Vogue, the style bible has captured the zeitgeist, the it factor, the style trends, chronicled the way we have lived for a century, even longer across the pond in America where it first appeared on the newsstands in 1892, the brainchild of its proprietor Conde Nast. British Vogue was founded in 1916 when the First World War transatlantic shipments of American Vogue became impossible. It was an instant success and has continued to strut its style through the past ten decades putting fashion and the avant-garde on the map. The austerity and optimism that followed two world wars, the swinging sixties, radical seventies and the conspicuous consumption of the eighties.
Theatre and opera designer Patrick Kinmouth, the exhibition’s designer and artistic director has stitched together a rich tapestry of history, taking the visitor on an immersive journey through the greatest moments of the history of British Vogue. From the moment you step into the cavernous reception of the National Portrait Gallery, a gigantic floor-to-ceiling poster announces the show. The display banners at the entrance add to the celebratory atmosphere before you are swept up in Vogue’s visual history. Every inch of the ground floor, corridors and rooms have been transformed into a Vogue take-over for a dreamy journey through the decades.
- Related story: Vogue’s century of style
Androgynous to Zero
Vogue has always had the knack for being the bellwether for all manners of trends, from the androgynous to the grunge, the mini to the skinny, through to the swashbuckling Supermodel phenomenon. Even Hollywood has been seduced by its charms with a film parody of the magazine, The Devil Wears Prada starring no less than Meryl Streep.
Lights, Camera, Adulation
The success of Vogue cannot be divorced from its larger-than-life photographers, afterall they have transformed many of its starry-eyed subjects into iconic, global superstars or supermodels; Step forward Ronald Traeger and Twiggy, David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton, Norman Parkinson and Anne Gunning, Coreen Day and Kate Moss, Mario Testino and Princess Diana, Herb Ritts and Claudia Schifer, Peter Lindbergh and the Supermodels.
The exhibition is a roll-call of the faces that have defined the cultural landscape of the twentieth century; from Henri Matisse to Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst; Marlene Dietrich to Gwyneth Paltrow, The Beatles to David Bowie, Princess Diana to Margaret Thatcher. and Fred Astaire to David Beckham.
Some questionable cover choices and star features have however enraged its readership over the decades; Kanye West and Kim Kardashian or ‘Kimye’ (American Vogue), Coleen Rooney, Tamzin Outhwaite and Ulrika Johnsson. So stunned was the editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman at the choice of footballer Wayne Rooney’s wife for inclusion in the magazine that she was forced to offer a strong rebuttal at the barrage of criticisms from the magazine’s subscribers: “Rarely has so much rubbish been published as there has been about Coleen McLoughlin’s forthcoming appearance in Vogue.
“The real story of the shoot is as follows. We had been thinking about who was intriguing at the moment and Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin’s names came up as a couple who were constantly in the news. Wayne is indisputably a footballer of momentous talent, whose skills had impressed even the 90 per cent female staff of Vogue, while Coleen was, nearly single-handedly, keeping the luxury goods business going.”
Ever the confident peacock of glossies, it even turned the camera on itself when Anna Winter, the ice-cool editor, who could make or break the career of any fashion designer and Vogue lifer Grace Coddington starred in the September Issue, a fly-on-the-wall documentary feature film on the mechanics of producing the September issue of Vogue magazine, the door-stopper widely acknowledged as the biggest and most important edition of the year.
Vogue may be the self-styled fashion bible but you ignore its significance at your peril as its serious mainstream competitors realised during WWII when the magazine’s official war correspondent, Lee Miller broke some of the biggest stories of the conflict and the images that illustrated its horrors, witnessing the moment Hitler’s alpine retreat was set on fire.
Will it still be around in 2116?
Will Vogue still be around in printed format in another hundred years? In the age of pervasive digital media and an explosion of influential fashion bloggers even the almighty Vogue has had to modernise to survive, going digital in 1996 with vogue.co.uk. The exhibition’s curator Robin Muir who spent six years scouring through the magazine’s archive of about 2,000 issues is confident there will be another centenary of Vogue, he says: “If you are asking if Vogue will still be around as a magazine in the digital age, yes, I’m sure people love to have this beautiful production of bound slab on their coffee table, of course without question.”
Vogue 100: A Century of Style on now until 22 May, National Portrait Gallery