Much like its American counterpart, British Vogue has become a sort of an institution for the British Fashion Industry. It is a leading style book that offers an insight into the glamorous (and sometimes not glamorous) world of fashion.
When it comes to the fashion, I much prefer thumbing through the pages of British Vogue than that of the American one. To me, the British editorial team truly has a great understanding of what women wants and how they dress. While American Vogue gives its readers fantasy of high fashion through its gorgeous editorial spreads, British Vogue often plays the balancing game of mixing high fashion and the masstige. And they do it so very well.
I remember the first time I laid my hands on a copy of British Vogue. The year was 1997 and the world was reeling in shock from the news of the death of Britain's Princess Diana. It was a simple cover, featuring a smiling Diana in a beautiful red gown - No cover lines, no crazy typography. It was a tribute issue to one of the most loved women in the world. When I first saw the issue, it was the cover picture that struck me. Diana looked happy and, despite her noble blood and royal connection, she looked very much like one of us. It was a picture that captured Diana's relatability and the reason why she was well-loved by many - British or not.
Now, 19 years later, that cover picture, along with many other British Vogue cover pictures, is on display at London's National Portrait Gallery. The display is part of a well-curated exhibition, celebrating 100 years of British Vogue. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity of visiting the exhibition and found myself in awe of how relevant the publication is to not only British fashion, but also to the quintessential British lifestyle and the lives of everyday women in the United Kingdom.
Walking through the exhibition was like a journey back in time through the fashion bible's fashion archives. With various cover pictures and specific picks from iconic fashion spreads, it was like physically walking through the pages of British Vogue. As a fashion journalist, I was truly in awe at having made privy to some of these pictures and stories that dates back to the publication's first issue in 1916.
Before I continue, I must say that, despite my protests, I was not allowed to take pictures in the exhibition - the guards were everywhere. However, I managed to sneakily take some snaps without getting thrown out of the venue. I loved walking into the venue and be greeted by a cinema-size moving image of Cara Delevingne blowing bubble-gum at you in one direction and a ceiling-to-floor portrait of Alexander McQueen cradling a smoking skull in the other.
There were 10 rooms in all - one for each decade - and each room is filled with iconic pictures that defined the decade. One of my favourite rooms is the one deciated to the 1990s. There were many pictures of Kate Moss but, of course) and one of David and Victoria Beckham, in on of their earliest Vogue coverage, while Victoria was pregnant with Brooklyn.
All the great names in photography are here - from Norman Parkinson, who shot the incredibly beautiful Anne Gunning in Jaipur from 1956 (this was one of my favourites in the whole exhibition. It was also an unreleased pic from the fashion spread!) to Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Edward Steichen, Steven Meisel as well as the current god Nick Knight.
Another favourite of mine is a wall of pictures the told a fantastic Sixties story on “Top Coats” featuring Jean Shrimpton and Grace Coddington - yes, THE Grace Coddington of American Vogue (she was a model before becoming an editor and a respected stylist). As I couldn't take pictures, I scoured the internet for some archival images from the 1966 issue - I only managed to find these two pics, but they are fabulous nonetheless.
The thing I loved most about British Vogue was how it told the story of the British life throughout history. When Great Britain was at war, British Vogue wrote articles on it and the accompanying pictures - of destruction and rebuilding. British Vogue was and is not only a fashion bible but it also talks about life in pictures captured by some of the most prolific lensmen in the industry.
I suppose my least favourite was the room devoted to the 2010s. Great names such as Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier may have snapped photos of big-named celebrities (such as Kiera Knightley and One Direction), but it just doesn't really represent what this decade really was about. It's too glitzy and celebrity-focused (which was and is a problem for many publications during this period). But I suppose, as The Telegraph once wrote, if you want reality, don't go to a Vogue exhibition.
Truly, this exhibition is about selling dreams rather than selling clothes. And that has always been the essence of fashion.