Friday, September 30, 2016

The "Isabella Blow : A Fashionable Life" Exhibition

So wearing my gorgeous new suit from my last post, I travelled to Sydney to see the Isabella Blow exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of this amazing and inspirational woman until I saw some photos of the exhibition on a friends Instagram.  That photo showed me that there was at least one Alexander McQueen garment I could get close to, so I knew I had to go.

There were many, many McQueens.

Isabella Blow was a magazine editor and stylist who was both colourful and eccentric. She worked for US Vogue (under Anna Wintour), and Tatler and The Sunday Times in the UK.  She was muse to milliner Philip Treacy, and was credited with discovering Alexander McQueen.  After her suicide in 2007 (we'll get to that later), her entire wardrobe was purchased by The Honourable Daphne Guiness who then established the Isabella Blow Foundation.  This exhibition showed some amazing pieces from her wardrobe put together into outfits as she wore them, and often accompanied with little stories and quotes.

The first outfit was this one:

I just died.

The jacket is McQueen for Givenchy, and the headpiece is Phillip Treacy.  The story goes that she purchased the jacket (which is a short jacket with incredible sleeves... and that collar!), corset belt and skirt for 35,000 francs and tried to expense it back to her employer as business attire.

"I just adore trains... wearing them, always getting them caught in taxi doors... trains are so romantic, dragging along the ground is romantic, don't you find?"
Isabella Blow

This is another McQueen piece.  Sadly the photo I took of the description plaque came out blurry (it was so dark in there!) but I'm pretty sure this is a piece from Alexander McQueen's graduate collection from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.  It was inspired by the killing spree of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London.  Isabella Blow purchased the entire collection after seeing the show.

"I do just love breasts.  They're so old-fashioned"
Isabella Blow

This coat was AMAZING.  On a cold winter morning sometimes you don't want to get out from under the doona cause its freezing outside.  With this coat you don't have to!  It is basically a silk doona filled with down THAT YOU CAN WEAR!!!!  Mind you, this is Alexander McQueen (as homage to Charles James none-the-less), so none of us could afford it, but you know.... the thought is there!  Maybe I'll make one in homage to Alexander McQueen in homage to Charles James...

"I don't like crap.  I like craftsmanship with a little room for fantasy"
Isabella Blow

The above is my new motto, by the way.

This dress was pretty amazing.  The underskirt is silk, the bodice is leather, and the overskirt is rubber lace.  So basically, the skirt is one of those nasty plasticy table cloths!  I've been looking for one (or two) ever since I saw this exhibition.  No luck so far!

"My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort"
Isabella Blow

The last outfit you saw as you walked out the door was this one:

And here it is on the lady herself

I left the exhibition (which I shared only the smallest bit of here) with the impression that Isabella Blow was one of those special aristocratic people that used their wealth to support the arts, and the art she had chosen was fashion.  But as well, in the way of some aristocratic people, she was completely mad.  She was funny and outrageous.  She never dressed 'appropriately', she wore whatever she felt was suitable - even if it was a coat made out of brightly coloured garbage bags to meet a farmer to discuss farm business, or a necklace that said Blow Job to a party at Princess Michael of Kent's.

She was inspiring, colourful, outgoing, and crazy.  But there was something that was niggling at me.

It was only when I was at home doing some reading about Isabella Blow that I discovered that she suffered terribly from Bipolar Depression - the same as me.  And suddenly everything I'd seen and read and felt made a lot more sense.

Isabella Blow committed suicide in 2007 by swallowing a weed killer called Paraquat.  This successful attempt came after many unsuccessful attempts.  But calling this a success makes you think death happened quickly.  It didn't.  This poison slowly shuts down the body's internal organs, and once the process has started there is no stopping it.  It is a slow and tragic way to die - but also theatrical and romantic I suppose you could say.

Isabella's funeral was equally theatrical and romantic.  Six dark bay horses with black ostrich feather plumes pulled a gothic Victorian funeral carriage bearing her coffin, covered in white flowers.

 The mourners were dressed in black, in outfits definitely inspired by the person they were there to mourn.

I think I aspire as much to her funeral as I do to her wardrobe and the confidence she had with fashion.  

If you ever get the opportunity, you really should go and see the exhibition.  I found it so inspiring.  Getting that close to so many McQueen garments (the tailoring!), and to see the fearlessness with which outfits were put together really got me thinking about my sewing, and what I wear.  It was truly eye opening.

Has anyone else seen the exhibition?  Either in Sydney or in other countries?  Did you have the same response?



  1. Such an interesting post thanks for putting it up and adding some pics. I hope you are well these days and enjoying life. I agree she was quite an unusual person, only the rich can afford to be so eccentric. Too bad she suffered so.

  2. I just wanted to let you know that we've recorded a song and made a video in dedication to Isabella & Alexander McQueen, as we are tremendous fans, and this is dedicated to them. Thanks for listening, and thank your for writing about them.

    Princess Jesus

    Sky So Dark