‘Fashion changes but style endures’. Coco Channel’s famous maxim seems particularly apt when considering the centenary of British Vogue. From its origins during the First World War to its present-day guise in the digital era, the personalities contained in its pages and the photographers who captured them, ranging from Marlene Dietrich by Cecil Beaton to Kate Moss by Mario Testino, are an extraordinary portrait of their age and comprise a panoramic view of the last century.
Many cultivated people and artists were the protagonists of British Vogue and they constituted flagships of different eras. One of them was Virginia Woolf who was photographed in the November Vogue issue in 1924, passing on 2 years later to ‘The Art of the Party’ era where the ‘Gatsby’ girls made their appearances in the high society parties wearing pearls and iconic hats. It was that time when Elsa Maxwell spoke about the ‘snob society’ that had been shaped in the habitus of the elite. In particular, she stated that: ‘Snobs are curiously incapable of gaiety perhaps because gaiety comes from the soul and snobs only take their soul à la meunière’. This statement confesses a different aspect of the fabulous life of the elite that period. However, Vogue was there and the best photographers depicted some of the most beautiful moments of this time.
As anyone can see, it is not only the political beliefs that shape the style of the women in each period but also the new ideas and the vision that some of the designers had. Many art forms like cinema, theatre and fashion magazines like Vogue created a different type of woman in each era. But all of the depicted women, in all of their periods, preserved their smartness and femininity. But not only in the conventional way. Vogue hosted some of the most ambivalent and powerful female figures in the history. In particular, the magazine photographed female leaders and dominant figures from Queen Elizabeth II, to Princess Diana, Margaret Butcher, Barbra Streisand and many others.
All in all British Vogue celebrated a century of style last year in 2016. It is interesting to note that the National Portrait Gallery in London made a spectacular exhibition for the 100 years of British Vogue and the curator of this exhibition was Robin Muir. There, all the iconic moments of the cultural history were represented through the photographs of the magazine and one could also see that the protagonists of the magazine were women from different eras, who served as role models in the society. The beauty of these photographs is that they stay alive as the time goes by and they can speak to you only with their magical aura….again, for one more time, life mimics art and vice versa…and the transformative power of art can be seen that it is deeply woven into the fabric of our lives.