Earlier this week I visited the Isabella Blow exhibition ‘Fashion Galore’ at Somerset House.
Clothes, shoes, hats and artefacts from Isabella Blow’s life are displayed in this incredible collection, celebrating the life and talents of this seminal figure in British fashion history.
The majority of the outfits exhibited were bought by Daphne Guiness in 2010 to save them from auction to private collectors, and it’s a truly inspiring selection of some of the most daring, eccentric and iconic British fashion I’ve ever seen.
One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition is following the journey of her two main protégées and their careers - Mcqueen and Treacy – from their graduate shows and early designs displayed next to the entrance, all the way through to the majestic 2008 show in Blow's memory. It takes you on a journey through their careers, and the history of modern British fashion as much as through her own life and wardrobe.
If it’s possible to have a favourite piece in an exhibition of this scale, mine would be Mcqueen’s floor length pale feather dress with opulent bird head dress. Taken from La Dame Bleue, the S/S 2008 Alexander McQueen collection that McQueen and Treacy dedicated to Isabella after her death, the piece seemed a majestic visual representation of McQueen's development into one of Britain’s most important and iconic fashion designers.
Philip Treacy’s hats were astonishing. The creative energy and variety amazed me – each one completely unique, with it’s own identity, structure, and many bringing a smile to your face. And the outfits just, well, worked. The size and scale of some of the pieces would make them, as separate items, seem impossible to put together to most of us mere fashion mortals, but somehow the pom poms, spirals, feathers, boats, lobsters and tailored pieces actually created outfits which were balanced, and whilst in no way understated they exuded style and glamour in the way she put her looks together.
Personal artifacts gave the experience a nostalgic, humorous side – odd shoes, an exasperated fax from an assistant regarding expenses at a fashion shoot, false eyelashes, lipstick and a notebook with pink ink – the only colour she would write in. Cigarette burns, rips, shoes that need to be re heeled after too many parties no doubt all lend a very touching quality to the exhibition. When they first unpacked the clothes, the exhibit even smelt of Fracas - the perfume Isabella wore.
The exhibition is truly brilliant, a must see for anyone interested in the history of fashion and Britain’s place within it. It’s also a reminder that fashion and design can mean so much more than just the clothes.