Spotlight on Folklore in British Vogue

Picture this: a Vogue editorial photo shoot. The usual suspects: photographer, fashion editor, make-up and hair stylists, one or more models and a lot of expensive clothes and accessories. Everyone is focused on the task of creating an image of fantasy and glamour that has little to do with real people and the clothes they might wear.  That’s a reductive but fair description of most of the fashion magazine shoots I have witnessed or participated in.

Sam Lee, The Hunting of the Earl of Rhone, Cuthbert and Lydia Noble and Hunters Moon morris. Photo by Tim Walker

A few months back however, my good friend and colleague Simon Costin related the news that British Vogue was going to run a story and photo shoot about British Folklore that would feature folk singers and performers and individuals who represent and participate in British folk traditions.  These people would not be models, they would be only minimally styled to be “camera ready”, and they would appear as themselves in clothes or costumes that are integral to their practice.

Simon Costin, curator with the Whittlesea Straw Bear, photo by Tim Walker


As part of the Museum of British Folklore development team, this was fantastic news from a PR point of view! The visibility afforded us by this shoot would make our Facebook “likes” skyrocket! As a frequently disappointed  reader of glossy magazines, this was a stunning turn of events. Would this feature really portray British customs and people with dignity and respect? Would it arouse interest in these artful traditions? Would it help fashion brands sell patchwork, tweed and burlap?

The July Issue of British Vogue hit the newsstands yesterday, and at its heart are twelve pages of fresh-faced and bearded and young and old and motley and meagerly clad real people. The photographs by Tim Walker put the subjects against a minimal background letting the color and quality of their countenances shine through.

I am pleased to see these faces on the pages of a widely read fashion publication, and moreso because some of the faces are ones I see in real life pretty often! For readers here in the UK, I surmise these photos might re-awaken memories of morris dancing, school fetes and summer festivals (not like Glastonbury).  For readers in the US, perhaps unfamiliar with concepts like dry stone-walling, clog dancing or rambling, this may be an unexpected introduction – and we all might be finding ourselves using straw as an accessory, putting a pheasant feather in our caps and shelling out for a pair of nifty clogs.

Straw dress McQueen SS11, The Hoodening Group, Laura Connolly and Aunty Bunty, photo by Tim Walker

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