Isabella Blow exhibition post card.
Isabella Blow exhibition post card.

Fashion Excursion: Isabella Blow Exhibition at Somerset House in London

Recently, I visited the world-renowned Somerset House in London. The grand estate is decorated with white pillars surrounding a vast cobblestone courtyard. It used to be the home of the Tudor dynasty. Today, the house represents the center of fashion in the city and is known mostly for hosting guests from around the world for London Fashion Week.

On a rainy Thursday morning, I walked across the square to attend the exhibition Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore with my fashion journalism class. We were there to write reviews of the displays and costumes. I’ve always been interested in fashion, but I’d never written about it, so this class gave me a chance to try my hand at fashion editorial.

Before attending the exhibition, I didn’t know a thing about Isabella Blow. It turns out she was a modern fashion icon known for her unique taste in clothing and accessories—and for discovering fashion designer Alexander McQueen and hat designer Philip Treacy. While scouring for new trends, she found both McQueen and Treacy studying in university. She helped them style and produce their first fashion shows and launch their careers.

While exploring Somerset House, I saw the black-laced, blow-torched gowns McQueen produced for his graduation collection, which Blow bought in its entirety, recognizing the designer’s potential. Even then McQueen’s garments were ahead of their time, and I think many would still be trendy on today’s runways. Upstairs, I saw Blow’s hat collection by Philip Treacy, who’s known mostly for creating pieces for royal gatherings. His designs are whimsical, defying gravity with their volume and aerodynamics. Blow was a muse to both of these designers, but she caught the attention of artists around the world, including Andy Warhol and Bill Cunningham. And at one point, she was even the assistant of Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue.

While I believe that I’m very fashion conscious, Isabella Blow was a fashion fiend. She loved quirky, statement clothing, and her style and personality continue to influence people today. Lady Gaga wore a bejeweled lobster headpiece at a party in 2010 that is similar to Blow’s lobster necklace and antenna headpiece from 1998. Through Treacy and McQueen, I see her style influencing the royal family, from their decorated hats to the Victorian lace and corsets in Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

Reporting on the Isabella Blow exhibition for class made me more aware of detail. I couldn’t simply describe a dress as floral or preppy; I had to describe fabrics, cuts, textures, colors, silhouettes, patterns, and moods. In addition, fashion journalism can show how prevailing styles of dress reflect societal values. For instance, during the Victorian era, women wore corsets to tighten their waistlines, while the flapper generation introduced loose-fitting clothing as women gained the right to vote.