Designer

#Vogue100: A Century of Style

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To celebrate Vogue’s 100th Birthday, London’s National Portrait Gallery has devoted an exhibition to the influence and legacy of such an influential publication, drawing a picture of who is who in fashion photography from Cecil Beaton to Mario Testino.

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Photo: Ann-Christin Schubert

Hands up: how many of us consider Vogue as a fashion bible and head to it for the beautifully shot fashion editorials? If your hand was in the air then the exhibition I’m about to tell you about will be right up your street.

Last week I finally had the chance to see the celebration of fashion photography that some may dismiss as superficial, but that to me is nothing less than an art form that celebrates beauty and fashion as a part of our culture.

I fail to look perfectly polished most days, and I can’t afford most of the clothes presented to me in Vogue. A lot of the time, all I want to do is throw on an oversized shirt that could belong to my non-existent boyfriend or wear my hair in a messy bun; this is my life and the life of many of my female peers.

Still, I don’t get the feeling that I don’t belong somehow or that I couldn’t be one of those perfectly dressed women in Vogue. Flicking through the magazine is not as much about going into a store and buying what Vogue dictates is trend: it’s about sharing a love for fashion.

Even during the most challenging times in history, Vogue managed to promote the idea that women should always feel beautiful.

Let’s take Cecil Beaton for example – his early works originate from a time when war was part of women’s everyday life (he took about 7,000 pictures during the second World War and became one of Britain’s leading war photographers).

They convey the message that everything was chaotic, yet a woman’s ability to dress perfectly was excluded from the chaos.

I can have a bad day, but I would be lying if I said that a new dress didn’t have the ability to make me feel better instantly.

The exhibition welcomes visitors with a variety of covers of the past century, showing celebrities from Twiggy to Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow in both illustration and high quality photography.

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Credit: Vogue

Surprisingly, the exhibition doesn’t take visitors through the decades by starting with the time in which it was firstlaunched: it jumps right into what we see in fashion today.

A key element of this first installation is moving images of Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner and many others: icons who have taken the digital world by storm. Curator Robin Muir wanted to show what is happening now, before taking us on a reverse chronological journey through every decade since 1916.

Born in the heights of World War One as a consequence of American Vogue not being able to be sold in Europe at the time, Vogue was founded at the peak of one of the most disastrous times of world history.

Still, that didn’t stop the publication from becoming a huge success in Britain. Considering the various events of this previous century, Vogue’s editors and photographers have experienced drastic changes, developments, revolutions and movements – not only in fashion, but in politics, technology, culture and society.

One of the exhibitions’ many highlights is a high wall-sized image of Alexander McQueen, shot by Tim Walker, posing with a skull and cigarette. This is where we first see images that aren’t representing fashion; in contrast to McQueen, this area also shows photographs of Prince Charles or London’s mayor Boris Johnson.

Marking an era of the rise of the supermodel, Peter Lindbergh’s cover shot of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz photographed in black and white in 1990 remains one of the best-known covers in British Vogue’s history. It introduced a new decade with some of the most iconic faces in fashion.

Kate Moss has undoubtedly been one of the most photographed models over the past three decades. Often photographed by Mario Testino and Jurgen Teller among many others, she stood out as a contrast to other supermodels.

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Credit: Vogue

Corinne Day’s intimate portraits of the young, gawky model had an immense influence on the style of photography in the early 1990’s.

The exhibition also puts the spotlight on David Sims, Nick Knight, Cecil Beaton, Tim Walker, Norman Parkinson, Alasdair McLellan, Herb Ritts, Lee Miller, Norbert Schoener, David Bailey and so many more that have achieved greatness with their visual language.

Tim Walker started out as an intern at the magazine before turning into one of fashion’s most prominent photographers.

His images represent so much more than fashion. They bring fantasies and fairy tales to life.

Similiary, Lee Miller first started out as a model for the magazine but soon started to stand behind the camera. As a war correspondent during the Second World War, she sent back astonishing images from the frontline, concentration camps or Hitler’s redoubt at Berchtesgaden set alight by allied troops.

Just like Cecil Beaton’s war reporting for Vogue, her job went far beyond capturing beauty.

Such superb photography reminds us of why Vogue is not only a source to browse for clothes: it’s about the people. The realness that appears in many of the exhibited works emphasises the style that has shaped fashion photography.

It’s about looking for a way of life we love; a way of life that Vogue has documented since 1916. From the war correspondences to the first photographic cover by Edward Steichen in 1932, Vogue’s photographers have anticipated this documentary style that has captured Britain’s cultural life.

From the beginning, Vogue has captured the development from a traditional post war period to the rise of show stars such as Marilyn Monroe and iconic faces of fashion; icons behind and in front of lenses who have maintained the magazine’s keys to success.

Vogue not only reflects culture and fashion: it shapes it.

The cultural impact on British life has extended its role far beyond a chronicler of styles and trends, supported by great names in modern and contemporary photography.

The exhibition is open for another month – if you’re in London then we beg you not to miss it. It’s truly fantastic.

Ann-Christin Schubert

Jess is your Deputy Editor

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