My course director, Alistair, was luckily one of the two head curator’s on “Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” at Somerset House. In November of last year, after much anticipation we finally arrived to see the space in progress. Following him through the narrow, stone corridors we had arrived. We huddled in the middle of one of the main halls laced with the ceiling’s arches; it was in a bare, skeletal state.
Love letter to Isabella BlowTo start the tour we previewed the Ruth Hogben’s short fashion film featuring some of the exhibit’s prized pieces on a variety of models dancing through Doddington Hall. The mahogany floors were mostly bare with the exception of power tools, plastic tarps and paint buckets. It was a romantic idea; the thought of this being a full blown homage to Blow, the style icon and outspoken mentor to some of the most legendary names of the industry including milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen. As a champion for British fashion she is an indispensable part of our history and this exhibit was a love letter to her.
Not just a mannequinRoom-by-room we were walked through the narrative each one would hold, one of the most impactful being that which mimicked McQueen’s frequent show venues. Tall columns towered with resemblance to Christchurch and Spitalfields framing the Autumn/Winter 1996 Dante collection. Approaching this room, in particular, was breathtaking. One of the mannequins was laying on a table, positioned lifelessly under the spotlights, was being fitted with a pair of silver Philip Tracy antlers. There was an unhealthy fixation and I couldn’t stop staring. The mannequin, soon to be adorned in one of the collections most encompassing ensembles, spoke so loudly even in it’s naked state. The antlers were enough even on it’s own; there is something in it that only McQueen and Blow could have seen. Standing in front of it once more on the exhibit’s final day, the backlight traced out a silhouette under collection’s use of the black lace mantilla. There was a faint smell of Fracas floating around as I looked up. It wasn’t just a mannequin anymore: It was the embodiment of Isabella.
Angelina Todd, Central Saint Martins.