Friday, 14 February 2014

Homage to Isabella Blow

By the time we got to the Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, we were already a little worn out. Travel, wandering around Borough Market and various coffee stops delayed our arrival until mid-afternoon. We dropped off our bags, bought our tickets and walked past the velvet curtains. They were aptly theatrical, hiding the stages and whirled fantasy of fashion-as-performance beyond.

The late Isabella Blow – innovator, nurturer and lover of exquisite clothing. Stylist. Member of the aristocracy. Wearer of pink lipstick. Avant-garde icon. Promoter of young designers bursting with talent. There are so many ways to describe her. Each is just a part of the fabulous, startling whole, capturing one of the many sparkling facets of a woman unafraid to embrace the unconventional.

Thus the beautifully curated exhibition’s focus on clothes as costume is fitting, with each mannequin suggesting a new persona – be it in the power of a well-tailored suit with a flick in its skirt or the whimsy in an elaborate silver dress with paillette layers scattering light-ripples. Lace gowns and antlers, feathers everywhere, intricately embroidered coats. It is not merely glorified dressing up on display, but the glorious combination of imagination, craftsmanship and playfulness.

The words used to describe an exhibition – display, on show, curation, installation – are all curiously appropriate for Blow’s general approach to fashion. This is clothing as a display of colour and character, as a show of exuberance, a curation of particular designers and concepts, a once walking-living-moving installation of the self expressed through style.

Part of the excitement in being a visitor and observer also lies in the proximity to the clothes and hats. Very few are displayed behind glass, meaning that you can move in near enough to see every detail from every angle: stitches, seams, sequins, even the occasional moth hole. Philip Treacy’s hats are even more incredible when scrutinized up close. A ship made of feathers, an enchanted castle, squiggles, swirls and circles turned into the most divine headwear. The face beneath is transformed, manipulated, made strange.

One of the few creations behind a shiny surface is a decayed, rusty dress from Hussein Chayalan’s graduate collection. It’s like an inversion of the Snow White fairytale. Rather than the glass box preserving and keeping intact the youthful figure within, here it encloses a dress defined by its entropy. I’m fascinated by this particular collection in general, with Chayalan’s use of fabric as a kind of wearable memento mori both unsettling and beautiful.

But then that balance between unsettling and beautiful can summarise much of what is to be seen here. The visual splendor of the installations depicting underwater seascapes; the keepsakes and scraps from Blow’s life (her lipstick, her scribbled notes, letters from editors); the continuous looped interviews and catwalk shows that flicker on screens between the mannequins. It is not merely a body of work on show, but also a life embodied.

Moreover, there is an overwhelming pathos in the knowledge that the exhibition’s two main subjects, Blow herself, and Alexander McQueen (excluding Treacy and the others shown such as Chayalan and John Galliano) had both committed suicide. The incredible verve and innovation that characterises the exhibition has a bittersweet undertone. There’s synthesis of dark and light here, both in the designs shown and the lives hinted at in what was left behind. 

This outfit was my small homage to Blow's continual use of clothes as performance. The vintage 50s headpiece came from my paternal grandma (as did the belt and envelope clutch - thanks Babi). It was so windy that it kept trying to take flight from my head. The black velvet dress was found during my incredible Brick Lane trip, whilst the shoes are an old eBay purchase. The smaller-than-usual waist was accomplished through the combination of spanx and an uncomfortably tight notch on the belt. Sliding in and out of the car while trussed up in tight velvet was quite the achievement. 

The exhibition has been mounted by a partnership comprising Somerset House, Central St Martins and The Isabella Blow Foundation. 
Take a look at the Isabella Blow Foundation website for more information (which incidentally has a picture of the lovely Alexia Wight modelling one of Blow's dresses on its homepage). The foundation supports up-and-coming designers, whilst also seeking to raise awareness of depression and other mental health issues. 


AVY said...

I cried for McQueen just the other day.


Anupriya DG said...

That velvet dress has such a beautiful silhouette and fits ever so perfectly! I think I'm in love! <3

And the exhibition sounds so fascinating! Specially Chalayan's graduation collection! Now THAT I would love to see!


The smart styling in these photos capture such elegance and you beautifully. What a wonderful treat to read as well. I am such a fan of millinery work, as I used to be a costumer. An artist friend of mine used to do work with Philip Treacy, such incredible pieces.

OrigamiGirl said...

I love the phrase 'a dress defined by its entropy'. I always love the word entropy, the power behind the concept and the word. I just like seeing it used. :)
And your dedication to the fashion shoot is impressive! The headpiece looks fabulous, I bet you loved an excuse to wear it.

Ivana Split said...

Ah, what a glamorous and stylish outfit...I could look at these photos all day!

How horrible is to think how many artists and creative people have killed themselves. Sometimes creation is a process that drains us.

Emalina said...

A marvellous homage to Blow, Babi's maverick flying hat is the perfect finishing touch!
Thank you for your description of the exhibition, which sadly I've not been able to go to. It sounds as if it held so much of the eerie enchantment found in McQueen and Blow's collaborations, a mixture of joyous uplift and shivers down the spine.. Dark fairy tales come to life.

Sacramento Amate said...

This outfit is perfection to me: the shoulders, sleeves, the belt the shoes.
Such a delight, my dear Rosaling.
Love and sunshine of the soul

Jean at said...

I saw the title of this post and drew a deep breath as I prepared to scroll down, drinking in the loveliness and sadness that you describe so well. It's not often that fashion and style posts also mention mental health issues. I've seen first hand the tragedy that can result from depression.

I'm glad to see both here. I'm uplifted by the beauty and also glad to know that a serious effort is being made to raise awareness. Your post continues to spread the word and your beauty is enhanced as a result, at least in my eyes. XXXOOO

Old Cow said...

My dear, you are a picture of elegance!

"Clothes as performance". I like this sentiment. I have always liked the idea of reflecting the version of me that I feel I am on a particular day through my outfit.

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Nicky mywishstyle said...

love the velvet dress, it suits perfect!


shine star said...

Nice post :D

Helen Le Caplain said...

That hat… that dress… those shoes! Oh my goodness you look the image of elegance and sophistication. Juts beautiful!

Citizen Rosebud said...

I read a biography on her- so mesmerizing she is/was, yeah? The book wasn't very well written but I suffered through it well enough. Your hat is a perfect homage to the late great Ms. Blow. And as usual, you are styled to the nines.

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