Lobster hat, armadillo bag on show for British fashion muse

By Li-mei Hoang

LONDON (Reuters) - A hat topped with a lobster shell and a handbag made of an armadillo went on display in London this week in an exhibition celebrating the life of late fashion eccentric Isabella Blow.

A fashion director for Vogue, Tatler and The Sunday Times Style magazines, Blow discovered and nurtured young talent such as fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan and milliner Philip Treacy.

More than 100 pieces from Blow's personal collection feature in the exhibition, including clothing by the late McQueen, whose first designs she bought for 5,000 pounds and paid off in 100 pound instalments each week.

Blow committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 48. When her wardrobe went up for sale two years ago, her close friend Daphne Guinness bought the entire collection to preserve it as an inspiration to fashion students.

"It seemed quite clear that the collection would be of immense value to a great many people," Guinness, who set up a foundation in honour of Blow's legacy, said.

"I am doing this in memory of a dear friend, in the hope that her legacy may continue to aid and inspire generations of designers to come," Guinness said in a statement released at the exhibition preview in London on Tuesday.

Blow was famous for her eccentric sense of style, consisting often of a Philip Treacy hat, Alexander McQueen clothes and Manolo Blahnik shoes, a look recreated for the show among dozens of other outfits.

"She was a person that brought out something in people and she pulled people together. Her creativity was infectious," said exhibition co-curator Shonagh Marshall.

"It's really rare to see a lot of the pieces in this show, and archives such as Alexander McQueen don't have the really early stuff. That's all in Isabella's collection," Marshall told Reuters.

"It's a real snippet of a moment in time," Marshall said of the lobster hat decorated with Swarovski crystals by designer Erik Halley.

"There's a sense of spontaneity and creativity that really comes through with this 1990s 'Cool Britannia' British fashion design."

"Isabella Blow Fashion Galore" at Somerset House in London runs from Nov 20 until March 2.

(Additional reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Michael Roddy and Robin Pomeroy)