This Place About to Blow // Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life
- BY: BELINDA PARTYGA
- Jun. 15, 2016
A-mid the overload of fashion trends hitting the runway during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, another light beamed down on high-fashion in Sydney with the opening of Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life at the Powerhouse Museum.
If you haven’t heard the name Isabella Blow, please take note. Blow was a woman who lived a life unrestrained. Few people mixed business and pleasure quite like she did. The late British fashion muse and socialite may not be a household name, but with friends like Andy Warhol and The Honourable Daphne Guinness, she nurtured the careers of some of the most influential designers including Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Philip Treacy and models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant. A number of leading designers would not have reached fashion’s stratosphere without Blow’s support.
The illustrious stylist and visionary, was rarely seen without the eccentric Philip Treacy hat or Manolo Blahnik shoe. She wore her loyalties on her sleeve, and described herself as a “walking billboard” for the designers that she advocated.
Her friendship with McQueen was extraordinary. For his first show for Givenchy in 1997 she had the horns cut off the rams from her flock of rare breed sheep, Treacy then sprayed them gold and was worn by Naomi Campbell as a hat on the runway. She had an eye for flair and an eccentric creativity that injected life into Britain’s once-stale ’90s fashion scene. She produced iconic editorials for Tatler andVanity Fair, and was mentored by none less than Vogue’s Anna Wintour.
Neale Whitaker, who met her in the late 1980’s, describes her as “kind but wickedly funny, usually with a smudge of lipstick on her teeth and a penchant for shoes with enormous crystal balls on the heels. Kooky for sure, but exotic and unforgettable.”
Guiness, Blow’s best friend and heiress to the Irish Guinness brewery, purchased the whole collection of over 500 objects of clothing that was being auctioned at Christie’s. She was so deeply saddened by the idea of her great friend's garments being divided; she really thought they told a story of a life lived. In its eleventh hour Guiness stopped the auction from going ahead and bought the lot, meaning that it was kept all together and could also tell her story (Blow took her own life in 2007 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and depression).
Guinness opened the Isabella Blow exhibit as a tribute to her lost friend and in a bid to raise awareness of mental illness.
Guinness continues to keep her friend’s flame alive and as well as doing so creatively, she is doing so practically with mental health education.
“I am absolutely taking this on and on and on,” she said. “I have five scholarships going through the Isabella Blow Foundation (the charitable foundation Guinness established in Blow’s name) at London’s Central Saint Martin and we are working at supporting people with mental health issues but I have lost so many people -Alexander McQueen and Isabella and so many more to suicide - I just need to also separate myself a bit too.”
Visiting the sold out curator tour of Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life, led by London-based fashion curator, Shonagh Marshall who co-curated the exhibition, I discover how each piece was uniquely selected for Australia.
When asked about the interesting things she’s come across in her research of Blow, Marshall laughs “There are so many stories. Blow was an extraordinary character. Almost like someone you’d read about in a book. But on the flipside, she was also deeply innovative. She had so much kindness and generosity for her friends; a lot of her friends were her discoveries. She nurtured their talent. There’s really been no one like her in recent history.”
The exhibition, at the Powerhouse Museum, brings 172 pieces from Blow’s wardrobe to Australia for the first time and features bold garments both created and worn by Blow, including a Givenchy piece by fellow late fashion star Alexander McQueen. Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life will be on show until 28 August 2016.