The Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore exhibition opened this week at Somerset House in London and a few days ago I had the opportunity to go down, check it out and make a total tit of myself in front of a room full of journalists.
For those not in the know, Isabella Blow was the stylist who effectively discovered Alexander McQueen and Ireland’s own Philip Treacy, amongst others. She nurtured these designers, becoming a patron, a friend and a source of moral support. She was known as an eccentric, a visionary and a hat lover in possession of one of the world’s finest wardrobes. I say was because, in 2007, Isabella Blow killed herself by drinking Paraquat weedkiller – a terrible, painful death that is terrible and painful to think about.
I cried. Exiting the exhibition, I cried. Isabella Blow’s legacy was her wardrobe. It made me think of all the little bits and pieces I own that once belonged to people I loved, people I can’t talk to ever again.
A lot of my jewellery once belonged to my grandmothers. I have a 1950s US military ID bracelet that a visiting soldier gave to my maternal grandmother as a token of his affection. A Christian Dior necklace that a Texan gave to my paternal grandmother late in her life when she decided, almost on a whim, to spend some time in America after the death of my grandfather. Rings and bracelets. Rosary beads. For some reason, both had slightly different insect-shaped brooches in amber and crystals.
It’s a terribly morbid question to ask, but what will you leave behind? Isabella Blow left her clothes. She also left an immense amount of love and several books worth of memories, most of which are happy, all of which are remarkable at least in some small way.
My grandmother’s (and now my) ID bracelet is covered in dings and scratches. It was well-worn before it was put in a drawer for the best part of fifty years. Isabella Blow’s clothes are well-worn too. Hems are slightly muddy, heels are broken, delicate satin shoes are stained with water and puddly remnants. Clothes are a sign that a person has lived. Wearing out clothes is a sign that you are living properly. You are living a life filled with activity instead of passivity, not sitting around waiting to be noticed or admired.
There may be a mathematical equation here – the speed at which you wear out your clothes may be directly proportionate to the speed at which you accumulate experience and memories. Whether this holds water or not, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is living well, giving life everything you have and not being afraid to wear a massive hat when the occasion calls for it.