Snow queens and shoppers

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Looking back at early twentieth century winter magazine covers, there’s a clear sense of narrative attached to the visual. It may be as simple as the “Vogue” lady completing her Christmas shopping before the snow storm sets in, or an evocation of a well-known fairytale like “The Snowqueen” but these covers were clearly using story-telling to attract the reader.

Though today’s magazines have moved away from this for cover shots, the idea of a narrative behind a catwalk show or a magazine shoot still has powerful currency. At Somerset House’s Fashioning Winter, Shonagh Marshall’s exhibit, “Fashioning Narratives” explores this, drawing on catwalk shows by John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs. Though separated by almost a century, the lines and silhouettes are strikingly similar to the Vogue image above, but each adopting a distinct narrative context.

Though catwalk shows are used in this context, the narrative has been used to powerful effect in the December issues of US Vogue, where Grace Coddington’s styling frequently references fairytales to stunningly beautiful effect.

At its best, fashion can make us dream, escape the mundane, explore different characters, express emotion, ignite our imagination. Why does winter have a particular resonance though?

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