Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore
Long before the age of blogging, selfies and self-promotion via outrageous ‘look-at-me’ dressing Isabella Delves Broughton, later known by her married name Isabella Blow, was turning heads with her own creative sense of style. A true original, the former fashion editor, stylist and muse was pivotal in nurturing the designers of tomorrow, fore-seeing their talent at graduate level.
‘I can’t think of many fashion editors today who are connected to designers in the way that she was’, says Alistair O’Neil, co-curator of the show. Designers detected by Blow’s radar included the likes of Hussain Chalayan, Julian MacDonald and most famously of all her two key protégées Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy.
The exhibition begins with a brief look at her early life, photographs from her childhood followed by her days as a young woman working alongside Anna Wintour and then Andre Leon while befriending the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.
The focus then returns to London, graduate and fashion week collections throughout the 1990’s, and Blow’s unparalleled ability to spot and champion the next big thing in designer fashion. Blow lived and breathed fashion, if she liked a design she would respond instantly, hence the story that she bought Alexander McQueen’s entire MA graduate collection, which she paid for in instalments and he delivered in bin bags. The Blow, McQueen, Treacy relationship became prevalent for all to see and she would often wear their designs at high profile events complete with a pair of Manolo heels.
Blow’s wardrobe plays a big part in this exhibition, and what a well-stocked wardrobe it is, full of fashion fantasy, craftsmanship and beautifully cut design. Alongside the visual feast of colour, cut and texture is the sound of Blow’s voice talking to interviewers about her style, her discoveries, which also extended to models such as Sophie Dahl, Honor Fraser and Plum Sykes.
Fittingly, and rather touchingly one of the final rooms projects ‘La Dame Bleue’ a tribute catwalk show to Blow featuring the work of McQueen and Treacy. This combined with personal notes (written in pink ink), her voice, film footage, tearsheets of her work and a vast wardrobe line-up make for an exhibition that is more than ‘just clothes’. Blow would often liken fashion to art and would quote ‘it’s about emotion.’
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore gives a unique insight into her personal style and that’s thanks to Daphne Guinness, who stopped an auction at Christie’s to sell off the lot. O’Neil adds; ‘This exhibition would have been impossible otherwise, it would have taken years to track down each piece.’
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore is on until 2nd March 2014 at Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. £12.50 somersethouse.org.uk
The companion catalogue is edited by Alistair O’Neill with photography by Nick Knight and is published by Rizzoli. £40.
Images courtesy of Peter Macdiarmid/Getty for Somerset House
Top left image of show entrance by JoJo Iles