Well, anyone who knows me may be a bit surprised that I have included a blog post about fashion. My wardrobe is far from fashionable and I have no clue about fashion trends. I did see a colour adviser once. I made a 'Colour Me Beautiful' appointment because I lacked confidence in all things to do with clothes and accessories. I thought there was something wrong with me that could be cured by some fashion advice. I was diagnosed as an  autumn colour and looking back it was a turning point. It did not cure me of my fashion apathy but has helped me shop faster as I can hone in on my earthy colours.

I am also embarrassed to admit that despite many trips into London I had not previously set foot in the National Portrait Gallery. The thought of endless portraits of  aristocrats has not really tempted me through the doors. Being honest, I don't think the Vogue 100 exhibition would have enticed me in if it hadn't been that fashion is an F word!

'Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only.

Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” 

― Coco Chanel

Empowered, I decided  to go 'off -piste'  and  find portraits that spoke to me through theirfashion statements.

In an art gallery dominated by portraits and busts of men my attention was captured by a painting of  Princess Diana and another of Mrs Pankhurst.

Diana, Princess of Wales by Bryan Organ


This is one of my favourite portraits. It is apparent from Mrs Pankhurst's luxurious fur coat that she came from a privileged background. However, it also depicts a lady with a simple elegance and a relaxed posture and a softened facial expression. She was a powerful lady in a world dominated by men who was able to engage with people across the classes. She did not hide her social status but used it to influence social reform. 

My delve into the world of fashion made me wonder which photograph of myself  would I chose to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery? 

Present day- Digital photography and instant sharing.
1990's The age of Supermodels but also a Post-Gulf War emphasis on the environment, homelessness and political correctness. 
1980's Dominated by Thatcherism and self-advancement. The beginnings of people becoming image conscious. There was also a rise in urban poverty.
1970's Introduction of decimal currency, terrible inflation and industrial unrest.
1960's Jet travel takes off but is balanced by the Iron curtain, Cold War and Nuclear threat.
1950's Post-war emphasis on traditional values.
1940's The middle years were  dominated by wartime photography.
1930's Influenced by the Wall Street Crash and the Edward abdication.
1920's The era of Jazz, when New York glamour and Paris
fashion were prominent.

This painting was from  the time of  Princess Diana's engagement to the Prince of Wales. Later, she became one of the most photographed women of the 1990's and an international fashion icon, dressed in outfits by leading fashion designers. This simple outfit and her relaxed pose stands out for its lack of grandeur and the formality normally associated with Royal portraits. It reflects the down-to-earth attitude that enabled her to bridge the gap between the people and The Monarchy.

Driven by the insight that I can enjoy fashion as anthropological records I went in search of more historical clues in the National Portrait Gallery collection.  I was delighted to discover an official 'Height of Fashion Trail' by Lucinda Chambers, the fashion director of British Vogue, to point me in the right direction. I am not going to go into detail as it is much more fun to try it in person. Needless to say she has chosen each of the 9 portraits below as they provide an important contribution to both the  narrative of  fashion  and the attitudes of the times during which there were produced.

The beauty of my F word blog is that some weeks I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and by doing so have found enjoyment and interest in unfamiliar places. I was not sure what a fashion apathetic individual would gain from the show ' Vogue 100 : A Century Of Style'  but I was willing to find out.

What I discovered was that was that instead of feeling out of place, surrounded by high-end fashion shoots, I really enjoyed the storytelling woven into the fashion artwork. I explored the pictures as anthropological records of the concerns and attitudes of society in which they were generated. Whilst the display of over 280 photographs from the Vogue archives tells the fascinating story of  Vogue from its birth in 1916 up to the present day it also contains a narrative of the wider society too.

Each room covered a decade of  Vogue fashion chronologically, going backwards in time and there was an explanation of the dominant social concerns of the decade:

Emmeline Pankhurst by Georgina Agnes Brackenbury 1927

Each of Vogue's images have had huge creative forces behind them and each one has been carefully orchestrated to make both an impact and a statement. They are therefore important historical documents. 

100 Years of Vogue at The National Potrait Gallery

Week 15

Friday 20/05/2016

The Height of Fashion Trail