I was very lucky to get a ticket for the first day of the exhibition at Somerset House, London celebrating the life of Isabella Blow. Born into aristocracy but without the financial benefits, she dove into a career in fashion. Working as editor with Sunday Times Style, British Vogue and Tatler. As well as discovering and supporting young British talent she was at the centre of the Cool Britannia era of fashion in the nineties.
Although I’ve loved fashion since as early as I can remember, I discovered fashion designers, magazines, television shows and writers at this very cool time. I followed McQueen from the early days so I knew of Isabella Blow but not much about her.
My memory of her was of championing the young designers on TV, dressed in the latest and most outlandish creations, always topped off with a Philip Tracy hat (I say hat but they were works if art).
She always challenged the norm: covering her face with a lobster hat, wearing dresses slit up to here and down to there but not in a glamorous way. It was confrontational, thought provoking and striking.
She favoured historical reference with a nod to the dark and destructible side – a perfect match with McQueen, Tracy and Sean Leane (jewellery designer whose pieces were gothic and elegant).
The exhibition spanned her life: from growing up in a large manor, to the beginnings of her career and from her wardrobe comprising of designs by the designers she lauded to the pieces made in her memory for McQueen Spring/Summer 2009 show after her death. The show ends with the video of the show beginning with an amazing lighting structure in the shape of wings paired with a powerful soundtrack of a birds flapping it’s windfall in flight. (I’ll admit I welled up a little watching this but that’s because both she and McQueen have had such a strong influence on me).
I spent an hour and a half at the show but could have spent all day. Rare photos and video footage of her at home gave me a sense of her upbringing. Fashion spreads she was involved in as editor had her handprint all over them. Clothing I had only seen her wear in magazines were on display and I could get up really close and see the detail. Personal items like letters and cosmetics have me a peek into her personal life.
She was overlooked during her time and the recognition feels long overdue but it’s better late than never.
I wish she was still around.