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  • Articles by Sonali

    Vogue 100: A Century of Style

    Vogue fashion magazine is well known for its excellent and often whimsical photography, providing a portal to escape from the everyday and mundane. This display at the National Portrait Gallery celebrates the centenary of British Vogue (1916-2016), taking a journey through the best of these photographs, present and past, sourced from Condé Nast archives.

    Well there’s certainly lots to see. And thankfully the emphasis is on people and photography. A large scale portrait of Alexander McQueen by Tim Walker looms over the Central Hall. Nearby is a vintage picture entitled ‘Dolores with a Crystal Ball’ (1919) by Baron de Meyer, the world’s first professional fashion photographer. Vogue is credited with commissioning the most accomplished photographers of the era, and for its connection to the arts and literature. Previous guest editors include artists Cindy Sherman and Man Ray.

    The exhibition, a little confusingly, goes backwards in time from the present, and is arranged by decade. The high definition and glossy photographs from 2010s-1990s are grouped together at one end.

    A glamorous portrait of Princess Diana (1990s) by Patrick Demarchelier is juxtaposed against a series of photographs of Kate Moss from Croydon by Corinne Day, noted for their ‘anti-glamour’ contrived realism. Nick Knight’s large scale photographs have a sculptural quality to them. Or there’s the fantasy storytelling of Trailblazers (2008) by Mario Testino set in the foothills of Peru, displayed at a height.

    The glossy contemporary photography ends rather abruptly, giving way to a collection of pictures from the past steeped in culture, history and a sense of nostalgia.  It transpires that Vogue100 is curated by Robin Muir who also organised the John Deakin show at the Photographers Gallery in 2014.

    A Century of Magazines is an aisle-long display of original copies of Vogue. Shipments from America were impossible during the First World War, and proprietor Condé Montrose Nast authorised a British edition in 1916.  The early front covers consist of delicate Art Deco illustrations by Cecil Beaton, Helen Dryden and Eduardo Benito. There’s coverage of royal weddings from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (1937) to William and Kate (2011), and some rather didactic lifestyle features from 1940s. The display finishes on recent editions with a focus on Cara Delevingne.

    Vogue takes a break from fashion photography during the Second World War. Cecil Beaton and former model Lee Miller are commissioned to record the conflict and its aftermath. Miller's work is influenced by Man Ray. We see a more relaxed style in the light-hearted ‘Top Coats’ (1966) featuring models Jean Shrimpton and Grace Coddington photographed by David Bailey from East London.

    A collection of quite informal and unassuming black and white portraits from the 1970s-80s stands out amongst all the stylised imagery here. These are of poet Sir John Betjeman, writer Salman Rushdie and David Bowie taken by (Lord) Snowdon, and they make a refreshing point of difference.

    This breath of enthusiasm is echoed in two pictures making history, of Twiggy on a Raleigh motorcycle (1967) by Ronald Traeger, and a photograph of Naomi Campbell by Patrick Demarchelier, which won Campbell from Streatham her debut Vogue front cover in December 1987. 

    There are some extraordinary pictures on display here, but, on the whole, the world of fashion, and its long-limbed protagonists, seems eerily remote and aloof. By contrast, the charming vintage portraits are more lively and down to earth. 

    David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James by Cecil Beaton, 1968 ©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

    Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery, London, 11 February - 22 May 2016, sponsored by Leon Max.


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