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Isabella Blow, 1997 © Mario Testino
20th November 2013 – 2nd March 2014 Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA www.somersethouse.org.uk
This autumn, Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, will present Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a major fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and wardrobe of the late British patron of fashion and art.
Born into the rarefied world of British aristocracy, Isabella’s thirty year career began in the early 80s as Anna Wintour’s assistant at US Vogue. On her return to London in 1986 she worked at Tatler followed by British Vogue. In 1997 she became the Fashion Director of the Sunday Times Style after which she returned to Tatler as Fashion Director. Driven by a passion for creativity, Isabella is credited for having nurtured and inspired numerous artists and designers. The exhibition will showcase over a hundred pieces from her incredibly rich collection, one of the most important private collections of late 20th Century/early 21st Century British fashion design, now owned by Daphne Guinness. This includes garments from the many designer talents she discovered and launched, such as Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Julien Macdonald amongst others.
Isabella is also known for discovering models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant, and for her collaborations with major photographers such as Steven Meisel, David LaChapelle and Sean Ellis, which pushed the boundaries of convention in her increasingly provocative fashion spreads and establishing herself as a legendary figure within the international fashion and contemporary art worlds.
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, the exhibition will display thematically the breadth of Isabella’s collection, a life lived through clothes. The exhibition will be divided as follows:
The first section of the exhibition will explore Isabella’s background, and her British aristocratic ancestral roots. Born Isabella Delves Broughton in 1950’s post-war Britain, with a family seat at Doddington Hall in Cheshire, her family history can be traced back to the 14th Century – a factor which played an important part in Isabella’s life. Highlights include family photographs and the sculpture entitled ‘Isabella Blow’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN AND PHILIP TREACY
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, inspired by Isabella’s love of the English countryside will display groups of clothing from her collection presented in four themes that conjure the fantastical world Isabella inhabited and drew inspiration from, reflecting her love of birds, flowers and the surreal. 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’S OUTFITS & STYLE
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.
ISABELLA AT WORK/HEAD & FEET
Taken from Isabella’s owns words: “Tip: Always accentuate the head and the feet”, this part of the exhibition will look at the importance that hats and shoes played in her life- she was rarely seen without a McQueen outfit, Treacy hat and Manolo Blahnik shoes. Representing Isabella’s work and urban London life installations by Shona Heath will be created to 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 Stella Tennant, Honor Fraser, Plum Sykes, Bella Freud and Lady Louise Campbell, the first time any of them had graced the pages of a magazine, showcasing Isabella’s eye for spotting talent.
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”.
Professor Louise Wilson OBE said:
“Isabella Blow was a champion of creative talent. So much that we know today would never have happened without her vision and her support of British fashion and creativity was unique.”
About the Isabella Blow Foundation
The Isabella Blow Foundation aims to develop, curate and establish an exhibition of Isabella’s iconic wardrobe. The collection will be open to the public, and will ultimately become a global travelling exhibition. The Foundation promotes British fashion and encourages young and aspiring art and fashion students. It has created and implemented a bursary/scholarship fund to sponsor students through their studies at art and fashion school. The Foundation’s final chief objective is to fund selected charities which strive to promote mental well-being, and to raise awareness within this sector.