After her suicide in 2007, legendary fashion editor, creative director and muse Isabella Blow left her circle of friends in deep sorrow. When her extravagant wardrobe went up for sale at Christie's in 2010, her old friend and fellow style icon Daphne Guinness decided to buy it to preserve Blow’s memory from getting dispersed in strangers’ hands. That collection goes on view today in the exhibition Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! at the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House in London. The show -- organized in partnership with Central Saint Martins and the Isabella Blow Foundation -- features 90 dresses by Alexander McQueen, 50 Philip Treacy hats and other unique pieces, such as a pink burka dress by Jun Takahashi (later worn by Blow admirer Lady Gaga at Treacy’s show last year). These fashion gems are displayed alongside videos and portraits by Mario Testino, Sean Ellis and Karl Lagerfeld. Legendary British photographer and SHOWstudio founder Nick Knight also photographed the outfits in a haunting blurry style for the catalog.
The exhibition’s atmosphere is dramatic and playful, echoing Blow’s view that a woman’s clothes mirror her deepest emotions. She believed that the brain and the mouth were the sexiest part of the body. “Women love clothes because they mean something to them,” she once said. “The day you met the man you love, the day you got married, what you did before you made love to somebody. It’s psychological and tied to the spirit of woman.” Alistair O'Neill, co-curator of the exhibition (along with Shonagh Marshall), says Blow is particularly meaningful in fashion history because she represents the important connection between fashion and personality. “In an age where standing out through your appearance has never been more valued, it remains important to demonstrate how an attention to surface only works with an appreciation of substance," he told us. Exuberant, visionary and tragic, Isabella Blow is indeed one of fashion’s great muses. Perhaps one of the last true eccentrics (though she hated the adjective), she became iconic for wearing dramatic, sculptural silhouettes, which were punctuated with a blood-red lip and spectacular headpieces that framed (or masked) her face.
She began her career as Anna Wintour’s assistant at American Vogue, and continued working as a stylist and editor throughout her life. Back in London, she discovered milliner Philip Treacy, whose surrealist hats gave her a dose of good humor on her darkest days. In the '90s she helped launch the careers of Alexander McQueen (famously buying his St. Martins graduate collection), Hussein Chalayan, Julien McDonald, Sophie Dahl and Stella Tenant.
Blow was a true fashion force, influencing generations of talent and developing a vision that celebrated freedom of expression and fierce individuality. Not to mention, she sometimes wore a Schiaparelli coat while making breakfast. Exhibition-worthy, indeed.
Click ahead to see more photos from the show, along with a few catalog shots by Knight.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! will run from Nov. 20 through March 2, 2014.