I went yesterday to a preview of the Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House. The show celebrates the very individual life and wardrobe of one of the great modern icons of British fashion – and muse to both Alexander McQueen and couture milliner Philip Treacy.
The show is majestic, eclectic, beautiful, sad (Isabella killed herself in 2007 ) but above all totally inspiring, especially to any milliner like myself who believes that hats can be worn like social armour. Blow’s fashion creed was ‘Always accentuate the head and the feet’.
I hadn’t realised how much Isabella – whose aristocratic and notorious family goes back to the 14th century – was influenced by chivalry and medieval imagery and historic costume. One of her close friends, whose modelling photographs appear in the show, told me that one reason that Isabella liked to wear hats so much was that she hated the way she looked. She used quirky lipstick and a fabulous wardrobe (bought by Daphne Guinness) as a fashion shield not just to hide from the world but also to reinvent the world according to her sprit and unique style.
What I came away thinking was that a true fashion genius like McQueen or Isabella Blow turns the idea that fashion is defined by its very disposability on its head. Literally in Isabella’s and Philp Treacy’s case. Fashion does not have to be disposable – the very best designers create wardrobes and hats that is art – or sculpture in Treacy’s case. His designs were brought to magical and anarchic life by Isabella who wore them with wit and true style.
I left the show with a notebook full of ideas for my future exclusive collection for a top London department store. The life-as-a-fashion scrapbook feel of the show has haunted me ever since Tuesday. True, judging by the cigarette burns on her silk dresses, the broken stiletto heels, the despairing faxes re her outlandish and unaccounted for expenses from her bosses at The Sunday Times, her life was chaotic and self-destructive. I met her and it was obvious she chose to live on the edge with her ring side seat inside the dark, artificial and subversive circus of the fashion world. But with true artists it is so often this very chaos that gives birth to true beauty and originality.
I never thought before that anybody could be rescued or redeemed by fashion but Fashion Galore ! has made me think of fashion in a completely different way. Isabella Blow was an artist – ‘muse’ is not the right word – who transcended fashion.The exhibition runs until March 2nd 2014