In 2012 I was, thrillingly, shortlisted for the Vogue Talent Contest, an annual competition run by Vogue magazine for writers under 25. Entrants were asked to submit three articles: a personal memory (800 words), a contemporary cultural review or examination of a fashion trend (500 words) and an opinion piece or polemic (also 500 words). I thought I would post my pieces here in case anyone’s interested and/or is thinking of entering. (If this is you then PLEASE go for it.)
This is one of the pieces I submitted – others to follow.
Write a short feature article – a contemporary cultural review or fashion or beauty trend (500 words).
I love London’s big museums. It’s fun to explore the V & A’s sumptuous dress collection, or to be gently tickled at the Science Museum by an array of historical washing machines. Impressive as they are though, sometimes tapping through our great halls of antiquities can feel a little chaotic. Pop in for a restful half-hour and you can find yourself inadvertently joining a crocodile of schoolchildren, or tripping over an art student as they sketch cross-legged on the floor. But London has its calmer spaces, away from the madding crowd and from reproving glances through geek-chic spectacles. Once such space is the tiny and excellent Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, just round the corner from the British Museum. Displaying cartoons, comics, and caricatures from the eighteenth century onwards, it’s a place of thoughtfulness and quiet delights. A visit here reminded me that I love London’s big museums, but I love its small museums more.
The Cartoon Museum is arranged into three main areas: a temporary exhibition which changes several times a year, the permanent collection of cartoons and caricatures, and an upstairs gallery for comic strips. For me, the best part of the Museum is its permanent exhibits, beginning with rosy-cheeked eighteenth-century satire and travelling through World Wars and bowler hats to the present day. Anyone with an interest in style will be fascinated by the works on display here. It’s partly the way they capture the ‘look’ of their time, like the beautiful spare lines of Fougasse (best known for his wartime ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters) which are somehow so evocative of the early twentieth century. But the Museum offers too an opportunity for light-hearted contemplation of individual style. Some cartoonists have favourite subjects like George IV’s muffin-top or the gloriously elaborate contraptions of William Heath Robinson, but there are subtler trademarks as well. Something about the shape of a nose that’s so recognisably by Ronald Searle, or the curve of a horse’s flank that makes you think of Norman Thelwell. Those interested in fashion can recognise the markers which distinguish Alexa Chung’s style from that of Mary-Kate Olsen, or a Calvin Klein dress from a McQueen. On the walls of The Cartoon Museum you can see this same expression of original style, concentrated into a compact window and a particular quality of line.
Although it’s a peaceful place to spend time, as you walk around the Museum you get a strong sense of the wider city. The cartoons’ satirical bites and gentle sideways looks at contemporary life are part of a spirited public conversation that’s been going on for centuries. The Museum’s size and the care with which its works have been selected and displayed mean that you can return to little details which amuse or interest you, as well as getting an impression of this form evolving and topical figures and events becoming historical. I left feeling that, like its exhibits, The Cartoon Museum is a perfect example of urbanity in a small space.