“Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”
–Vincent van Gogh
There’s no denying that Vincent van Gogh was a genius and that after his death he became a legend. And there’s no denying that his life, plagued with poverty and failure, was not a paved road. But flowers did indeed grow on it. Paintings of swirling madness, the flowers he left behind for us to ponder and enjoy.
British fashion icon Isabella Blow, above, was a flower that sprouted along a different path–a road less traveled, perhaps, but infinitely more interesting. She fought severe depression for years before killing herself by drinking weed killer in 2007 at age 48. Born November 19, 1958, today she would have been 55 years old.
Credited with discovering the brilliant British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, above…
…as well as the models Stella Tennant, pictured left, and Sophie Dahl, above right, her global influence in fashion is undeniable.
And now, Somerset House in London, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, present Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and illustrious 30-year career of an undeniable flower, a patron of both fashion and art, Isabella Blow.
The muse of hat designer Philip Treacy, Isabella had a penchant for the unusual and the bizarre. She regularly wore outlandishly creative hats like the ones pictured in this article–all designed by Treacy, in fact–and she wore them with brazen, unapologetic glamour.
Jeremy Langmead, now the editor in chief of the online men’s clothing retailer MrPorter, hired Isabella as fashion director of the Sunday Times Style Magazine in London in 1997. He tells a memorable story to a reporter about this fashion eccentric:
“Imagine the office at News International, all the male journalists sitting around in shirt sleeves,” he said. “In comes Isabella wearing giant antlers sticking out from the top of a coat,” like the brown pony hair blazer with impala horns above, designed by her protégé, McQueen.
“It was absolutely about who she was in her soul,” Langmead continued. “At lunchtime she would sit among all the printers, eating her roast beef dressed like that, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.”
Her fantastic vision combining lobster and diamonds–two of my favorite things–was emulated by Lady Gaga as seen in the photograph above.
Isabella’s career began as Anna Wintour’s assistant at US Vogue in 1983 before she moved back to London in 1986. On her return to London 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.
The exhibition will showcase more than 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 Isabella’s friend, Daphne Guinness.
“This exhibition is, to me, a bittersweet event,” Guinness said. “Isabella Blow made our world more vivid, trailing color 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.”
To accompany the exhibition, there will be a catalogue with new, commissioned photography of the Isabella Blow Collection, like the ones above and below, all with models wearing pieces from Isabella’s collection and shot by Nick Knight.
Incredibly, Knight, a British fashion photographer, shot all the photos on his iPhone camera.
Fashion Galore! opens tonight and runs through March 2, 2014 at the Somerset House in London, England. Book your tickets here.
Happy birthday, Isabella.