model riding yak on marsh, wears Giles Deacon goat hair jacket, Isabel Marant goat fur jacket worn as headpiece, Emma Roach goat hair trousers, fur boots, heavy blush, fashion shoot and travel diary in Mongolia

Vogue at 100: A history of groundbreaking imagery

Kate Moss by Mario Testino quarter page.jpg
Kate Moss at the Master Shipwright’s House, Deptford, by Mario Testino, 2008 ©Mario Testino

The embodiment of photography history itself, Vogue and its storied photography collection steps into the spotlight with Vogue 100: A Century of Style at London’s National Portrait Gallery, an exhibition that encompasses a veritable who’s-who of photography — and fashion — from the medium’s earliest days.

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On exhibit are vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer, and World War II images by Vogue’s war correspondent, Lee Miller, to more contemporary names that helped define the genre in the modern era and make its mark on popular culture, including Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Snowdon, David Bailey, Patrick Demarchelier, Nick Knight, Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, Tim Walker and Albert Watson.

Highlights include the entire set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss underwear shoot, taken in 1993 at the pinnacle of the “grunge” trend, along with  Horst’s famous “corset” photograph from 1939, which inspired the video for Madonna’s hit song, “Vogue.”

“British Vogue has played a pivotal role in the development of photographic portraiture over the past century, commissioning leading photographers and designers to produce some of the most memorable and influential images in the history of fashion,” said Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery.

Kirsi Pyrhonen by Tim Walker
Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia by Tim Walker, 2011 ©Tim Walker

The exhibition is curated by Robin Muir, a contributing editor to British Vogue, who has arranged several exhibitions over the past 20 years focusing on fashion and portrait photography. His books include “People in Vogue: A Century of Portraits” (2003) and “Vogue Model: The Faces of Fashion” (2010).

One surprising aspect of the collection lies in a hair-raising detail about what happened to many of the early photographic prints in the British edition’s files.

Hattie Crisell quotes Muir in New York magazine:

“There is almost nothing left in the British Vogue archives between 1916 and 1942,” he explains. “In 1942, Condé Nast sent all its photographs to the paper pulper — it was an economic necessity during wartime to try to save paper. There’s a great photograph somewhere of Cecil Beaton sitting amongst all his photographs, just about to go off to the recycling.” Luckily, in those early decades of the magazine, much of the imagery was borrowed from its older U.S. cousin, “so we were able to call upon the American Vogue archive, which is very, very thorough and beautifully stocked from about 1909 onwards.”

Thank goodness for the archives of U.S. Vogue in contributing to the exhibition.

Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery, London, 11 February – 22 May 2016, sponsored by Leon Max.

American dancer Fred Astaire dancing in a tuxedo
Fred Astaire by André de Dienes, 1939 ©Condé Nast Inc.
Claudia Schiffer - Herb Ritts resized
Claudia Schiffer in Paris by Herb Ritts, 1989 ©Herb Ritts Foundation/Trunk Archive