Wednesday, 27 April 2016

An Ode to Vogue at the NPG

What is it that makes a 16-year-old girl pick up a copy of Vogue? It certainly isn't to check out the latest £340 pair of heels or the prospect planning a stylish 'Capsule Working Wardrobe'. For me, aged 16, Vogue was a little life raft of pure joy and escapism. The sheer weight of its heavy, glossy pages acted as a barrier between myself and the real world of A Level exams, UCAS forms and teenage angst.

I was lucky enough to discover that at my local 6th form college (for reasons unknown but never questioned) there was a corner of the library which housed an endless supply of British Vogues, ordered chronologically and stretching back at least 30 years up to the present day. This was more than enough to keep myself and my best friend occupied. At lunchtimes, and study breaks, when we should have perhaps been practising our French past participles, we would go through the latest editions and analyse each model's outfits, announcing 'yes', 'no', ' or 'What were they thinking?' 

But, most importantly, we would scan the pages for the editorials. The extravagant fairy-tale like stage set-ups. Our favourites were the Tim Walker stories with girls dressed as China plates and doll-like models staring out in saucer-eyed wonder. These were the models of our generations; Lily Cole, Gemma Ward, Jourdan Dunn and Lily Donaldson. Faces which became familiar friends issue after issue. Only a couple of years older than us, their fantastical lives seemed, in our idealistic teenage brains, almost within reach.

What these hours and hours spent pouring over 'The Fashion Bible' did for us I'll never quite understand, but, to us, the spreads seemed as creative as an A Level photography project (although with the financial backing of a certain Conde Nast). They were magical and haphazard and unbelievably out of this world. It wasn't the brands or the prices (which we gasped at on a regular basis) it was the creativity, the putting together of outfits; the 'More Dash than Cash' spreads showing knee high socks with strappy Mary-Jane shoes. The youthful, excitable feel of discovering something that felt like it was made just for you.

Entering the National Portrait Gallery's Vogue 100 earlier this month - the exhibition dedicated to the magazine through the ages as it celebrates its centenary - was like walking into my teenage brain and roaming around for a bit. Seeing the Vogues I had collected so diligently at the age of 17 onwards on display behind glass cases was more than a little surreal. The editions I had cherished and which now line my bookshelves are seen displayed beautifully in chronological order. The cover of Kate Moss (yes there are many) reclining in a gold ball gown for the December 2008 issue and the Cara Delevigne's first solo cover a few years later are copies that seem fixed in time and bring me back to certain points in my life. 

There is something so intimate and emotional about these weighty fashion doorstops that seems more personal than anything I've seen before in a gallery. Of course the photography, created by such masters as Mario Testino, Nick Knight and, my favourite, Tim Walker are works of art in their own right. But, in my mind, the magazine seems to belong in on the bedside tables of teenage girls, to be poured over, cherished and well loved, with pages earmarked for future use and favourite outfits cut out and tacked on pin boards.

So, this is a little 'Ode to Vogue', to say thank you. Thank you for 100 years of fashion, creativity and escapism. And thank you for allowing an awkward 16 year old girl to carry around (in her tatty canvas tote bag) a piece of pure fashion magic.

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