It’s fitting that today is the late, great Isabella Blow’s birthday and the preview day for Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore which officially opens at Somerset House tomorrow morning. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue is something of a family affair, albeit one where the matriarch is noticeably absent.
Curator Alastair O’Neill says that the exhibition is centred around the wardrobe more so than the woman, which is probably wise given the temptation to sensationalise and mythologise Blow’s life and death.
What. A. Wardrobe.
Isabella Blow owned very little couture, but a lot of her clothing had couture detail. She had a brilliant eye for colour and silhouette and, most importantly, she wore her clothes. Really wore them. An embroidered wedding kimono has a grubby hem from careless use. Satin shoes are stained with spots of rain. Shoes for the real girl. Dresses for a women with her head in the clouds and her feet in a puddle.
Fashion Galore is expertly and lovingly curated. I found myself crying a little bit as I exited through the gift shop. Then I cheered up on discovering a Nars counter with stacks of Isabella-style lipsticks alongside the postcards and exhibition catalogues.
That’s the point of Fashion Galore. It’s the wardrobe. It’s not life, it’s not death. It’s material, cold and pliable and, in Blow’s hands, it’s the stuff that dreams and handmade realities are really made of.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, presented in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. The show features over 100 garments from designers such as Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. Selected from the personal collection of the late British patron of fashion and art, the exhibition runs from November 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014.