Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

Somerset House's long awaited retrospective of the late editor, stylist and muse.

If you’re still undecided about attending ‘Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!’ – you’ve read the previews, had a gander at the Somerset House website, Googled what you could – we implore you to go for the video of Alexander McQueen’s Autumn Winter 96 show alone.

Titled ‘Dante’ and dedicated to Blow, the show took place in Christchurch in Whitechapel that spring.

Isabella sits front row clapping, cheering and whispering to her neighbours throughout, whist further down the row Hilary Alexander and Suzy Menkes sit, notepad and pen in hand. Tim Blanks – today Editor at Large of Style.com – sits some rows behind.

LL Cool J and The Rolling Stones play overhead, intermixed with the church’s own religious call. As the girls stride up and down the catwalk, a group of guys stand at one end wearing hairnets and chewing gum. It’s a fun affair, with congratulatory heckles throughout.

Primarily it’s a piece of history, a role much of the exhibition plays with particular bias to the early-mid 90s (when Lee McQueen and Isabella first met).

Entry is via a black velvet curtain – a fitting introduction – with the first room dedicated to Blow’s early life as Isabella Delves Broughton.

"I do historical research, I find unbalanced people, I choose photographers and places to shoot them,” reads Isabella’s contributor profile in the February 1988 edition of Tatler.  

The tear sits next to a handwritten scribble of ‘MY JOB’, sharing a page with a black and white image and another note of ‘Invitation to Andy Warhol’s memorial service…’ The service at which she performed a striptease accompanied by The Velvet Underground.

Photos and newspaper clippings of a young Blow here sit, while an interview with Hilary Knight from 1993 is screened. In it, Isabella’s face is never shown – save for a brief profile when she leans to grab something – instead the two voices soundtrack the stylist looking through a family photo album; it’s simple but the outcome is effective.

In the same room a very different film also lies: ‘Immortalising Isabella’. A black and white short by duo Today Is Boring, produced in 2010 with footage from a 2002 sitting with the artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

“Can we just go to the loo? Let me just get my knickers down,” Blow is overheard saying, along with anecdotes about McQueen’s dogs, Juice and Minter.

More artistically led than any of the other films on show, it is the product of the making of ‘The Head of Isabella Blow’. The latter – formed of dead animals to present a shadow of Blow’s head – sits a metre away.

There are further videos – mini screens showing the graduate shows of McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Hussein Chalayan and Philip Treacy; a floor to ceiling projection of a Isabella being interviewed in 1996 “anyone can find a husband if they wear a Philip Treacy hat” – and then there are of course the clothes.

Her wardrobe is spread out across several rooms, the most recent exhibition of which is presented in ‘The Circular Saloon’, a reproduction of the saloon at Doddington Hall, the house her family built in Cheshire and which she had hoped to one day return to.

Amongst the garments on show, the room boasts a white leather all in one by Jeremy Scott, and the infamous checkerboard suit from McQueen’s AW03 collection.

Elsewhere a whole room is given to her 1993 Vogue shoot with Steven Meisel. Titled ‘Anglo Saxon Attitude’, the work is evident of her discovery not only for designers but for models too, with appearances from Stella Tennant and the writer Plum Sykes.

Lastly McQueen's Spring Summer 2008 collection - shown below - is screened. Titled 'La Dame Bleue', the collection was dedicated to Blow and saw Lee collaborate with Treacy. 

          

The exhibition is large and comes alive most on camera, while the focus is drawn primarily to her working relationship with Alexander McQueen; no bad thing, given the importance of each to the other.

Fans of her style will be in awe, while fans of Isabella Blow, the personality, will likewise find much to gush over. Even those for whom she was not a pivotal character, will likely find themselves intrigued to learn more about the woman who shaped a landscape.

Until 2nd March 2014. A catalogue of the exhibition with new, commissioned photography by Nick Knight of the Isabella Blow Collection is published by Rizzoli, edited by Alistair O'Neill. 

Words: Zoe Whitfield

www.somersethouse.org

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