The Business of Voguing

20th June 2018

At a recent BIMA event on the Future of Fashion I met Elaine Simpson from the National Library of Scotland, who mentioned that NLS was looking at ways its 11 floors of jam packed books, archives, and materials could help inspire the artists and creative entrepreneurs of Scotland to innovate.

I offered to test out the process and see what inspiration hit me. She asked me, ‘what do you want to look into?’ Well, we were at a fashion event and I have been receiving Vogue magazine since 1990 so I said ‘would you happen to have a back catalogue of Vogues?’ She said, ‘Every one ever printed!’ Everything they hold can be found on their catalogue and items can be reserved through this service.

Firstly, I became a member of NLS, by registering online here. Elaine reserved Vogues from 1916, 1935-1939 and 1959 for me, I then visited the Library with some proof of identity, where a photo library card was made for me within minutes. I then deposited my coat and bag in the locker rooms and used a see-through bag to carry any items I needed into the reading rooms. The card activates the security gate and handing in my card to the desk, a trolley of the Vogues I had requested appeared!

I was permitted to take pictures by displaying a sign, and I could take as many pictures for research reference of anything in the pre-1950 Vogues and up to 12 images per Vogue edition from then onwards for copyright reasons.

Time flew by and I was utterly absorbed as the leaves of Vogue led me through a history of women’s fashion interspersed with articles and imagery that reflected their changing roles in society and politics, as well as innovation in textiles, cosmetics and photography. From 1916 editions with line drawings of fashion and beauty, moving to black and white photography beautifully lit in static poses in studios, to colour and outdoor active photography, including an early underwater fashion shoot by Toni Frisell in 1939, who was noted for emphasising active women and one of the first photographers to move outside of the studio for fashion photography. And as I read from 1935 to 1959 I started to have a flow of ideas – and I can imagine all sorts of innovation arising from access to this rich array of books, newspapers and magazines held by NLS. I look forward to my next visit to explore the editions from 1960 to 1990 when I first started collecting Vogues. And I hope that anyone who wants to delve into this rich resource will be inspired to beat a path to their door on Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge.