Kate Moss, Cara Delevigne and Lily Cole are in Vogue at the National Portrait Gallery

Stephen Dinneen
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Kate Moss is showing you her underwear at the National Portrait Gallery (Source: Mario Testino, 2008 © Mario Testino)

The National Portrait Gallery | ★★★★☆

The National Portrait Gallery’s Vogue 100 exhibition is an epic stroll through a century of photography from fashion’s undisputed powerhouse. The trail leads backwards, opening with vast prints of the most recognisable faces from today’s magazines; Cara Delevingne gives way to Lily Cole, who gives way to Kate Moss.

The opening rooms are dominated by the likes of Tim Walker, Mario Testino and Nick Knight; the diversity and ambition of their work is astonishing when viewed en masse. There’s a brilliant madness to the portrait of Helena Bonham Carter standing inside a glass elevator, in the middle of a field, surrounded by purple smoke, or the fashion shoot mid-way up the Andes, complete with llamas.

As the decades roll back, the styles of clothing and photography begin to shift; the minimalism of the late 90s, the statuesque “supers” of the early-mid 90s. Each decade is introduced with a little cultural context: the rise of Thatcher, the emergence of Princess Diana as a public figure (both sat for Vogue portraits, Thatcher in a gothic, high-necked jacket).

Another display shows the evolution of Vogue covers over the years, from the early painted ones – with a different logo each time – to the emergence of colour photography and the rise of celebrity culture (it must be said that the most recent covers are also the least iconic).

Some of the fascinating historical information – such as Vogue’s committment to WWII reportage, or its pioneering influence in colour photography – are a little lost amid the beautiful imagery. But the relentless innovation, the constant reinterpretation of beauty, the persistence through war and political turmoil, is testament to a magazine that has become both a work of art in itself and a document of human life.

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