From jellyfish capes to Rolls Royce hats, Isabella Blow’s collection of weird and wonderful possessions does not fail to impress. The wardrobe of the lady who used to clean her desk with Perrier water and transformed Alexander McQueen and Phillip Treacy from graduates into designers with international reputations, tells a beautiful tale.
Born into the rarefied world of British aristocracy, Isabella’s thirty year career began in the early 80s as Anna Wintour’s assistant at US Vogue. On her return to London in 1986 she worked at Tatler followed by British Vogue. In 1997 she became the Fashion Director of the Sunday Times Style after which she returned to Tatler as Fashion Director. Driven by a passion for creativity, Isabella is credited for having nurtured and inspired numerous artists and designers.
In the 90’s in The New York Times, Amy Spindler had identified the important role Isabella Blow played within the fashion industry. ‘Ms. Blow has reason to celebrate. She is not a designer, but she certainly was the key to the two strongest fashion shows in London this season.’ To put a name to what she did is difficult, she was a talent spotter, an art director, a personality, muse and British magazine editor amongst many other things. She was a character, an extravagant fashion genius and the exhibition, gives you a glimpse into the treasure chest of such an important figure in the fashion world. Cleverly designed by London architects Carmody Groarke, Fashion Galore! is divided into sections carefully themed around Isabella’s life.
Walking into the galleries you see a collection of family photographs telling the tale of Isabella’s aristocratic upbringing in the 1950’s, before entering a room filled with gowns, hats and accessories acquired by Blow from McQueen and Treacy’s graduate collections. In 1992 Isabella Blow had attended the MA fashion show at St Martins where she bought Alexander McQueen’s collection in its entirety, even though it was beyond her means. She paid him £100 a week in exchange for one garment a month. Isabella had an eye for identifying something good and this becomes clear when admiring the beautiful things she was surrounded by.
Upstairs, the carefully curated exhibition reassembles outfits worn by Isabella, put together by set designer Shona Heath from old photographs. Each outfit tells a story and brings you closer into the life of the fashion and art patron, Isabella Blow, through her career, friendships and perhaps most importantly, her wardrobe.
We spoke to Isabella’s close friend Shaun Leane, the renowned jewellery designer. “The exhibition was a beautiful reminder of how inspiring Issy was to emerging artists and designers; myself included. She encouraged us to follow our vision.”
The exhibition, whilst refreshing in its originality has a tragic air about it, knowing that Isabella Blow committed suicide six years ago, it becomes clearer that Blow saw her clothing as armour, as a form of protection from the everyday- from the slings and arrows of daily life.