Get Your Vogue On At The National Portrait Gallery: Review

Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery ★★☆☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 31 months ago
Get Your Vogue On At The National Portrait Gallery: Review Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery 2
Source: National Portrait Gallery Facebook page

Vogue is arguably the world's most influential magazine — it's so popular that it's managed to transform the word vogue into a verb. The fashion magazine is now 100 years old and, to celebrate the centenary, all its glitz and glamour has arrived at the National Portrait Gallery.

It's certainly a beautifully presented exhibition with lit up pillars of Vogue magazine covers at the entrance, right through to lots of back editions presented in impossibly long glass display cases. And that's without mentioning the slick videos and photography on display.

Like the magazine itself, it's all so chic and seductive — and that's where it comes undone. Top fashion photographers such as Mario Testino give us sultry beauties, but when you're working with subjects like Keira Knightley or Gwyneth Paltrow that's not really a notable achievement. We have Kate Moss flashing her underwear and Tim Walker showing a horse-loving model splattered with mud in her jockey outfit; but ultimately they both look beautiful and perfectly poised. It all smacks of photographers trying to be 'edgy' but in truth playing it very safe.

There are some exceptions, like Nick Knight's side profile of Kate Moss in black on gold, which at least steps away from a traditional fashion photograph. We also find a more 'human' side to the magazine in the 1940s section displaying dramatic black and white shots from a war reportage by superstar photographer Cecil Beaton.

Since this is also an historical celebration, we'd expect something more in-depth into the history of the magazine rather than just an array of — perfectly arranged and shiny — photographs and covers. We'd like to know who actually made the history of Vogue and who were the key editors throughout the years but all we can find is a timeline giving some quick information about the history of the magazine.

The one section that piqued our interest is shamefully limited to one image. We're told how Vogue featured Picasso several decades ago and continues to showcase contemporary artists. And all we have to show for this interesting statement is one sub-par Cindy Sherman photograph.

One of Vogue's photographers, Norman Parkinson, sums it up very well when he spoke about what people needed after the Great Depression:

People want style, they need romance; they need beautiful women in beautiful provocative surroundings.

Arguably this still rings true today and any visitor after this very experience will be gleefully overwhelmed in what's bound to be a popular exhibition. As for us, we found it soulless and like much of the fashion world, it's just too shallow for us.

Vogue 100: A century of style is on until 22 May at National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, WC2H 0HE. Tickets are £17.50 for adults and £15,50 for concessions, and can be bought in advance online.

Last Updated 15 February 2016