If you’re still in London after LFW, this is probably your last chance to visit the fantastic exhibition Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, which is in place at Somerset House, and will continue until 2nd March.
Isabella’s career began as Anna Wintour’s assistant at US Vogue in 1981. On her return to London in 1986 she worked at Tatler and subsequently at British Vogue. In 1997 she became the Fashion Director of the Sunday Times Style and later returned to Tatler as Fashion Director. Isabella discovered models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant, and launched the careers of designers including Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Julien Macdonald, as she always had an exquisite eye for undiscovered talent.
Designed by London architecture studio Carmody Groarke, the exhibition is divided into sections themed around her life. Several media are on show: from photographs to videos, from mundane mementos to interviews. The exhibition begins with a look at Blow’s background through some family photographs: born Isabella Delves Broughton in the 1950s in a very aristocratic family, whose history can be traced back to the 14th century.
A consequent section dedicated to McQueen and Treacy includes their graduate collections and early work created from found materials, such as Blow’s wedding headdress. Despite her wealthy upbringing, Isabella didn’t have a huge amount of readily available cash as a result of a family feud. However, a lack of finance didn’t deter her and she negotiated to buy the entire graduate collection by Alexander McQueen for £100 a week, so strong was her will to support young designers she believed in.
Both McQueen’s and Treacy’s A/W 1996 collections are also displayed. McQueen dedicated this collection to Blow and she also styled Treacy’s show for the same season.
The next stage showcases over a hundred pieces from her incredibly rich collection, now owned by her friend Daphne Guinness, which also includes pieces by Viktor & Rolf, Jeremy Scott, Hussein Chalayan, Manolo Blahnik, Comme des Garçons and Julien Macdonald, particularly his knitwear from his early career.
The wardrobe on show is huge. The exhibition covers several rooms across two floors. Don’t go by the ½ hour allocated by the venue website when planning to view this exhibition, allow it from one to two hours.
The final portion shows the S/S 2008 collection that Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy collaborated on and dedicated to Isabella after her death in 2007.
The biggest part of the wardrobe on show was definitely constituted by dozens of Philip Treacy hats in every shape and structural design imaginable.
Isabella was quoted saying “Always accentuate the head and the feet”, and this part of the exhibition definitely demonstrates the importance that hats and shoes played for her – it was rare to see her without a McQueen outfit, Treacy hat and Manolo Blahnik shoes.
When asked why she loved wearing hats so much, Isabella once said it was because wherever she went, as dictated by the fashion industry, people would want to kiss her on the cheek but she only wanted to be kissed by those she loved, so hats allowed her to maintain the distance.
This exhibition is mostly focused on Isabella’s fashion legacy. Her personal life is not on display. A good number of items that belonged to her but did not form part of her wardrobe, such as her business cards and her rolodex filled with contact details, all written in her signature pink ink, irreverent objects such as phallic-shaped confetti, polaroids and fashion shoots she designed, all give a fun, ironic twist. But despite these, you walk out not knowing that much more about the woman behind the hat than you did when you entered.
And this is why you should go and see this exhibition: because although you can take in all there is on show about her, Fashion Galore! preserves the most important side of this icon, and that is her intrinsic mystery.
Written by Manuela Calascibetta