Yesterday, I was invited to the opening of the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition. I’d wanted to see this exhibition since before the people at Vogue and the National Portrait Gallery even decided they needed to organise it, so off I went on the train to London. Here are 8 surprising things I learned…


1.Vogue covers were illustrated for the first 20-odd years.

Photography hadn’t taken off when the first issue of British Vogue was published in 1916 which means all the covers up until around the mid 1940s were illustrated, some of them by now-famous illustrators-turned-photographers.


2. Charlie Chaplin looks unrecognisable without his mustache.

We’re all so used to seeing the hapless silent movie character kitted out in his trademark raggedy suit and black mustache, but in this picture by Edward Steichen taken in 1926, he looks every part the charismatic polished superstar.


3. Margaret Thatcher was once a Vogue cover star!

It’s true. David Bailey was sent to take pictures of the Iron Lady at her 10 Downing Street residence for a 1985 issue feature in which Mrs T talks about how, thanks to her seamstress mother, she grew up with an eye for a good cut, and rather than owning too many suits, she preferred to mix it up with different bags, jewellery and a trademark ruffled blouse. (Unfortunately the corporate bods at Conde Nast won’t let me publish a photo of this particular cover, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.)


4. More surprisingly, so was Princess Anne!

I almost spat my Evian out all over the glass case when I caught sight of this grainy shot of Princess Anne on the September 1971 cover. It was taken by Norman Parkinson in the small wooden house designed for Queen Victoria in the gardens of Frogmore House to mark her 21st birthday. That ruffle though…


5. Superstar photographer Cecil Beaton started out as an illustrator.

I must admit to not knowing a lot about Cecil Beaton until the end of this exhibition. Once I understood how influential he was to Vogue, it was surprising to find out he started his career as an illustrator and designed several Vogue covers including this one from 1935.


6. Condé Nast is a person!

Condé Montrose Nast, to be precise, born in New York City in 1873. I had a slap-palm-to-forehead moment reading this on the Vogue history timeline. Condé Nast started out as an advertising salesman before buying US Vogue when it was a weekly newspaper, changing it to a magazine and rolling it out in other countries including Britain in 1916.


7. These wacky boots were actually a thing in 1972.

British shoe designer Moya Bowler was actually commissioned to design this strange footwear that Vogue describes as ‘funny boots for Mitsubishi’. Here they’re styled up with Mary Quant tights for full Technicolour effect.


8. For a while, British Vogue didn’t actually exist…

In March 1942, the magazine decided to recycle its archives to help the war effort. The Steichens, Sheelers, Horsts and Beatons, all gone. Apart from a box labelled ‘Atoms of the Past’ recently discovered in the Vogue library in London.

You can catch Vogue 100: A Century of Style at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 May.

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