I was expecting hats, hats and more hats and Somerset House’s Isabella Blow retrospective did not disappoint. As well as some of her own designs, visitors were invited to feast their eyes on the mad and magnificent outfits Blow pulled together from her protégés’ collections. Because, above being a great milliner, a fantastically mad dresser, and a fashion editor who pushed the boundaries of many established magazines and newspapers, she was a sparkling talent spotter and developer.
The exhibition starts with aristocratic family albums and an incredible hat featuring several taxidermied crows as well as a shoe, swiftly followed by some lace pieces by Alexander McQueen (discovered by Blow). Not the best presented room but it got better…much better.
Upstairs, hats Blow wore (her own designs and Philip Treacy’s), a collection of personal objects such as her favourite shade of lipstick, her fantastic shoes (including the mismatched ones Andy Warhol noticed her for)…
My highlight was a (typed) letter she received from a friend after a party, which described entrance and her outfit, and really captures that when Isabella was in the room, no matter how mad her outfit, or casual her approach, she attracted people like moths to a flame.
Two further rooms showed off further outfits worn by Blow. Because not only did she find new talent and hone it, she launched it by wearing it, wearing the designs by McQueen, Treacy, McDonald and Chalayan… What better endorsement for a designer than having the Fashion Director of The Sunday Times Style wear your clothes, accessories, shoes…! From an aristocratic background, she was very interested in armour and the hunt, wearing pieces by McQueen featuring feathers and antlers.
Another room presents a striking black and white photoshoot she styled, and helped discover the models for. A magazine article displayed nearby tells the story of how she discovered Sophie Dahl, a completely random encounter.
The final room downstairs presents key pieces and a viewing from the show McQueen and Treacy put together as an homage after her untimely death. Because although she was very good at putting others forward, and despite her outrageous, attention grabbing clohtes, hats and shoes, Blow was actually always hiding behind these costumes, deflecting attention onto others.
All in all, a very interesting look at the boundary-breaking style of an elusive woman, who honed so much British talent, transforming UK fashion forever. Lady Gaga eat your heart out.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! ends on 2 March 2014 at Somerset House.
[Tip: no bags bigger than A4 size are allowed in and have to be checked into the (paying) cloakroom]