Somerset House is to host a major event celebrating the life of fashion icon, the late Isabella Blow. The exhibition, Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!  takes place this November in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. Abigail Parkin (29 Oct’13)                     

Isabella Blow embodied eccentricity and drew to her like-minded talents such as Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Julien Macdonald. She also discovered models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant and collaborated with photographers such as Steven Meisel, David LaChapelle and Sean Ellis.

 Born into British aristocracy, Isabella’s 30-year career in fashion started as the assistant of Anna Wintour  at US Vogue. This led to a stint at Tatler in 1986 followed by British Vogue and a new role as fashion director at the Sunday Times Style.

 The Fashion Galore!  exhibition will feature over 100 coveted clothing pieces from what is regarded as one of the most important private collections of late 20th Century/early 21st Century British fashion design and now owned by Daphne Guinness.

The exhibition is curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shonagh Marshall and designed by award-winning architectural firm Carmody Groarke, with installations by celebrated set designer Shona Heath.  It’s a life lived through clothes and the exhibition falls into several categories.



The first section of the exhibition will explore Isabella’s background, and her British aristocratic ancestral roots. She was born Isabella Delves Broughton in 1950’s post-war Britain with a family seat at Doddington Hall in Cheshire. Visitors can view family photographs and her eponymous sculpture by Tim Noble and Sue Webster.



Muse and the magic: Alexander McQueen (L) and Isabella Blow, 1996 (c) David LaChapelle Studio Inc

This section will feature pieces from Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy’s graduate MA collections from Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art respectively, including Isabella’s wedding headdress. Exploring the way in which both designers used whatever they could get their hands on to make their garments and hats, this section celebrates the beginnings of their careers and the talent Isabella saw in them, celebrating her eye for discovering young talent.

 The next section exhibits key items from McQueen and Treacy’s AW 1996 collections. McQueen dedicated his AW 1996 collection, entitled Dante, to Isabella and this was his first season to receive international critical acclaim. This same year Isabella styled Philip Treacy’s AW 1996 collection, key items of which will be exhibited.



A huge hedge installation reflects Isabella’s affinity with all things rural and her love of the English countryside. Works in this section show off a number of Isabella’s favourite designers, including clothing by Jeremy Scott, Comme des Garçons, Julien Macdonald, Viktor and Rolf and Undercover alongside accessories by Philip Treacy and Erik Halley.



Isabella Blow and Philip Treacy, 2003 (c) Donald McPherson

Shona Heath will create bespoke Isabella Blow mannequins wearing full outfits worn by her, built referencing archival documentary images. These will demonstrate her distinctive, eclectic style and mixing of designer pieces. She was quoted as saying "Fashion is a vampiric thing, it's the hoover on your brain. That's why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me”, demonstrating the way in which Isabella wore her clothing as a form of armour. Pieces here include McQueen for Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Fendi, Philip Treacy, Escada, Teerabul Songvich, Dior, Prada, Jeremy Scott, Benoit Meleard for Jeremy Scott, Viktor and Rolf, John Galliano for Dior, Manolo Blahnik and Marni.



In her own words: “Tip: Always accentuate the head and the feet.” This part of the exhibition bears out Isabella's focus on hats and shoes in daily wear. Installations by Shona Heath will exhibit hats and shoes from her collection. This section also features one of Isabella’s most famous and successful shoots with Steven Meisel for British Vogue December 1993 entitled ‘Anglo Saxon Attitudes’ featuring debut shoots for Stella Tennant, Honor Fraser, Plum Sykes, Bella Freud and Lady Louise Campbell.



The final section in the exhibition displays La Dame Bleue, the S/S 2008 Alexander McQueen collection that Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy collaborated on and dedicated to Isabella after her death. The collection was inspired by Isabella and to end on this note evokes both her legacy and her importance.


Daphne Guinness said:

“This exhibition is, to me, a bittersweet event. Isabella Blow made our world more vivid, trailing colour with every pace she took. It is a sorrier place for her absence. When I visited her beloved clothes in a storage room in South Kensington, it seemed quite clear the collection would be of immense value to a great many people. I do believe that in choosing to exhibit them we’ve done the right thing – and that it is what she would have wanted. I am doing this in memory of a dear friend, in the hope that her legacy may continue to aid and inspire generations of designers to come”.


To accompany the exhibition, there will be a catalogue with new, commissioned photography by Nick Knight of the Isabella Blow Collection, edited by Alistair O’Neill with essays by Alistair O’Neil, Professor Caroline Evans, Alexander Fury and Shonagh Marshall, designed by Graphic Thought Facility and published by Rizzoli.


Dates: 20 November 2013 – 2 March 2014

Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm Daily. Late night openings on Thursdays until 9pm

Address: Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Admission: £12.50, Concessions £10, half price Mondays

See: www.somersethouse.org.uk 

Headline pic of Isabella Blow, 1997 (c) Mario-Testino

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