This post is about Isabella Blow, her wonderful collection of clothes and her relationship with Alexander McQueen. Watching Daphne Guiness talk about the importance of her collection and of people like Isabella to fashion made me reflect back on when I went to see her wonderful clothes at Somerset House. The exhibition really showed her life though the lens of the designers she worked with. In her years as a fashion muse and stylist she discovered and no doubt inspired, Philip Treacey, Julien McDonald and Hussein Chalayan, but it seems that the exhibition and perhaps she truly belonged with Alexander McQueen.
She first saw McQueen’s work at his RCA fashion show and even though it was well beyond her means, she bought his entire collection on the spot. He remembers “she came marching through with these great collapsed black organza horns on her head. I just thought she was incredibly fab. She bought the entire collection, and after that she was well in with me! McQueen demanded £300 per item, which after commenting how expensive that was for a new designer promptly began paying him a retainer of £100 per week.
That first collection from McQueen, an East London boy, claimed to be inspired by Jack the Ripper. You can see it and not just in his early works. So many of his works incorporating off center shapes, fringes and tortured lace, that covers one side of the body leaving the other side lopsided and exposed. Rather like his Jack the Ripper would have done. She claims what attracted her to McQueen was “the way he takes ideas from the past and sabotages them with his cuts to make them thoroughly new and in the context of today. It is complexity and severity of his approach to each cut that makes him so modern”.
But I think it was simpler than that. They just seemed to get each other. I imagine it would have been a challenge to even start to look for someone who truly gets you when you are known for your idiosyncrasies like she was. The exhibition told a couple of stories in words to illustrate these idiosyncrasies. She was known for cleaning her desk at Vogue with bottled Perrier. But the real story was of course the clothes. The story the clothes told was of an intellectual, almost academic woman with a punk rocker’s anarchic sense of presentation. The collection of outfits was altogether unlike anything else in the world, befitting of someone described as “the most interesting person” Philip Treacy had ever met.
Warrior sea anemone, meets Roswell resident, with a dash of ostrich tartan princess. Her outfits made use of glitter, crystal, glass, feather, leather, lace, paper, wire and I presume anything else on hand at the time. I would have loved to have met her. I’m wondering what I would have asked her if I did. She’s another one who makes me think, I wish I had enough guts to live my life like that – to jump in fully, rather than playing around the edges. But as with all lives, hers came with caveats.
She had a long history of manic depression and when she died in 2007, Treacy and McQueen staged a Collection in her honour titled La Dame Bleue. It was a mix of feathers, leather, corsets, trailing skirts and of course intricately crafted hats. But the exhibition fails to mention, with good reason that at the time she died, all three weren’t on the best of terms with difficulties reported to go back to 1996 when McQueen hit the big time and she perceived that he failed to secure a role for her a Givenchy. If the exhibition is anything to go by, I imagine that their difficulties would have faded over time. McQueen also took his own life in 2010.
My memory of the videos that dotted the exhibition, memory was a mix of feathers black eyeliner and purple glitter. Isabella used to wear Fracas. If you’ve never heard of it. I went through a Fracas wearing phase in my twenties. Wearing it used to make me feel glamorous, but it’s a strange smell. Very distinctive, full of tuberose and almost musty. You just can’t find it anywhere anymore.