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Style queen: Fashion editor Isabella Blow's wardrobe on show in London at Somerset House
A circular hat with slit detail by British designer Philip Treacy during a press preview for the "Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!" exhibition at Somerset House in central London. A new exhibition in London takes a look at Blow's life and wardrobe, including some spectacular early pieces by designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy who she helped nurture from students to global stars. AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT.

By: Alice Ritchie

LONDON (AFP).- Stylist, muse, mentor or simply an eccentric aristocrat with a penchant for wearing lobsters -- late British fashion editor Isabella Blow was hard to pin down, but most agree she was extraordinary.

A new exhibition in London takes a look at Blow's life and wardrobe, including some spectacular early pieces by designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy who she helped nurture from students to global stars.

Long before Lady Gaga, Blow was a fashion icon renowned for her irreverent sense of style.

She also worked with some of the world's best photographers and discovered top models such as Stella Tennant.

"She had a talent for spotting talent," said Shonagh Marshall, co-curator of "Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!", which opened at Somerset House on Wednesday.

"It was all about the relationships she had with people. She brought everyone together."

Despite her exuberant style, Blow suffered from acute depression and in 2007, at the age of 48, she killed herself by drinking weedkiller. It was her seventh suicide attempt in 14 months.

She left behind her beloved collection of clothes which was bought by her close friend, heiress Daphne Guinness.

Guinness is now putting them on public display for the first time, in what she said was "a bittersweet event".

"Isabella Blow made our world more vivid, trailing colour with every pace she took. It is a sorrier place for her absence," she said.

'Clothes build you up'

Born into an aristocratic English family which had long squandered its wealth, Blow began her fashion career as Anna Wintour's assistant at US Vogue in the early 1980s.

She was an eccentric even then, washing her desk with Perrier water and fast becoming known for her unconventional outfits, which only grew more outlandish when she returned to London to work for Tatler, Vogue and the Sunday Times Style magazine.

Blow was a famously early supporter of McQueen, attending his graduate fashion school show in 1992. She was so excited that she tracked down his mother and bombarded her with phone calls until McQueen got in touch.

Blow bought the entire collection on installment, paying £100 (now $160, 120 euros) a week and receiving one garment a month delivered in a rubbish bag, according to Marshall.

Some of those early designs are on display at Somerset House, including a pink silk frock coat with a black hawthorn print and a black gossamer knit top with glitter detailing.

They stand alongside items from McQueen's seminal autumn/winter 1996 collection, such as a beautiful lilac silk corset with appliqued lace and jet embroidery.

The 'Dante' show was dedicated to Blow and catapulted McQueen into the big league. A few months later, McQueen was named head designer at Givenchy. Like Blow, he took his own life in 2010.

Blow also spotted hat designer Treacy at art school and the pair became close friends.

She styled the milliner's 1996 collection to huge acclaim, and the exhibition includes a striking silver half-cloche hat with a Rolls Royce figurine on top which featured in the show.

Blow wore many of her proteges' creations, including a legendary Treacy hat featuring a lobster with its legs clinging to her face.

She became as well-known for her outlandish outfits as her job, turning up at one fashion shoot in a hot-pink burkha.

She had a passion for creativity and craftsmanship, but the fragile Blow also saw her clothes as a kind of armour shielding her from the outside world.

"If you're beautiful you don't need clothes. If you're ugly like me, you're like a house with no foundations; you need something to build you up," she once said.

Although she often struggled to pay for the outfits, Blow was not precious about them -- she wore one early John Galliano dress while she did the washing-up.

"They were made to be worn, that was the fun of them," Marshall said, adding that Blow's style was "like no-one else's".

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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