New Exhibition Pays Homage to Isabella Blow

Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow: Burning Down The House, 1996. Photographed by David LaChapelle.
Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow: Burning Down The House, 1996. Photographed by David LaChapelle.
Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow: Burning Down The House, 1996. Photographed by David LaChapelle.

Stylist and fashion visionary Isabella Blow is the subject of a new exhibition at Somerset House. Kicking off on November 20, “Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” is a celebration of the woman who discovered and nurtured emerging talent such as Alexander McQueenPhilip Treacy, and Hussein Chalayan, and championed a new kind of beauty in Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant. The exhibition will display over 100 pieces from her legendary wardrobe, delve into her aristocratic family history, and feature her iconoclastic editorial spreads.

“There’s the introductory section, which looks at her ancestors and family, and then it focuses on two very significant points throughout the crux of the exhibition,” co-curator Shonagh Marshall told ARTINFO UK. “It looks at her eye for talent – Alexander McQueen, milliner Philip Treacy, Julien Macdonad, Hussein Chalayan, and their graduate collections.”

Blow was a pivotal figure in British fashion in the 1990s and was known for discovering young talent and nurturing them through the early stages of their career. Blow has supported many rising stars, but she is most associated with championing McQueen and Treacy.

She famously discovered McQueen during his graduate show at Central Saint Martins and purchased the collection in its entirety for £5,000, which was paid off in weekly installments of £100.

Blow persuaded McQueen to change his name from Lee to Alexander when he launched his brand and often featured his collections in her photo shoots. She also wore his clothes in her day-to-day life, as well as to events where she would be photographed.

When the fashion editor discovered Treacy’s talent, she moved him into her London flat, which she shared with her husband, Detmar, so the milliner could work on his collections. She also began wearing his unique hats, which became part of her signature style.

Isabella Blow marrying Detmar in 1988.
Isabella Blow marrying Detmar in 1988.

“The exhibition then fast forwards to autumn 1996 where Alexander McQueen’s ‘Dante’ collection was dedicated to Isabella and she styled Philip Treacy’s autumn/winter 1996 collection,” explained Marshall.

While the show explores her life and her work, it also touches on her untimely death. Blow committed suicide in May 2007 and the final section of “Fashion Galore!” looks at her lasting influence in fashion with a display of “La Dame Bleue,” the spring/summer 2008 collection that McQueen collaborated on with Treacy and dedicated to Blow.

After her death, Blow’s extensive wardrobe was due to be auctioned off but her good friend, heiress Daphne Guinness, purchased the collection and is mounting the exhibition with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins.

The show was originally planned for the gallery at CSM but after Alistair O’Neill, who is co-curating the show with Marshall, started researching concepts for the exhibition, he realized that the space was too small to host the expansive collection. “Fashion Galore!” then moved to Somerset House, where it is set to run until March of next year.

The exhibition will feature Blow’s outfits recreated on mannequins, which have been carefully styled using archival images. It will also showcase her work as a stylist and her famed collaborations with photographers such as David LaChapelle and Sean Ellis. To accompany the show, a series of photos by Nick Knight of the Isabella Blow Collection will be published in a catalogue.

“Throughout the exhibition, we explore her personal style and what inspired her, how she worked with designers, and her idiosyncrasies,” said Marshall.

By Samantha Tse

“Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” November 20 – March 2, 2014, Somerset House, London – See more at: