I took last week off work in order to move, go to a couple of gigs and most importantly turn 31!
As it was my birthday week I booked in the kinds of activities that I always promise myself I will do and then never get round to, one of which was the Vogue exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
I have been to a couple of exhibitions recently which were disappointing and at £17.00 per ticket I wondered if Vogue's offerings would hold up...of course it did, it's Vogue.
As a teenager I was an avid fan of Vogue, my aunt would give me her used copies and I would pour over it all, but mainly the handbags which have always been a bit of a problem for me. I recounted to my friend how I used to cut out the images of the Chanel bags and stick them to the border of my bedroom at 13. I remember distinctly thinking that I would know when I was a real lady, because I would own a Chanel bag. In case you are wondering, no, I don't own one!
The exhibition was well thought out and we were given a map upon entering to navigate it, we were greeted by a selection of Vogue covers ranging from the magazine's inception to present day which, to a geek like me, was fascinating. The art work of the 20's and 30's covers was just beautiful and I was struck by how familiar I was with some of the images, despite not being that much of a Vogue historian. They must seep into the subconscious somehow!
Further into the exhibition there was an enormous corridor containing photographs of designers and an impressive portrait of Kate Moss which was a screen print on foil, but I was distracted by the floor to ceiling image of the late Alexander McQueen smoking a cigarette with his skull companion. It's an iconic portrait of McQueen that seems macabre now that he has passed. His eyes seemed to be observing over the entire corridor like the gatekeeper of fashion, perhaps that was the aim. It was certainly effective. It made me more than a little sad having watched a documentary about his life recently.
The rooms off of the main space were grouped by century the 20's, 30's 40's and so on. Each room was given it's own era appropriate style and my personal favourite was the lavender 1920's room with it's art deco details, the more modern rooms of the 90's and 00's were painted white and the large and striking images were the decor themselves.
It was thought provoking to read how fashion has responded to key points in history (the "New Look" response to the end of WW2, the power dressing women's fashion of the 80's) upon observing the past the clothes on our backs really do mirror the political and economical climates, especially in times of unrest.
Of course I took an avid interest in the 40's and 50's rooms but one of the most interesting parts of the exhibition for me was the planning room which showed how images were selected by the editor and made it into the issues of Vogue.
Without the use of modern technology the images had to be projected onto the wall in the darkness and flicked between, back and fourth, to study the images and make selections. It was headache inducing and to my eyes I could see how people could argue that the images were all the same. But the longer I looked the more I could see the distinct difference between two photographs. To anyone who says that fashion is just "clothes" I would encourage you to spend 10 minutes in that room and consider the skill that went into creating these magazines, without getting a migraine.
The last part of the exhibition we visited was the long and narrow display of Vogue magazines from each year of it's reign as the fashion bible. Some showed the cover art whilst others were open, displaying a range of subject material from photoshoots to articles about art, design and of course the odd celebrity.
All in all we spent two hours pouring over Vogue's history and were certainly not disappointed.
The last stop was the gift shop which, as you can imagine, had an array of items on offer, from vogue lip balms in vintage style compacts to original 1940's copies of the magazine itself. It was the only part of the whole exhibition that I felt could have done with some thought (possibly my inner 13 year old without any pocket money was coming through)
Most of the products were somewhat expensive and whilst I accept that this is all part of the money spin of an exhibition it would have been nice to see more individual postcards on sale rather than having to buy a box set at just shy of £15.00. Having said that the book that accompanies the exhibition was on offer at a special price and very reasonable at £35.00.
It was whilst musing the prices of the gift shop that my friend and I concluded that we are very lucky in England, and in London in particular, that we are able to take advantage of museums for free, it's a privilege that I certainly don't undertake enough but have vowed to do more and if those exhibiitons that need to be paid for support and promote heritage and culture then it's money well spent in my book.
All in all this exhibition was very much worth seeing, sadly but understandably, there were no photographs allowed so if you have time before the 22 May 2016 it's one that I would highly recommend.