Housed in the National Portrait Gallery, Vogue 100: A Century of Style is a stunning showcase comprised of a multitude of fashion media. As well as the expected prints, mediums such as motion film, slides, vintage film reels, original magazines and snippets of history provide a true insight into the brand and create a presentation that’s hard to drag yourself away from. Expect iconic imagery from the likes of Mario Testino and Irving Penn as well as some never-before revealed shots. Factual anecdotes such as the date of the first colour photo and the effect of WW2 on the economy (and therefore the industry), allow for a lesson in history as well as a visual escape.
Be sure to leave time to wander the magazine archive – there’s an original print from every year of Vogue’s existence displayed to illustrate the art direction and graphic design progression throughout the years.
We sat down with Robin Muir to gain a deeper insight into the exhibition and its importance to the Vogue 100 birthday celebrations.
Vogue 100, A Century Of Style is arguably the most talked about exhibit of 2016 so far. What inspired the idea behind the exhibition?
Well, you’re only 100 once! There hasn’t been a major show of 20th century fashion photography at a London museum since the early 1990s and certainly not one that has been this far-ranging. To couple an exhibit like this with portraiture too hasn’t been done for a while, if at all. I think you could only do this retrospective with VOGUE — it just doesn’t work with other magazines. Of course it’s about quality. I love the fact that Cecil Beaton once thought about titling his fashion memoirs ‘When I Die I Want to go to Vogue’.
I realised as I was researching this concept that all the great names in VOGUE; Man Ray, Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Lee Miller, Blumenfeld, Penn are also the great names of modern photography.
How did you go about curating it and choosing the imagery?
It took about five years. You can’t avoid it — you have to sit down and look through every single page of the magazine from 1916 to now. That’s over 1500 issues. And then you do it again. We couldn’t really look at BritVog in isolation, so the research had to include US and Paris Vogue too and then all the satellite British Vogue supplemental magazines like the Vogue Book of Beauty, The Vogue Book of British Exports and so on. It was a golden opportunity to showcase Vogue’s ‘Greatest Hits’ but also to reveal less well known images and many that were taken but never published at the time.
Is there a running theme throughout?
Only (I hope) that every photograph has integrity. That was the keystone. Nothing got through unless it thoroughly deserved its place. So you might expect, for example, to see a portrait of Winston Churchill, a great British figure if ever there was, but the portraits taken of him in Vogue are not good enough (he was famously irascible to photographers, so no wonder), therefore he is not in the show.