Monday, 11 April 2016

'Vogue 100: A Century of Style' at the National Portrait Gallery

Claudia Schiffer in Paris by Herb Ritts, 1989
©Herb Ritts Foundation/Trunk Archive

I remember the very first issue of Vogue that I bought - it was March 2003. I still remember it clearly, not only because it's my favourite Vogue cover of all time, but because I still have it. And just about every issue since.

If you're wondering what 13 years of Vogue magazine looks like, I can tell you that in a vertical pile they are taller than me at 5'8". I've kept them all these years because each issue brings me joy and (unlike newspapers and gossip magazines that are relevant one day and rubbish the next), I love to look back at old issues for inspiration and a stylish snapshot of a certain time in my life.

Vogue isn't for everyone though. I've lost count of the number of people who have said to me, 'but isn't it 50% advertising?!' Not far off, but they're missing the point. If you love fashion and you love photography, the adverts aren't something that you skip past, they're another source of beauty and inspiration.

So for 13 years that stack of Vogues has lived with me – and moved house with me. (If you want to see a look of pure hatred, try telling a middle-aged removal man on the hottest day of summer that yes, there are 10 more boxes of Vogue to be carried up to your top floor flat with no elevator!)

Recently, however, I've been purging my possessions. I did this dramatically a few years ago when we moved from a reasonably large house to a one bedroom flat (London ain't cheap) and, when I realised that I missed nothing that I got rid of, I decided to get rid of even more. I hate clutter and recently I have been looking at my beloved stack of Vogues and asking myself if they are just clutter too. More importantly, if I keep collecting every issue, where the heck will I put them all?!

Limelight Nights by Helmut Newton, 1973
©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

Enter the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, an integral part of the magazine's centenary celebrations. British Vogue was founded in 1916 when the war made shipping copies of American Vogue impossible and has remained one of the world's most influential fashion magazines ever since.

This exhibition is the first retrospective of its kind, including more than 280 prints from the Conde Nast archive, in addition to film footage from shoots and original magazines - one from each of the magazine's 100-year history.

The photographs are grouped in rooms by decade and it's fascinating to see trends unfold and be interpreted by the most influential photographers and models of each era - from that iconic first Kate Moss shoot by Corinne Day to the powerful results of David Bailey's enduring relationship with Jean Shrimpton. The cultural and economic shifts of each decade are also reflected in the shoots; the mood visibly changes from wartime austerity to the swinging sixties, to 80s glamour and 90s grunge.

The final '00's' room is where my heart skipped a beat though. There on the walls were the photos from my personal collection of Vogue, and the designers, photographers and models who stole my heart - Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Gemma Ward, Natalia Vodianova and so many more.

Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia by Tim Walker, 2011
 ©Tim Walker

It took us a couple of hours to see everything properly – if you're a Vogue fan this exhibition is well worth seeing. It was more than just an enjoyable morning for me though, it was a reminder of just what an impressive institution Vogue is, and that I'm not completely insane for treasuring my magazines for so many years.

I realised something else important. I had thought I only had two options – throwing all my magazines away, or keeping them and collecting them until the day I die – but I hadn't considered a third. I've decided to keep just ten year's worth and put them pride of place on my living room bookshelf.

If I ever live in a huge house with a library, I'd like nothing more than to amass a full 100-year collection but, in the meantime, my little snapshot of Vogue's impressive 100 year history makes me pretty happy.

Vogue 100: A Century of Style is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 11 February until 26 May 2016, sponsored by Leon Max. For more information visit


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