Anne Gunning in Jaipur by Norman Parkinson, 1956

Next spring British Vogue will celebrate a centenary of style with an exhibition of fashion photography. Rebecca Gonsalves finds out what treasures await

Image is everything in the world of glossy magazines. Not just the cover that draws the reader in, but the photo shoots which capture the current collections in a most fantastic way and those portraits of actors, entertainers and personalities that chart the changes in the cultural landscape with every new issue. So what better for British Vogue to focus on for its upcoming centenary celebrations than some of its most iconic imagery.

The exhibition, which will open in February at the National Portrait Gallery will show how far the publication has come since its launch in 1916 when the war meant that copies of American Vogue were unable to cross the Atlantic. “It was more of a high society newsletter,” said Alexandra Shulman, editor in chief of British Vogue’s original incarnation yesterday. “It was launched at a time when the idea of a multiproduct store such as a department store was still a very new-fangled idea.”

Lara Stone at Carlton House Terrace by Mario Testino, 2009

The exhibition, which will feature more than 280 prints, has been curated by Robin Muir, a contributing editor who has spent much of the last three years delving through publisher Conde Nast’s extensive archive and wrangling with artist’s estates and galleries in order to trace original prints where possible. “If these vintage prints, these working documents, show tears and cracks, the patina of age, then so much the better: these are objects with a story to tell.” As well as the difficult task of narrowing down what must amount to thousands of images, Muir was hampered by the fact that, in March 1942, the magazine pulped much of its archive in order to support the war effort. Nevertheless, the exhibition will span the entirety of Vogue’s history, including the frontispiece from page 24 of the very first issue: a portrait of Lady Eileen Wellesley by Hoppe. While some fashion stories, such as Corinne Day’s 1993 images of Kate Moss, are deemed so important to the magazine’s story that they are shown in full.

It’s not just changes in style that will be documented though, as the images will at - test to the progression of the role of women in society and the growth of the fashion industry itself. As well as documenting the trends and tribulations of each decade, the imagery charts the way that society has changed over the last century, not least for women. Says Shulman: “It was still regarded as shocking that a woman would powder her nose and redden her lips in public.” The development of Vogue’s digital presence will also in - form the exhibition, with fashion films on display in their own dedicated room.

Limelight Nights by Helmut Newton, 1973

British Vogue, this exhibition attests, is much more than just a magazine – and looking at the mini-empire over which Shulman presides it’s hard to argue otherwise. As well as an annual festival of talks and workshops held in the spring, the magazine’s “Fashion’s Night Out” initiative goes from strength to strength. On Thursday evening, retailers and restaurateurs on London’s Regent Street will tempt readers with promotions, offers and in-store events.