In a fashion world dominated by an army of equals dressed by mainstream brands, remembering the geniuses that made this business an art is an inspiring lesson that also keeps their legacy alive. Opening today, Somerset House presents Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore, a retrospective exhibition that celebrates the life and work of this master of uniqueness.
At the main entrance, a small corridor with black satin curtains and signs embossed in a shiny silver pantone welcomes guests to Isabella’s world. Born into an unconventional aristocratic family, dating back to the 14th century, the exhibition explores her British ancestral roots, which played a major role in Isabella’s life.
Next to the family pictures that set the scene of her childhood, we find an amazing dress from Hussein Chalayan, opening a whole new section where we can see original pieces from the talented designers that she discovered. This dress specially caught our attention, not only because of the beautifulness that radiates but because of the story. For his graduate show, the designer buried his clothing designs with iron filings to engrain them with a rusted patina; the collection had magnets concealed in the hems of the garments to make their natural drape shift. Isabella, who meet him at the show, encouraged him to put the collection into bin bags and run to Browns. The collection ended up in a window display in South Molton street, starting an remarkable career.
Designs from Alexander McQueen, Philip Tracy and Julien McDonald follow in the exclusive collection, now owned by Daphne Guinness. “The decision to put Isabella’s wardrobe on display was a natural progression; it felt like what she would have wanted”, Guinness told British VOGUE yesterday .“I bought the collection because I couldn’t bear for it to be dispersed; it was her life’s work – her legacy. What better way of celebrating that legacy than allowing the world to view it”.
Despite the amazing designs, the exhibition takes a while to make an impression and awake emotions. It is not until arriving to the first floor that you actually start experiencing her world through her own eyes. Looking back at her editorials from Tatler, VOGUE or The Sunday Times, one can identify her signature of impossible styles deeply inspired by nature, where rare accessories, such a lobster hat, draw much attention. In fact, her personal obsession for rare shoes got noticed by Andy Warhol in New York in the 1980 who saw a pair of Maud Frizon slingbacks and invited the person wearing them to dinner.
Her personal admiration for McQueen and Tracy is brought to light by the amazing display of more than 20 mannequins showcasing their stunning designs. For those in the business, whatever image of Isabella that comes to mind, she is wearing a Philip Tracy hat.
Isabella’s partnership with McQueen went beyond the aesthetics of fashion, linking them both in life and death. He is as present in the exhibition, as he was in her life. The designer explored the most obscured depths of his mind to source creativity and while that made him unique, it also led to a life marked by depression. Exclusively for the exhibition, we see McQueen’s S/S 2008 show presented in Paris in October 2007, where his obsession with birds took control. One of the most intriguing designs is a feather dress: beautiful, magically empowering but also a bit intimidating styled with a magnificent Tracy hat, reminding us once again of a world dominated by the queen of darkness.
Both Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen were able to create parallel worlds through fashion, enabling the industry to art status. Their legacy marked the history of fashion and this exhibition is not only a must see for all fashion lovers, but also an inspiring insight for those magicians to come.
By Laura Roig Vericat
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, presented in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. The show features over 100 garments from designers such as Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. Selected from the personal collection of the late British patron of fashion and art, the exhibition runs from November 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House)