Whether antlered, disguised as a crustacean, or with her last name spelled in feathers atop her head, Isabella Blow was perhaps the most fearless and irreverent fashion icon of the past century. She could resemble an alien princess or a trippy creature from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and make any dark Tim Burton costume look conservative as a schoolgirl uniform.
In partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, London’s Somerset House presents Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, an exhibition devoted to her life and sartorial legacy. On display are 100 pieces from Blow’s legendary wardrobe, along with visual explorations of her love for the English countryside.
“Fashion is a vampiric thing, it’s the hoover on your brain,” Blow once said. “That’s why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me. They say, ‘Oh, can I kiss you?’ I say, ‘No, thank you very much. That’s why I’ve worn the hat. Goodbye.’ I don’t want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love.”
After Blow’s tragic suicide in 2007, close friend Daphne Guinness said, “I would like this unique collection, marked by her grace and the fact it was so intimately hers, to allow people (whether students, lovers of fashion, historians) to remember her and benefit from her legacy, when we who knew and loved Issie are no longer here. For that, it needs to be kept whole; it is like a diary, a journey of a life, and a living embodiment of the dearest, most extraordinary friend.”
Curated by Alastair O’Neill and Shonagh Marshall, the exhibition features items from Julien Macdonald, Fendi, Viktor & Rolf, Escada, Prada, Jeremy Scott, and Marni. Pieces from Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen’s SS08 tribute show entitled “La Dame Bleue” are also included. It’s organized by theme, from her time at Vogue as Anna Wintour’s assistant, to her work for publications like the Sunday Times, Vogue UK, and Tatler.
A fan of feather headdresses and face-obscuring fascinators (she was convinced she was “ugly”), Blow was most notorious for her hat fetish. The muse of hat designer Philip Treacy, she wore his famous lobster headpiece before Lady Gaga was even invented. In Burning Down the House, an iconic photo by David LaChapelle, Blow wears a red Treacy hat the size of a skateboard and cavorts with a torch-wielding, drag-clad Alexander McQueen on the lawn of a flaming fortress. Clothing was Blow’s artistic medium of choice, and Somerset House pays due homage to her legacy by presenting her wild and woolly collection to the world.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! is on view at London’s Somerset House until March 2, 2014.