Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Review: Isabella Blow, Fashion Galore! Somerset House

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

20 November 2013 – 2 March 2014

Having received a negative review of the exhibition from a student, I dashed up to London on Monday morning for cheap entry day (didn't want to pay full price and feel disappointed). I was not disappointed, there was much to enjoy.For a start the exhibition was gloriously empty. It is such a treat to have the freedom to move around exhibits, read labels and even view objects from a distance to gain a sense of perspective. The exhibition begins with photo albums and stories of eccentric women from Blow's early family life which serves to establish her cultural capital. In the next room we are introduced, by way of their graduate collections, to her protegees; Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Julien McDonald. McQueen's clothes are exciting although poorly made - a sleeve sewn into a puckered armhole, in contrast Julien MacDonald's work at this stage is more accomplished. Chalayan's rust infused dress is stunning and Philip treacy's hats inspiring. The following room is devoted to McQueen's A/W 96 collection. The exhibition label explains influences behind the collection, 'Mixed military frogging, imagery drawn from Don McCullins war photography, black lace that had been blow torched and religious iconography.' Some of the shapes McQueen managed to create were staggering. Looking at clothes with a makers eye again I was struck by linings not held in place and by braid not meeting in the same place in the inner seam of a sleeve. Picky I know. It's just that McQueen had a reputation for quality and I did not expect to see anything less. 

All was about to change though. At Givenchy McQueen had access to the best quality fabrics, skilled makers and embroiderers. Although this is not an exhibition exclusively devoted to McQueen there is a lot of his work on display and I enjoyed seeing the chronological progression of his work. Philp Treacy's hats were another unexpected joy. There are some beautiful, sculptural masterpieces in the exhibition and Isabella Blow wore them with style.

The only thing I really disliked were the black mannequins standing in semi-circular booths. Their feet were too narrow for the shoes and the red lips were cartoon-like and detracted from the clothes. But this was a minor point and the overall design of the exhibition worked really well.  

The exhibition draws to a close with a tribute to Blow from McQueen and Treacy in the form of La Dame Bleu, S/S 2008, the collection they put together in her honor. A selection of the clothes and hats are mounted on plinths. This leads to a room showing a film of the fashion show with a pumping soundtrack which invites the audience to feel as though they are experiencing the event firsthand. A final film in a final room shows models wearing Blow's clothes to demonstrate her legacy. Leaving through the gift shop, heading back to Londoners wearing sensible coats as protection from the weather, I wish there were more people who dressed like Isabella Blow in the world.

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