visionary detailing, does much justice for such a short-lived, but well lived life. The clothes may be one of the most pivotal parts of who Isabella was and it can be easy to wrap oneself up in the detail and beauty of the clothing, but the Isabella Blow story is one which is to be explored and the exhibition highlights this in the most conceptual, simple and absolute ways.