Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life

Art, Design
Isabella Blow Photo by Donald McPherson Contour by Getty Images image courtesy Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences MAAS 2016 for Isabella Blow exhibition A Fashionable Life
Photograph: Donald McPherson Contour by Getty Images Isabella Blow

Get inside the weird and wonderful wardrobe of the late British fashion iconoclast at this exhibition at Sydney's Powerhouse

Isabella Blow is one of the most important fashion image-makers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Largely responsible for launching the careers of Alexander McQueen (she acquired his entire graduate collection), model Sophie Dahl and milliner Philip Treacy, amongst many, the stylist and creative director was at the heart of Britain’s eccentric high fashion scene until her death in 2007.

As you would expect for a milliner’s muse, and fashion director of society magazine Tatler, Blow had an astounding wardrobe. After her death, the museum-quality collection was acquired by her dear friend, the Honourable Daphne Guinness, who in keeping with her reputation as a patron of fashion and the arts, established the Isabella Blow Foundation.

Courtesy of the Foundation, the Centre for Fashion at the Powerhouse Museum will be displaying 100 objects from Isabella Blow’s astonishing archive. The exhibition, Isabella Blow: a Fashionable Life will include early pieces by Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy’s iconic disk hat, and imagery from Steven Meisel and David LaChapelle.

Basically, if you like your fashion to be (in the words of another big McQueen fan) a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy, this exhibition will be your Narnia.

Only Somerset House, the home of London Fashion Week, has shown Blow’s collection prior to this show, and many of the pieces at the Australian exhibition will be on display for the first time ever. The exhibition will be curated by Isabella Blow Foundation trustee Shonagh Marshall, who was instrumental in the curation of the Met’s blockbuster 2011 exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

Launching just one day before Australian fashion week (during Wool Week, no less), the exhibition’s launch will coincide with a live ‘in conversation’ event with Daphne Guinness, who will come to Australia to open the show.

In 2014, Brisbane showed Future Beauty, Melbourne had The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, and Adelaide exhibited Fashion Icons: Masterpieces from the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Despite these recent blockbuster fashion shows, this will be the first time a collection of this calibre, from designers as progressive as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Viktor & Rolf, will be shown in Australia. The show will overlap with the Powerhouse’s expansive Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced retrospective.

One cannot talk about Isabella Blow without acknowledging the dark shadow of depression that hung over, and eventually ended her life, just as it did for her longtime friend Alexander McQueen. 'Fragility' will be a central theme of the exhibition, exploring not just the delicate nature of the clothing on display, but also of the artists who wore and created them.

Over the past decade, the phenomenon of the 'fashion blockbuster' has seen record attendances at museums like the Victoria and Albert, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, in Paris, a museum dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent will open next year. Perhaps it will be Isabella Blow that sees Sydney gripped with a similar level of frenzy. It would certainly help the beleaguered, up-for-sale Powerhouse go out with a bang.

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