It was a crisp autumn evening in London as our car arrived at the neoclassical grandeur of Somerset House. I had been invited by my friend, The Hon Daphne Guinness, to chaperone her on this most important of days, Tuesday November 19th 2013, when her dear and greatly missed friend, Isabella Blow, would have turned a mere fifty-five years of age on this very day.
People were not here to mourn this fact though, rather to celebrate and honour Isabella’s inimitable and authentic presence and influence whilst she was here on Earth, as she left such an irreplaceable and multi-layered legacy that (thanks to the hard and tireless work of many of those closest to her) is collated and honoured here in an exhibit of her influence on fashion and the arts whilst also celebrating her supportive and pioneering personality and can really showcase the aims of the Isabella Blow Foundation, which will establish bursaries and scholarships, seeking out and supporting British talents and supporting mental health charities, among just a few of its objectives.
“Five days before she died she said she felt she didn’t matter anymore. This exhibition proves her wrong – she’s always going to matter now”
– Philip Treacy (Milliner)
With genius and meticulous attention to detail, the exhibition is a fluid and immersive experience and one cannot help but be taken hostage along a remarkable journey of fascination, insight, revelation and appreciation of how big an impact one lady could possibly have had when faced with a sea of resolute old school attitudes, blinkered minds and fat cats that analyse the bottom line over creative integrity. They were attitudes which were incomprehensible to someone with such an incredible eye for talent, technique and the creative process which she lived and breathed to nurture, preserve and present to the world.
I was BEYOND honoured to be invited by my friend and using candid images caught on my iPhone and one or two of Nick Knights breathtaking photographs (which accompany the exhibit) this blog post is my layman’s opinion and personal point of view of what was truly, the most COSMIC experience of my life.
Arriving at the event, family members, dignitaries, royalty and renowned faces such as Daphne Guinness, Mary J.Blige, Boy George, Grace Jones, Maria Suvio, Nick Rhodes, Gemma Arterton and Philip Treacy to name but a few, were asked to pose for photographs in front of an enormous and glittering portrait of Isabella, which was made entirely out of paillettes and perfectly set the scene for the ethereal and deeply moving exhibition ahead .
Using huge projections of rare VHS footage of Isabella with letters, photographs, interviews and essays juxtaposed between beautifully lit, bespoke mannequins and art installations, the exhibit showcases over a hundred of Isabella’s pieces from the many talents that she discovered, such as Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Hussein Chalayan. A collection that is widely reported to be one of the most important private collections of British fashion design to date and owned by Daphne, who altruistically and respectfully wanted to preserve the integrity of her friends legacy.
There is no doubt that interest in the exhibition will be great but personally, I feel that if perceptions can be altered or it encourages just one or two people who thought otherwise, if it encourages them to see the merit and recognise the cultural importance of the exhibition, then that is something joyous because it is all too easy to be cynical in today’s current climate and we should all be mindful about encouraging our children to break this thought pattern and perceive something like this exhibition for themselves.
What I have experienced transcends any negativity, I urge anyone and everyone to visit the exhibition and to take your children because it is not just for the fashion savvy, that couldn’t be further from the truth and I am quite certain that people who have criticised and used words such as ‘frivolous’ to dismiss the arts, to somehow belittle the efforts of those such as Isabella and the army of people that keep techniques and talents from dying out to a corporate instant fix world, then they would see that these people live, breathe and eat their work, their craft – because this is HARD graft and yes the final result result is high end and can appear glamorous and exuberant but that belies serious steel, dedication, hard work and commitment in their vision and a breathtaking all-encompassing respect for artisan craft and creative individuals that has the balls to push past boundaries.
Isabella magnificently inspired and unwittingly spearheaded a generation of people just by being herself and whilst it may be common practice now, with certain aspects of popular culture having adopted this way of life, of dressing and of personal expression with use of this multilayer narrative of symbolic statements, Isabella did it without self-consciousness and against the grain. Individuals such as Isabella refused to follow the flock and had the confidence to do what comes from the gut, to follow truth, passion and integrity over artifice and pretension and to also recognise that in others with warmth, a sense of kinship and kindness.
We live in a sound bite reality where people are becoming cartoonish versions of a 24 hour media output that dictates a perverse perception of the world. Individuality has never been more under threat. Things are constantly being dumbed down and so too I feel is the emotion, people are desensitised. I am completely digressing here and I could get on my soapbox but what I am saying is that this exhibition is showcasing the kind of integrity the world is unlikely to see again anytime soon. This exhibition is an intimate glimpse into a phenomena of historical significance and whilst we now seem to inhabit a world where people pick their personality’s straight off the peg along with their clothes, one day thinking they can slip on a beautifully crafted hat and won’t they be incredible quaint, whilst the next day wanting to be a rock star because Tatler said it was on trend… THIS is the real deal.
The exhibition preview was followed by dinner and an auction in aid of the Isabella Blow Foundation at Claridge’s. Among the gems available to the highest bidder; a very special afternoon tea with Daphne Guinness and among garments, hats and photographs, there was a very special portrait of Isabella by the world renowned illustrator and artist, David Downtown, who was seated beside me at dinner and what an amazing, inspiring and brilliant man he is too.
I swear that I felt Isabella’s presence that evening, hard not to in such an immersive experience but I felt that on some metaphysical and spiritual level, she looked at me with those sparkly vivid eyes and flashed one of her killer smiles… and I KNOW that my presence was exactly in the spirit of what Isabella Blow would have approved of.
It was the most amazing evening and everyone I met offered such kindness, warmth and acceptance that during dinner I had to hold back tears. I mean here I was, having the finest time of my life and if anyone wonders why I was there, working class David Barron from Darlington, Northern England – it is quite simply because rare greats like Daphne and Isabella give people like me the courage and the confidence to call ourselves artists… they give us the belief that if we can feel it, see it, then we can create it… and we can live it.
Looking at the state of society today, with its pretentions, social aspirations, ruthless ambition and utter selfishness, it would do well to take a leaf or two out of one of Isabella’s magnificently crafted hats.
So hear hear !! Fashion Galore: Isabella Blow – THANK YOU THANK YOU AND THANK YOU XXXXX
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!
20 November 2013 – 2 March 2014
Daily 10.00-18.00 (Last admission 17.00)
Until 21.00 Thursdays (Last admission 20.00)
24 & 31 December 10.00-16.00, 25 & 26 December-closed, 1 January 12.00-18.00
£12.50, £10 concessions, £6.25 on Mondays
Tickets are available on the door on the day