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Saturday, 1 February 2014

'Always accentuate the head and the feet' - Isabella Blow:Fashion Galore at Somerset House

Isabella Blow at Somerset House proves to be an exciting delve into the wardrobe of one of the most influential fashionistas of the 90’s and 00’s. Showcasing the talents of much loved British designer:  Alexander McQueen, Phillip Treacy and Hussain Chalaylan Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore is an exploration of Isabella’s life in the spotlight through her costumes.
Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen
But who was Isabella Blow? Throughout the exhibition it’s hard to get to past the  and her outer image. A daughter of British aristocracy, Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue in the 80’s and fashion director for Sunday Times Style and Tatler are common facts  on Isabella, but the depths of her personality are left to be interpreted from her pink scrawl on her desk notes exhibited. With her suicide only six years ago perhaps Blow behind the fanciful hats and outfits is still too raw to explore. Especially with Daphne Guinness a close friend, now owns Blow’s incredible collection of clothes, shoes and hats. The exhibition at Somerset House explores Blow’s life topically, how the gossip magazines and the fashion world saw her – a muse, a talent spotter, personality and visionary, Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore Shows the dramatic legacy of her life in the hearts and minds of British Fashion. 
Entering the exhibition and passing through black heavy velvet curtains visitors are greeted with the eerie shadow of Isabella herself, projected from one of her hats on a stand it provides a staunch reminder that Isabella was hiding behind her costumes. What is most notable about this exhibition is that the late Alexander McQueen and the royal’s favourite hatter Phillip Treacy feature heavily. Their relationship with Isabella began when she bought their whole graduate Masters collections from Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art respectively. Giving them a space in her basement to explore their work Blow became their muse, their friend and their connection.
The exhibition reflects her influence on the pair dramatically. The first few rooms are dictated by their responses to Isabella Blow and her eccentric style showing the visitors the McQueen Dante A/W 1996 Collection that he dedicated to her. With dramatic exhibition design the space feels foreboding and you instantly feel that a tragic loss has occurred. 
With life installations by acclaimed set designer Shona Heath it’s upstairs where the really exciting way to exhibit a fashion exhibition come into play. The fifth room titled ‘'Isabella at work/Head and Feet'’ is my favourite space. Mannequin’s legs and arms are attached to boxes where her shoes are adorned; among the manolas is a pair of unmatching shoes that Andy Warhol loved of her. And boxes containing her rolodex from Tatler with her standard pink scrawl.
The exhibition design is ingenious and even more thrilling when it comes to the ‘shop windows’ here sits my favourite piece  The Ship hat. Sits upon the 'waterline' adorning the mannequins head and body underwater and accompanied by 'the lady gaga' lobster (Blow wore it first) 'The Ship' was directly influenced by Blow for Treacy, pondering 18th Century French engravings Blow had become fascinated with French women wearing miniature model ships in their hair to commemorate a naval win against the English. Treacy made a modern day equivalent with feathers black satin and the piece is as shockingly effective.  
Perhaps the real emotion of the show comes in the last room where Treacy and McQueen collaborate for McQueen’s S/S 2008 collection dedicating their work to her after her death. Inspired by Isabella the collection invokes her legacy and importance and how she should never be forgotten with one of the most important wardrobes of the late 20th early 21st Century. 

Isabella Blow:Fashion Galore is a must see. At Somerset House until 2nd March £12.50, £10 concessions, £6.25 on Mondays

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