Although trends and fashions come and go, true style stands the test of time. The same is as true of clothing as it is of interiors, which is why ‘Vogue: A Century of Style’ at the National Portrait Gallery in London is an interesting and inspiring visit regardless of whether you are a fashionista or a furniture maker.
The exhibition is an insightful journey through 100 years of the fashion chronicle, an amalgamation of the biggest names (and faces) of fashion; photographers, models and designers are all recognised here, as well as cultural icons from Charlie Chaplin to David Bowie to David Beckham. The personalities that shine through from these portraits in particular speak volumes about true style, which is not about changing with the fashions or fads but finding something unique and timeless that is recognisable even without context. This exhibition proves just how well Vogue were able to discover style, and capture it.
The gallery is laid out in interconnecting eras, divided into diligently decorated rooms each filled with a collection of publications and selected framed photographs, and each with a very different feel. From the evocative black and white portraits of the art deco era, through the austerity struck 1940s, prim 1950s, swinging 60s to the bright LED backed supersized portraits of the 2010s.
Walking back in time through the back catalogue is an inspiring experience for picking out fashions and fabrics, but there are also marked changes that say more about our culture than our couture. Seeing in high definition, the change from an era without clever lighting or digital tricks to the glossy models of today naturally prompts questions of authenticity. To what extent can we believe what we are shown by these publications? At the heart of these stylish, super-sized photographs, what do we really consider to be beautiful?
Of course you would expect the exhibition to be fashion orientated and it does not disappoint, however Vogue has always been more than just a Women’s fashion magazine and that is shown throughout. It’s photography and the topics it has covered continue to go beyond simply documenting the latest trends or forecasting future fads. Previously unpublished photos by model/ photographer Lee Miller which were a major part of Vogue’s war coverage in the 1940s, are simultaneously beautiful and harrowing. A delightful photograph in the collection shows two girls ‘digging for victory’ in style, their austerity approved fashions paired with wellington boots. It is collections of photographs such as these that illustrate the human side of the industry, and what an intrinsic part fashion and style play in our culture across the generations.
There is nothing like an insightful retrospective for firing those creative juices but you may be surprised that this large scale fashion exhibition, far from being shallow, has plenty of room for pause and reflection too.
All images credit to The National Portrait Gallery. Source: NPG Facebook Page.