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Isabella Blow

Monday 25 October 2010
Words Spindle

The National Portrait Gallery is exhibiting a rather unusual and captivating portrait of fashion stylist, journalist, muse and talent-spotter, Isabella Blow.

Blow famously bought Alexander McQueen’s entire graduation show collection at Central Saint Martins, believing that the clothes that he designed moved with the graceful elegance of birds. Thus, she played a major role in establishing McQueen’s successful career in the fashion world. Blow was also a vital force in launching Sophie Dahl’s modeling career after a chance encounter. Sophie had just had a heated argument with her mother, Tessa, in a restaurant. Tessa asserted that Sophie should do the sensible, safer option of going to secretarial college, whilst Sophie had dreams of attending wondrously imaginative heights at art school. Sophie darted away from her mother and ended up conversing with none other than Isabella Blow, who decided to feature her in Italian Vogue despite Sophie’s unconventional beauty.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster, friends of Blow, have collated stuffed animals with dark, Gothic connotations of the Black Death, a raven, crows, rooks, magpies, a robin, a rattlesnake, and a rat, in order to create a silhouette of Blow’s head on a stake. The portrait also incorporates some glamorous emblems of Blow’s identity as a fashion icon including Blow’s very own Manolo Blahnik shoe heel and a key symbol of feminine beauty, a lipstick. The portrait captures Blow’s wild eccentricity in millinery creations as the feathered creatures forms a shadow of delightfully strange hat (Blow has worn numerous quirky and original types of headwear, such as, Philip Treacy’s ‘Chinese Garden’ headdress, a hat spelling ‘Blow’ with white feathers and a large crustacean hat). The construction of the portrait is tremendously clever with each sharp gaping beak, rodent tail and tilting white feathers poised in the precise angle and position to form Blow’s pointed nose, parted lips and the curve of her chin et cetera. It certainly grabs the visitor’s attention when one is faced with such an unexpected union of a group of extremely different objects, a bright red lipstick encased in luxurious gold is simultaneously hugged by a crooked bird’s claw and stroked by a white scaly strip belonging to a vicious reptile. The animals are intertwined in a confused heap representing the enigmatic personality of Blow herself. Beauty and death are tangled up together in this genius creation. This is a must see.

Isabella Blow by Noble and Webster runs until 13 March 2011.

Image: ‘The Head of Isabella Blow’,  2002. By Tim Noble (b.1966) and Sue Webster (b. 1967). Photograph by Andy Keate, © National Portrait Gallery, London; sculpture © Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Review by Kimberley Chen.