Vogue’s Centenary Edition: Is the Duchess of Cambridge a ‘safe’ choice?

By Alice Townson

Vogue is for many the shining beacon of fashion. It describes itself as “the pre-eminent fashion magazine” in the UK. The magazine has championed new photographers like Mario Testino and it has championed new designers for decades. But with H. R. H. the Duchess of Cambridge gracing the cover of Vogue’s Centenary June 2016 edition, any hopes that British Vogue might finally emerge as a distinctly modern publication were dashed.

Whilst the man behind the pictures is Josh Olins, one of London’s most exciting ‘new-gen’ artists, the aesthetic of the shoot is, to be blunt, reminiscent of a department store Spring/Summer campaign; the “golden hues” of the Norfolk countryside; the Breton top; the trench coat; the crisp white shirt… Whilst these are undoubtedly stylish and classic pieces, the items do not come together to show British Vogue at the cutting edge of fashion, one hundred years since its founding. Bronwyn Cosgrave, former Features Editor of the magazine stated, “one of the great things about Vogue is the superior level of styling, and when I look at those images I don’t see a stylist’s hand. And that’s very likely to be down to the fact that she did not want to be styled.”

In choosing Middleton, Vogue have shown that no matter how far they have come, they will never be able to let go of the elitist and classist aspects of the industry. The magazine has always been happy to work with the Royal Family – Diana, Princess of Wales took the cover of no less than 3 editions during her lifetime. The images of Diana, especially those of her wearing nothing but diamond jewellery, are at least a little shocking. Kate, however, looks perfectly palatable as ever. Throughout the 20th century the editors of Vogue continually thrust the magazine forward into the art world and yet we still pick up a copy and see trite and cloying pictures of an expensively-casual princess.

More shocking is the co-commissioning of the project by The National Portrait Gallery, which is hosting Vogue 100: A Century of Style until 22nd May 2016. Two of the Duchess’s pictures are now on display at the gallery. In a Britain that is famous worldwide for the burgeoning talent it exhibits at London Fashion Week every year, it seems reductive and insulting to use a national gallery to display such safe photography. Indeed, Middleton lived up to her reputation when she arrived at the viewing wearing a “pretty pink” Alexander McQueen “confection” and reportedly offered her praise to the photographer by saying: “It doesn’t look like January. You’ve done a good job.” We need to ask ourselves why our public galleries and our best fashion magazines are still fawning over the royal family. The shoot is decidedly un-refreshing; it is not an affirmation of the modernity and innovative work that Vogue has been circulating over the last century, merely a stark reminder how fashion is so often elitist and insular.

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