Isabella Blow

I didn’t think I’d like Isabella Blow, whose collection of designer dresses and hats is currently at Somerset House.  There’d been nothing to warm me in the portraits I’d seen, most showing her expressionless if not rather po-faced, and usually wearing one of her antelope-spike hats.  I admit I have an aversion to fashion, seeing it as a preoccupation of the rich who dress eccentrically to detract from an inner vacuum, with followers who seemingly dress identically when they should be making their own!

So did I have my prejudices overturned? 🙂

Not initially.  In the first display room, a familiar sight of a mismatched zip (ooh, at least  5mm, girls) spotted on the back of a lace Alexander McQueen skirt had me feeling rather smug.  “Blimey, he must have done that before he had people to do it for him,” I thought.  Even less impressive was a fashion feature in The Face showing a child clad in nowt but glittery Agent Provocateur knickers.  Clearly, we’d travelled into the past: a suspicion confirmed when one of the displayed documents turned out to be a fax (I’d forgotten they existed) which referred to the rather mundane  but very relevant matter of Blow’s expenses.

Amber Anderson photographed by Nick KnightHowever, you soon start to feel luck at being able to circle, and study closely, such giants of design as you see here.  I would have loved to touch some of the exhibits (like the fluffiest collar ever, on right) but I’d been warned off by repeated signs.  “No Photography” either, sadly.  As there wasn’t a catalogue of the exhibition on sale, here are some personal highlights which I’m trying to entrust to memory:

– One Philip Treacy hat, or ‘head sculpture’ if you will: a scarlet velvet number worthy of a female cardinal (if there was such a thing).  All parallel pintucks curling up in a sphere.  In a video clip, Blow very sweetly offers the theory that such hats “lift” faces like hers.  “Anyone can find a husband if they wear a Philip Treacy hat!”.

– An ice-smooth, silver shift dress, matched with a two-pronged headdress and the most pointed ever silver trident.  A she-Neptune outfit perhaps?

– A McQueen python-skin suit: a pointy-shouldered jacket and pencil skirt.

And if you think I’m just some sucker for power dressing, how about:

– The Jun Takahashi shocking-pink Burka printed with skewered-headed teddy bears (see it here)?  Very low Taliban-approval rating but Lady Gaga also gave it a go.

Looking around, I did in fact start to wonder if I haven’t lived when I haven’t partied  in frocks like these!

The exhibition veils over the ending of Blow’s and McQueen’s symbiotic relationship and you wouldn’t guess by the triumphant catwalk-show ending that Blow’s last years were ruined by depression, money worries and disappointment at her infertility and divorce.  I think this is deliberate.  We have to let this collection celebrate Isabella Blow and use our imagination to wonder at the rest of the story.

If you can, do go.  Till 2nd March.