THE WAY OF GRACE

One of the big­gest changes in leg­endary stylist Grace Cod­ding­ton’s ca­reer sig­nals a new and un­char­tered chap­ter in fash­ion.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Alice Bir­rell.

One of the big­gest changes in leg­endary stylist Grace Cod­ding­ton’s ca­reer sig­nals a new, un­charted chap­ter in fash­ion.

After nearly three decades of in­flu­en­tial and leg­endary work at US Vogue, un­sur­passed cre­ative di­rec­tor Grace Cod­ding­ton an­nounced she was step­ping down. The news broke in Jan­uary and New York Times chief fash­ion critic Vanessa Fried­man rather som­brely wrote: “The tec­tonic plates of fash­ion are shift­ing.” So, with a game-changer like Cod­ding­ton on the move, a con­stant for some­one who has worked at Vogue for longer than this writer has been alive, should we panic? “It is a dif­fi­cult pe­riod for ev­ery­one,” she says, seated in her of­fice at Vogue. “The whole world is chang­ing. I feel like the car­pet is be­ing rocked un­der me some­what and it is par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing for me be­cause I have re­jected all that.” By “all that” she means whip-fast tech­nol­ogy, so­cial me­dia and in­stant In­sta-fame. Take pause to be­lieve all this, though, be­cause Grace Cod­ding­ton is many things, and one of them is a chameleon. To wit, she con­fesses she’s joined In­sta­gram, which of course I al­ready know be­ing that @the­re­al­grace­cod­ding­ton is there for all 254,000 fol­low­ers to see.

“I have, I’m ashamed to say. You know mine is 90 per cent draw­ings, which take a bit of time and thought ac­tu­ally,” she seems to want to qual­ify, re­fer­ring to her long-held love of sketch­ing. “I have peo­ple say­ing: ‘Well, can you do it now?’ and I just say: ‘No, let me think about it.’” The fu­ture then is not nec­es­sar­ily bleak. What this chang­ing world has af­forded Cod­ding­ton is a new type of lux­ury: free­dom. For one of her first ever big projects out­side of Vogue, she was hired by Tiffany & Co. as cre­ative part­ner to cre­ate the jeweller’s new Leg­endary Style cam­paign.

“I want to be very se­lec­tive who I give my name to,” she ex­plains. “[Tiffany & Co.] is very beau­ti­ful and it is so much part of New York and I have com­pletely em­braced New York.” Along with her rel­a­tively con­stant uni­form of sneak­ers, black pants and black top, lit­tle else em­bel­lishes her look other than her red hair, which is ei­ther a halo or a flounce de­pend­ing on whether she’s sit­ting or mov­ing fast. She does gen­uinely wear the jewellery house’s wares. “I wear Tiffany things; not the big fancy neck­laces be­cause I don’t have that kind of money,” she jokes with a Bri­tish straight­for­ward­ness. Her favourites

“I CAN’T BE TOO NOS­TAL­GIC. YOU HAVE TO FIND WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU”

in­stead are de­mure di­a­mond rings and pieces by Elsa Peretti. “Peretti is ex­tra­or­di­nary; it is like pieces of sculp­ture. It is very easy to use in shoots be­cause it is very graphic,” she points out.

The good news for Vogue is she will stay as cre­ative di­rec­tor-atlarge to work on a hand­ful of shoots each year, but few would be sur­prised if she did more. “I still have an of­fice,” she says. “They are very nice to me, but I’m free­lance.” Note that few have loos­ened ties with the hal­lowed Vogue halls so seam­lessly.

Our meet­ing location, in her of­fice, is a last-minute change from her Chelsea home as she is fly­ing out the next day for Ni­co­las Gh­esquière’s re­sort pre­sen­ta­tion for Louis Vuit­ton in Rio de Janeiro and she has work to do. It’s some­thing that, de­spite her ad­mi­ra­tion for Gh­esquière, Cod­ding­ton’s not thrilled about. “It’s a bit more tir­ing now. Ev­ery­one wants to show in Cuba, or Brazil, or wher­ever. It would be nice if they could just come to the of­fice. But that’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

In her workspace all is as any­one who has seen R.J. Cut­ler’s 2007 doc­u­men­tary The Septem­ber Is­sue would ex­pect. The area is a brightly lit pocket in­side the ver­tig­i­nous new One World Trade Cen­ter home of Condé Nast, tucked away off the main thor­ough­fare. Racks flank the walls out­side and a heavy glass slid­ing door gives Cod­ding­ton the im­pres­sion of sanc­tu­ary. Im­pres­sion only, be­cause Cod­ding­ton sur­ren­ders to a re­quest for di­rec­tion when a call comes in from Alexan­der McQueen and an­swers a query about a dress dur­ing the course of the meet­ing. The dik­tat is busi­ness as usual.

There’s no com­puter on her desk, a symp­tom of the tech­no­log­i­cally ad­verse, and in­stead the space is dot­ted with piles of fash­ion books and im­ages from shoots – a dec­o­rat­ing quirk she in­her­ited from friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Bruce We­ber. There are also mul­ti­ple bot­tles of her re­cently re­leased per­fume, Grace, and pic­tures of her treasured pet cats.

Welsh-born Cod­ding­ton joined Vogue in 1988 after leav­ing Bri­tain where she mod­elled in Lon­don in the 1960s, knock­ing around with the likes of Mary Quant, Michael Caine and The Rolling Stones. It was the same day Anna Win­tour started as ed­i­tor-in-chief, and it was Win­tour who in­vited Cod­ding­ton to take up a po­si­tion – the pair had worked to­gether pre­vi­ously at Bri­tish Vogue. A brief, but no less im­por­tant, stint at Calvin Klein pro­ceeded and in­ci­den­tally an­other of Cod­ding­ton’s new projects has seen her mod­el­ling for the brand’s new cam­paign. Dur­ing her time there, she or­ches­trated the bare bones and now iconic Eter­nity cam­paigns with Christy Turling­ton that flagged a change in Klein’s own ca­reer from sexed up to pared back.

It is not an over­state­ment to say Cod­ding­ton has had a hand in sev­eral seis­mic shifts in the fash­ion in­dus­try. She un­der­pins the di­rec­tion Anna Win­tour has taken at US Vogue from fore­ground­ing celebri­ties in­creas­ingly to in­cor­po­rat­ing the worlds of art, pol­i­tics and life­style in shoots.

It’s all cap­tured in wist­ful, and at times heart-stop­pingly ro­man­tic, im­ages that have be­come her stamp. Pho­tog­ra­pher David Bai­ley says the rea­son he has en­joyed work­ing with Cod­ding­ton so much is “be­cause she was not con­strained by fash­ion. She had an open and free mind to new ideas.” A nar­ra­tive theme is an of­ten-ob­served thread in her im­ages and emo­tion guides her some­times moody, some­times charm­ing scenes. Through work with pho­tog­ra­phers like Hel­mut Newton, Irv­ing Penn, Arthur Elgort, Peter Lind­bergh, Steven Klein and An­nie Lei­bovitz, she has forged and ce­mented trends. As just one ex­am­ple, she in­sisted on plac­ing grunge front and cen­tre in a 1992 shoot with Steven Meisel fea­tur­ing hole-rid­den jumpers, kilts and Doc Martens. It was shot days be­fore Marc Ja­cobs showed his fa­mous grunge col­lec­tion and, as Cod­ding­ton points out in her 2012 mem­oir, “he doesn’t give pre­views”. “Grace loves to tell sto­ries and al­ways brings the most amaz­ing clothes to make the shoot very ex­cit­ing, epic and ground­break­ing,” pho­tog­ra­pher Ellen von Un­werth says. There’s a feel­ing that a story is un­rav­el­ling be­fore your eyes, a sense that when the cam­era shut­ters off for good, the whole scene will con­tinue with­out the viewer. There was the 1989 Bruce We­ber Long Is­land shoot with model Bruce Hulse and a young Tal­isa Soto. In one image, Soto poses fists raised ready to fight, though be­guil­ing in a liq­uid silk slip dress. In an­other We­ber image, Naomi Camp­bell and a shirt­less Mike Tyson stride pur­pose­fully to­ward the fore­ground. In an Arthur Elgort-shot desert scene, no­madic chil­dren join re­gal fe­male war­riors in a Mad Max- in­spired epic. In one of Un­werth’s shoots, a plat­inum­blonde Amish Christy Turling­ton lazes in a wheat field.

Work­ing on in­stinct, Cod­ding­ton un­der­stands what a good image is. “When you see it, you feel it,” she says. “It is very im­por­tant you can see the clothes. I think too many peo­ple are try­ing to be too cre­ative and for­get the fash­ion pic­ture. That is the dif­fer­ence be­tween art and a fash­ion pic­ture: for a fash­ion pic­ture you’re ac­tu­ally there to sell the clothes.”

It’s a truth that has driven US Vogue and is made out to be a point of dif­fer­ence by some com­men­ta­tors be­tween Win­tour and Cod­ding­ton. In re­al­ity the two who have worked to­gether for decades un­der­stand each other. “I don’t be­lieve for one minute that I have a sense of what’s go­ing to hap­pen or a sense of real change the way Grace does,” said Win­tour in Cut­ler’s doc­u­men­tary. “She and I don’t al­ways agree, but I think that over the years we’ve learnt how to deal with each other’s dif­fer­ent points of view.” Cod­ding­ton still feels pres­sure to work at her best un­der Win­tour. “At some point you have to show [your edit] to Anna on a rack and that is kind of scary,” she says. “You just hope she likes it and some­times she doesn’t. Some­times she makes you change it … what hap­pens is you’re left with the best of the best. If you can sur­vive this, then it is go­ing to be some­thing strong.”

Does she find this chal­leng­ing? “She is very chal­leng­ing. It’s what she does and it’s what is so good about her. You know, she is never lethargic and just lets it go through. It’s one of those things; you won­der if she is ac­tu­ally fo­cused or con­cen­trat­ing

on some­thing and you had bet­ter be­lieve she is,” she says em­phat­i­cally. “As soon as you step through her door, she is on it. She al­ready knows where it should be and how it should be. It’s an opin­ion of course – that’s what an ed­i­tor is.”

A stylist then, or at least an orig­i­nal like Cod­ding­ton, is re­source­ful. “She will run up a moun­tain to pick a daisy if it is needed to make the pic­tures bet­ter, and that is a rare thing,” says Un­werth. It’s a style not all ed­i­tors work­ing to­day pref­er­ence, but Cod­ding­ton says it’s what she likes. “I am al­ways try­ing to cut them down say­ing: ‘Lis­ten, let’s just jump in a car, you and me, one as­sis­tant and a model and hair and make-up’ … They all say that sounds re­ally ex­cit­ing but then by the time you take off to do the job you’ve ac­cu­mu­lated 20 peo­ple.”

It’s a pref­er­ence for a down-to-earth ap­proach to work that earned her le­gions of fans after The Septem­ber Is­sue. She shares her of­fice with two well-man­nered as­sis­tants, a con­cept at odds with the su­per­cil­ious ed­itrix stereo­type the me­dia is fond of spruik­ing. They deal with the daily con­cerns of be­ing Grace Cod­ding­ton like an­swer­ing count­less emails and phone calls.

With hu­mil­ity she says she is grate­ful to Tiffany “for giv­ing me a start in my whole new ca­reer at the age of 75”. With that hu­mil­ity comes a ten­dency to­ward self-crit­i­cism, a slight rest­less­ness that pro­pels cre­atives like her on. When asked if she re­mem­bers when she first felt con­fi­dent in her work, she replies: “I never felt that. I mean there are times when you think it is re­ally good or you think it went well and ob­vi­ously you’re re­ally ex­cited but I don’t think you’re ever like: ‘Okay, I’ve got it.’ It’s bet­ter that you don’t com­pletely re­lax and say ‘I’m fab­u­lous’ be­cause for sure some­one is go­ing to tell you you’re not.”

Whether she’d ad­mit it or not, Cod­ding­ton has em­braced the chang­ing times some­what. For the Tiffany & Co. cam­paign, she elected to in­clude celebri­ties when she’s fought to shoot mod­els at Vogue. Elle Fan­ning and Lupita Ny­ong’o ap­pear along­side mod­els Natalie Westling and Christy Turling­ton. She’s also had to evolve her work­ing re­la­tion­ships with run­way faces, which was once al­ways close. “I had re­la­tion­ships with the mod­els; when you did a trip with some­one, it could be up to two weeks. That doesn’t hap­pen now be­cause shoots are shorter and shorter,” she ex­plains. “Although life is sup­posed to be so much sim­pler dig­i­tally, it’s not.” Her sin­gle com­plaint about the In­sta­gram gen­er­a­tion – the Ken­dalls and Gigis – is that she isn’t given the time to know them well enough. “They kind of come in and go … it’s dif­fi­cult to have a re­la­tion­ship. I feel like I al­most have to speak to them through In­sta­gram or some­thing and I don’t speak In­sta­gram.”

As she con­tin­ues a prag­ma­tism creeps in. “I can’t be too nos­tal­gic. I think you have to find what’s right for you,” she says. “That’s why I am very ex­cited to go free­lance be­cause it gives me a whole other point of view that I didn’t have be­fore. You’re see­ing things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.”

Some might still view the ca­reer shift as a de­par­ture of the old guard, giv­ing way to the new gen­er­a­tion of pow­er­ful mil­len­ni­als who want fast hits, snaps, memes. To have in­flu­ence, though, the new modes will need to do what Cod­ding­ton has al­ways done: pro­vide a means of es­cape, a natty side­ways pas­sage into an­other space. To be mem­o­rable. Change will come cer­tainly, at US Vogue and else­where, but as long as Cod­ding­ton is will­ing to work and then be­yond that, her defin­ing vi­sion will keep shap­ing a world as we see it – know­ing or not – through Grace’s eyes.

A Givenchy cou­ture-clad Natalia Vo­di­anova styled by Cod­ding­ton for the Oc­to­ber 2008 is­sue of US Vogue, shot by Pa­trick De­marche­lier.

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