It’s not often that you’ll find a Nars counter in a museum gift shop, but then again, ‘Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!’ is not your run-of-the-mill exhibition, nor is Somerset House a typical exhibition space.
The home of the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week is, for the time being, also the home of a remarkable collection of outfits belonging to the late stylist and muse Isabella Blow, who died in 2007.
Isabella Blow worked initially as Anna Wintour’s assistant at American Vogue in the 80s. This would be a springboard to a career as a fashion director and stylist for Tatler, Vogue and The Sunday Times, amongst others. Aside from that, she is probably most famous for nurturing the careers of Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy.
After her death, her clothing was to be sold at auction. Fearing the breakup of one of the world’s most valuable contemporary fashion collections, Daphne Guinness bought Blow’s wardrobe in its entirety and set about finding the perfect venue to exhibit it.
And so, we come to Somerset House. ‘Fashion Galore’ is a Central Saint Martins family affair. Curator Alastair O’Neill is a tutor at the famed art college, the indomitable head of the MA Fashion course, Louise Wilson, is on the board of the Isabella Blow Foundation and, lest we forget, the exhibition is home to an incredibly comprehensive collection of McQueen ensembles (also a CSM alum).
The exhibition is split thematically, from complete reconstructions of Blow’s outfits from archival footage, to mannequins focusing on hands and feet, to restaging of McQueen and Treacy’s A/W ‘96 collections, both of which Blow styled.
If you’re a fan of Blow, this will be a poignant, bittersweet experience. The final room contains outfits from La Dame Bleu, the collaborative collection that McQueen and Treacy worked on together and dedicated to Isabella after her untimely death. Video footage of the show, which ends with the two visibly emotional designers taking their bows and comforting each other, is an emotional suckerpunch that is continued long after purchasing an Isabella-alike red lipstick or the Nick Knight-shot catalogue in the gift shop.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, presented in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. The exhibition runs from November 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014.
By Sarah Waldron