2016 marks the 100 year anniversary of Vogue magazine and, to celebrate, British Vogue and the National Portrait Gallery has launched an exhibition consisting of nearly 300 prints from Vogue’s archive. I was in two minds whether to go as the price tag of £17 was quite steep (£10-£12 would have been better) but since I used to be slightly obsessed with Vogue back when I was 16 (I still have piles of magazines that I can’t bring myself to throw out – I couldn’t even bear to tear them up and put the pictures on my wall or in my scrapbook) I figured it would be worth it – spoiler: it was.
Although the gallery recommended booking tickets in advance, I am pretty useless and didn’t get around to actually doing this. According to the gallery’s website, there are only a limited number of tickets available on the door (and the place opens at 10am) but my friends and I arrived at 2pm on the May Bank Holiday weekend and were all able to get an entry slot at 3.15am.
When you walk in, the hallway has a video display and a huge image of the inspirational Lee Alexander McQueen on the far wall. There are various rooms coming off this hall, each dedicated to a particular era. The images are organised according to decade, although the later years are the ones closest to the entrance which didn’t quite make sense to me, as I ended up working backwards chronologically. I should have walked started at the other end, in 1916. Every room had a few paragraphs on the wall, giving details about the era: the key photographers, trends and developments, as well as the historical context.
Each image had a small information plaque close by with details of the photographer, model and date, along with a sentence of background information. Trying to read these plaques made me feel old – my eyesight appears to be going as they seemed quite fuzzy and I needed to get very close in order to read them – but I liked the fact there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of information. It meant you could spend more time just enjoying the photos, which were all beautiful. My favourites were the most modern ones, with their exotic and quirky locations and couture dresses, however the original drawings used were also amazing.
Kate Moss made many appearances during the exhibition. Seeing several of her photoshoots displayed close together really showed how she managed to become of the world’s most famous supermodels. Her image is so versatile that in some cases I only realised it was her thanks to the information plaques.
In addition to models, several of the photographs showed celebrities and public figures, such as Hugh Grant, the Beckham, Margaret Thatcher and the royal family. And it wasn’t just about fashion and people – images that the magazine published showing the consequences of the second world war were also included in the display. I had no idea that Vogue had covered the war.
Alongside the photos, there was also a room playing a slide show of the series of images taken on particular shoots, along with the one that was finally chosen, as well as cases containing a magazine from each year Vogue has existed. It was interesting to see both the similarities and the differences in the various editions of Vogue over the ages.
The only annoying thing about the exhibition – considering the ticket price and limited choice of postcards sold in the gift shop – was that photographs were not allowed. The exhibition books were also £14.95 and £35 but I found that the latest issue of Vogue (£3.99) – the commemorative century issue – helpfully has several of the same photographs in it. Feeling a bit smug about that idea right now.