Fashion exhibitions are often a treat for the eyes but rarely succeed in provoking an emotional response. When I booked my ticket for Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, I knew the display of clothes, hats and shoes would be astonishing – even bordering on outlandish – but little did I know that their artistic expression would leave an imprint on my brain as I strolled through the galleries.
The quality of the curation is nothing short of superb and pays tribute to Isabella’s quirks, her wit, her eye for discovering young talent and her irresistible and extravagant clothes collection. I had made that emotional connection thanks to the dramatic setting, the recorded interviews and the fashion shoot photography that gave us a strong hindsight into Isabella’s complex personality but barely scratched the surface of her private life and personal troubles. When I left, I was hungry for more, wanting to put together the missing jigsaw pieces of her life that were subtly hinted throughout the exhibition. And I did just that, sitting at a café terrace, writing a few notes, and reading an online biography of the late Mrs Blow.
The exhibition focuses as much on Blow’s wardrobe as it does on the work of Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacey. She discovered them when they were both students, encouraged and nurtured their creativity before they became brand names that shaped the fashion side of Cool Britannia in the 1990’s. The appreciation was mutual as she was rarely seen without a McQueen outfit and a Treacy hat that so notoriously defined her unique sense of style.
But Isabella Blow was more than just a muse to them and she would have undoubtedly resented featuring on a Best and Worst dressed list of some kind. She wore the clothes. It was never about commercialism or dressing up for press opportunities. Rather, her outfits served to push our preconceptions of good taste and beauty.
My personal highlight was Alexander McQueen paying homage to Isabella Blow in his S/S 2008 collection displayed on a giant flat screen. I completely felt part of a visually exciting fashion show which concluded the exhibition. As I left, I was confronted by heavy black velvet curtains which read to me as the final curtain on Mrs Blow’s life. She had committed suicide a few short months prior to McQueen’s homage collection. Coincidentally, McQueen took his own life less than three years later, hinting at the dark and more disturbing side of the industry, its tremendous expectations, and the fact that designers and fashion icons can be just as disposable as the clothes. But Isabella Blow’s legacy is, fortunately for us, just too remarkable to undergo such fate.
All pictures for this blog entry were taken by Peter MacDiarmid/Getty for Somerset House and I’d like to thank the Press office of Somerset House for giving me authorisation to use them for my write-up.