ELLE meets Shonagh Marshall

Co-curator of the Isabella Blow exhibit

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Today the doors open on Somerset House’s much anticipated exhibition, Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

It stars Blow’s extraordinary wardrobe, which was bought in its entirety by her close friend, Daphne Guinness, following her death in 2007, including pieces from graduate collections by Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Hussein Chalayan. So it’s a slice of fashion history as well as a peek into the incredible world of the stylist and fashion treasure hunter extraordinaire.

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We caught up with Shonagh Marshall , who was employed by Daphne Guinness to archive the collection and has subsequently co-curated the exhibition, to talk about bringing Isabella’s clothes to life.

You’ve been working on the collection since Daphne first bought it, how does it feel to see it on display at last?
It’s very surreal, it feels very serendipitous the whole thing, the way I met Daphne, the way I’d said goodbye to the project. I accepted the job at Somerset House a year and a half ago when I’d finished the archival process and accepted that I wouldn’t be working on the exhibition so it’s really a treat. And in archiving you never think that you’ve finished, you always feel as though you could do more so to have another year has been wonderful.
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Do you feel that you’ve finished now?
No! I’d love another year in that archive.
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Was it hard to work with pieces that haven’t been kept in pristine condition?
That’s the charm and something that was very close to my heart was that we keep the cigarette burns, we keep the torn train. The conservators have done a beautiful job in that sense. You’ll see where she wore and tore and I think that’s really special. This is the story of her and I hope that that comes across.

Do you have a favourite piece?
I think of them a bit like my babies, I’ve spent so long alone with them, discovering them. But I love the Alexander McQueen for Givenchy cropped kimono. His time at Givenchy as such a young British designer was really pioneering and really exciting, he had the doors flung open to the best ateliers, the best materials. To have found that stuff on hangers and trailing on the floor was really exciting and to see it on mannequins is wonderful.

What’s going to happen to the pieces once the exhibition finishes?
We discussed travelling it but there’s nothing in place yet. They’ll go back to the archive and stay as they were stored but this isn’t the last that you’ve seen of them. They’ll be an important piece of fashion history from this period of fashion design for a long time to come.

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! runs from 20th November – 2nd March 2014 at Somerset House.

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