Review of Vogue 100: A Century of Style Exhibition

Charlie, dott co-editor, visited the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition Vogue 100: A Century of Style. In our Thursday review she looks, with a dott lens, at whether there is true beauty to be found in the glossy pages of high fashion and supermodels. 

Vogue exhibition, first impression: overwhelming. Obviously.

You walk into the National Portrait Gallery and it is teeming with people. The queue for tickets rivals that of Madam Tussauds on a rainy day (why do people waste their time doing that?). As you enter the gallery you are handed a map that details out the exhibition broken into rooms covering different decades, meanwhile Kate Moss is being projected onto the wall ahead. Where do you start whilst hundreds of beautiful women look down at you?

My advice: Start with an audio guide.

This £3 investment changed what could have been an overwhelming and unconstructive couple of hours into a truly insightful exhibition. 

Firstly, the guide tells you where to start – the whole exhibition is created so you walk through from the current period back to the 20s. It even explains why - starting with tiny hand drawn illustrations would be quite a big ask for an audience in the digital age who are used to huge glossy portraits. So the curator, Robin Muir, started with what we are used to - with the magazine today, so the viewer has a chance to ‘get in the zone’ before delving down into Vogue’s history.

More than telling you where to go, the audio guide revealed the true beauty of this exhibition. This isn’t just beautiful women, and it isn’t just beautiful portraiture, this is a chronicle of the last century of British culture. The guide pointed out to me the inextricable link between fashion and culture. Take the 80s for example, Thatcherism, and the economic impact that had, led people to “want style”. Norman Parkinson said that people “needed romance”. And you can see that in the beautiful work on the walls, in the portraits of Parkinson of his wife and of Demarchelier’s picture of Naomi Campbell.

 The front cover of the first issue of Vogue in the 90s was Peter Lindbergh’s “Supermodels” – an image of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford. Supermodels were a billion dollar power and this Vogue front cover was the epitome of that. But the rest of the the 90s exhibition room shows how fashion adapted under the coverage of post Gulf-War Baghdad and similar cultural zeitgeists. Corrine Day’s shoot of a young Kate Moss showed a renaissance from that glossy front cover to a more naturalistic high fashion.

We wanted to go right back in time and find the original prints and if these prints show tears and cracks, then so much the better, for these are objects with a story to tell.

Robert Muir - Curator

Vogue is steeped in history and culture and the work of Lee Miller and her war time photography are a perfect of example of this. I expected this exhibition to be phenomenal, but mainly I was expecting beautiful people and clothes. I discovered Vogue is more than that as it tells a story right back from its origins in Britain among the Bloomsbury Set. And it does so through truly extraordinary photographs, not just beautiful ones.

The Portrait Restaurant

To make this exhibition a truly special day out I’d recommend finishing it with a trip to the Portrait Restaurant. Sat on the top of the gallery you can look out at a spectacular, little seen view of Nelson’s Column (when you book, request a window table). The food is well thought out, beautiful and with great flavour. 


Vogue 100: A Century of Style is open until 22 May 2016. More details here.

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