The forthcoming 100th anniversary of Vogue is not just a celebration of all things fashion; the success of the magazine speaks volumes about the human psyche today. As a researcher of consumer culture and fashion, I am fascinated as to how Vogue has commodified and defined culture in terms of how we engage with and experience fashion. As I thumb through the pages of Vogue's latest edition, I find myself stalling on every page, not to gleam some information I could use in my day to day, but instead to be absorbed by the glamorous worlds of Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Saint Laurent, Fendi and the hundreds of other luxury brands that decorate the pages.
Indeed, Vogue's command of devotion from over 12.7m people each month has been its ability to seduce the masses into a more glamorous reality via the power of the image. As photographer Cecil Beaton once wrote; "when I die, I want to go to Vogue". This small quote typifies the frightening resonance both Vogue and brands in general have achieved in our culture. Consumption it would seem, has become a tonic with which we can temporarily soothe distress, unhappiness and that indescribable void or sense of lack felt from time to time: a void arguably left by the increasingly weakened grip of religion and perpetuated by the introduction of a capitalist, self-interest based consumer culture.
For when we consume, or when we are flicking through the pages of Vogue magazine, I think we're subconsciously searching for a deeper meaning in our lives. What it boils down to is the psychological makeup of the western world. In today's secular society, it's no secret that celebrities have become the new deities. In a sense, spiritualism, or sacredness, has become a commodity. And in the wake of the once cathartic experiences provided by prayer and pilgrimage, we have now come to enter these branded cathedrals of consumption, the bible for which, one could argue is Vogue.
So, for a culture that has arguably forsaken organised religion, I'd suggest the meaning of life for these dedicated followers of fashion resides within these organised, iconic images of glamour to be showcased on February 11 at the upcoming exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Vogue: A Century of Style. The evangelists of this sacred meaning, Kate Moss, Cara Delevigne, Mario Testino, David Bailey and more, are the deities responsible for creating such spellbinding imagery.
For instance if God were to launch a range for TopShop, would we not gather on Oxford Street in our thousands to catch a glimpse as we did for Kate Moss? Or if God were to leave behind a series of handcrafts, would almost half a million of us not shuffle through to marvel at them as we did for Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty? This is why Vogue: A Century of Style is much more than a celebration of fashion photography. For many, we come to worship at the altar of Vogue as we place our deepest faith in the image and allow ourselves to succumb to its captivating promises of salvation. These glamorous realities conjured by the artistic talent of designers, photographers and models authenticate unobtainable lifestyles as reality, allowing us to escape the shackles imposed on us by every day, mundane existence.
I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad or a good thing. As a society, we need to believe in something more significant, rewarding and extraordinary. We find it a source of comfort. I present this idea as merely something for us both to think about; what is going on? Silently sat next to each other, scrolling down our Instagram rather than making conversation about how we both paid way over the odds for a coffee... Or maybe as we wait in line together at the National Portrait Gallery, blissfully unaware that the other exists, semi-conscious, lost in a fantasy of what life could be, waiting and hoping for a salvation that may never come. Or, just go with your mates, have fun, avoid this silly idea altogether.