LONDON (AP) — She wore everything from a crystal-studded lobster to a tall ship made of feathers on her head, and chose a purple medieval robe for her wedding dress. Long before Lady Gaga rose to fame, British fashion editor and stylist Isabella Blow made theatrical clothes and outlandish headgear her personal trademark.
A major exhibition opens in London Wednesday to celebrate the life and style of Blow, who is best known for discovering British designers Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy when they were young students and promoting them as they rose to international acclaim.
Eccentric, flamboyant and witty, Blow was editor at Tatler and other magazines, muse to designers and one of the most influential personalities in fashion before she committed suicide by drinking weed-killer in 2007. She was 48.
"Isabella Blow was a champion of creative talent. So much that we know today would never have happened without her vision, and her support of British fashion and creativity was unique," said Louise Wilson, a professor at Central Saint Martins college who taught McQueen and many other designers.
The show at Somerset House features Blow's personal collection of more than 100 rare designer items, including many of Treacy's most dramatic hats and some of McQueen's earliest designs.
Blow met McQueen at his graduate fashion show in 1992, and famously bought up his entire collection. She commissioned headdresses for her wedding from Treacy when he was still a student. She wore their designs everywhere, and used her network to promote both men.
Four years later McQueen dedicated a collection — his first to receive international acclaim — in tribute to her. In the same year, she also styled a successful show for Treacy.
Treacy went on to work for Chanel and became Britain's best-known milliner, while McQueen achieved further fame and success — until he, like Blow, lost his battle with depression and took his own life in 2010.
The exhibition traced Blow's early life and her aristocratic background, which curator Alistair O'Neill said was key to her appeal and success.
"She traded on her family history and her Britishness," he said. "She was this attractive, artistic figure. She had no money, but lots of stories and lots of style."
Blow's life was full of glamorous anecdotes — she was said to have cleaned Vogue editor Anna Wintour's desk with Perrier and Chanel No.5 perfume when she worked as her assistant — but for years she struggled with depression and other personal problems.
Blow used to say that her bizarre headgear was used as armor to protect herself and hide her face from the world, and indeed many of the hats featured at the show obscure most of the wearer's face.
"Gaga also identified with that," O'Neill said. "But Detmar Blow (Isabella's husband) said that while Lady Gaga wore her stage costumes, Isabella never took hers off."
"Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!" opens Wednesday and runs until March 2.
Somerset House: http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/isabella-blow-fashion-galore