Vogue 100: A Century of Style

Well, despite saying in my last post that I’m keeping Sundays for posting finished projects, I have nothing to show you today. I’ve had a very productive weekend though! I’ve made an entry for one of the Monthly Stitch‘s Indie Pattern Month competitions, and I’ve just about finished a Sew Over It vintage shirt dress – just need to do the buttons and buttonholes. I’ve also managed to get some culture in too! Yesterday I got up early to catch the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery


I’m not a Vogue reader and only really know it for its fashion pages, so I went to the exhibition expecting to see some pretty dresses documented through the magazine. While that was definitely the focus, there was so much more to see.

Vogue starlight cover

There was no photography allowed in the exhibition, so the following are from the accompanying highlights book. This is a cover from 1926 by Eduardo Benito.

The exhibition is organised by decade and the layout encourages you to move through the 100 years of Vogue in reverse order. With the exception of one set of photos from the 80s which was all shoulder pads and Pat Butcher-pink lipstick, I was struck by how stylish the fashions still seem – nothing seemed to have dated all that much. Perhaps this is the difference between fashion and style…

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell aged 17 in her first cover for Vogue in 1987. Dressed in Karl Lagerfeld, shot by Patrick Demarchelier.

The fashion photography itself was inspirational. I loved the photos from the 30s in particular – all clean lines and clever lighting. Most of them were shot in a studio, with photographers playing with light and focus to create the illusion of being outside. But what really struck me about the exhibits themselves, particularly as you move further back in time, was the physical condition of the photos themselves. Some of them were quite badly torn or crumpled – you could tell that they had been handled and used, which really gave the impression they were all used to produce a magazine.


Modern mariners put out to sea, by George Hoynigen Huene, 1930. This looks like they’re sitting on a diving board by the sea, but it was really shot on a rooftop in Paris, with the background out of focus to look like the horizon.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon by John Deakin, 1952. This looks like it’s been pulled out of files and generally mistreated. I like that – gives it a bit of atmosphere.

Alongside the models there were loads of interesting pieces on figures from outside the world of fashion – artists, writers, royalty and actors to name but a few. For example, did you know that Aldous Huxley (he of Brave New World fame) had a stint as a sub-editor at Vogue before becoming their literary critic? Even Morecambe and Wise were featured!

Jean Shrimpton

Jean Shrimpton by Saul Leiter, 1966.

But it was Lee Miller’s story in particular that stuck with me. Lee was an American model who appeared regularly in Vogue in the 1930s, but gave it up to become a photographer. During WW2 she made a name for herself as a war photographer, reporting for Vogue. She was there during the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and was one of the first on the scene at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat only to find it on fire. After the war, Lee stuck around in Europe to record the reconstruction but her photos didn’t have the same impact. She eventually left Vogue in the early 50s and never really spoke of her experiences in the war again. I’ve found a couple of books about her on Amazon so a biography might be next on my reading list.

Lee Miller

Lee Miller (second from right) in her days as a model. Navy blue and white are good sailors, by Edward Steichen, 1928.

The exhibition closes in a few days, so if you’re in London and have the chance, I’d definitely recommend it. I went expecting to have a nice day out seeing some beautifully photographed clothes, but I came away feeling like I’d learned something. Vogue seems like much more than a fashion bible full of pretty clothes and beauty tips – it also comments on the world around us. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Where there's a will there's a waist

Where there’s a will there’s a waist, by Horst, 1939. This was taken just before the photographer, a German, fled Paris and the coming war. You might recognise the pose from a certain Madonna video…

Kate Moss

You couldn’t have a Vogue exhibition without featuring Kate Moss. Here she is in her first shoot for the magazine in 1993, by Corinne Day.


4 thoughts on “Vogue 100: A Century of Style

  1. Colesworth says:

    Looks like a great exhibition, Hopefully we are getting a few similar things down under in the next year. Looking forward to seeing your vintage shirt dress, I’ve just made my 2nd and I want more!

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