Grace Cod­ding­ton: life after Vogue

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

MISGUIDED peo­ple who con­strued the ‘step­ping down’ of Grace Cod­ding­ton as cre­ative direc­tor of Amer­i­can Vogue as some sort of farewell spoke just a lit­tle too soon, I think. When Condé Nast an­nounced in Jan­uary that Grace had as­sumed the ti­tle ‘cre­ative direc­tor at large’, the news ran all over the fashion press and so­cial me­dia, and was much em­bel­lished with heart-search­ing por­tents about the pass­ing of an era. Here was the world’s most pow­er­ful fashion edi­tor, aged 75, re­lin­quish­ing the ti­tle she has held at the world’s most pow­er­ful fashion mag­a­zine for 28 years. Grace Cod­ding­ton, the red-headed one, famed for play­ing her­self in the film The Septem­ber Is­sue, semi-ab­di­cat­ing!

If any­one thought she was about to allow her­self to be phased out of fashion, how­ever, they ob­vi­ously don’t know her. She is, in fact, out there lead­ing fashion in the way peo­ple of her avant-garde Swing­ing Six­ties ori­gins are these days, health per­mit­ting: hav­ing no truck with ac­tual ‘re­tir­ing’, but in­stead just get­ting on with new work that in­ter­ests them. “It’s end­less and open. There are tons of op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she de­clares. “It’s not as if I’m not be­ing a fashion edi­tor any more. Times have to­tally changed.”

Ear­lier this year she took a whis­tle-stop tour through Lon­don for the launch of Grace by Grace Cod­ding­ton, her rose-scented per­fume with Comme des Garçons. She was mak­ing ap­pear­ances in stores to sign bot­tles, be­fore her next stop in Paris.

Ever since R.J. Cut­ler’s doc­u­men­tary movie The Septem­ber Is­sue was re­leased in 2009, Grace has been con­stantly recog­nised and ap­proached ev­ery­where she goes – an un­ex­pected late on­set of celebrity at the age of 68. “Peo­ple do stop me and ask for self­ies since the movie, yes,” she says, her dry English sense of hu­mour still fully in­tact after 30 years in New York.

Then there’s a book, out in Septem­ber, and a Grace movie in the works. There is also her new Instagram ac­count, @the­re­al­grace­cod­ding­ton, to keep feed­ing with her hand-drawn car­toons de­tail­ing what she’s up to. “It’s 90 per cent draw­ings and an­i­ma­tion.” Which marks yet another mov­ing-im­age open­ing.

It’s a pi­quant irony that The Septem­ber Is­sue should have laid the foun­da­tions for her sec­ond chap­ter, for Grace is nat­u­rally one of the world’s most stub­born re­sisters of in­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy-borne change, let alone the whole she­bang of mod­ern celebrity. When Cut­ler’s crew turned up to film the putting to­gether of an is­sue at the Vogue of­fices, her first re­ac­tion was to shut her of­fice door and tell them to

“go away”.

After­wards, Cut­ler said he never found Anna Win­tour dif­fi­cult through­out the months of film­ing

– it was Grace Cod­ding­ton he found ter­ri­fy­ing. It was lucky for

When the 75-year-old cre­ative direc­tor of Amer­i­can Vogue bowed out in Jan­uary, after 28 years, it was not the end of an era. In fact, Grace Cod­ding­ton tells Sarah Mower, she is busier than ever.

I was given a voice by Vogue, then The Septem­ber Is­sue gave me a face.

her she re­lented. “I was given a voice by Vogue,” she says, “then The Septem­ber Is­sue gave me a face.”

Once vis­i­ble – un­miss­able with her nim­bus of red hair, pale El­iz­a­beth I skin and pre­dom­i­nantly black clothes – Grace found her­self a sur­pris­ingly pop­u­lar pub­lic char­ac­ter. Her per­fec­tion­ism, her love of beau­ti­ful ball gowns, her car­toony draw­ings of her cats, her whole life story, were sud­denly full of hot po­ten­tial for branch­ing off into per­sonal work be­yond the print mag­a­zine. These days, the wo­man who stolidly re­fused to have any­thing to do with com­put­ers has wound up in a world – much like her gen­er­a­tional peers – where she is cherry-pick­ing ideas to de­velop that would have been im­pos­si­ble pre-in­ter­net.

It’s odd to think that when

Grace was ap­pointed ju­nior fashion edi­tor at Bri­tish Vogue in 1968, mag­a­zine cap­tions never cred­ited stylists, only the clothes and the pho­tog­ra­pher. That in­no­va­tion was in­tro­duced in 1985, by the new edi­tor, Anna Win­tour.

Ever since, fashion ed­i­tors have gained in sta­tus, and none so much as Grace. Over the years, she might have dug her heels in against Anna’s ac­tive em­brace of the rise of Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, the in­ter­net and of po­si­tion­ing Vogue in­sid­ers as big-screen en­ter­tain­ment, but one way or another, it has worked out pretty nicely be­tween them.

Grace is grate­ful to Anna for al­low­ing her to take on cre­ative projects out­side fashion edit­ing and shoot­ing sto­ries for Vogue, in­clud­ing her re­cently an­nounced role as cre­ative part­ner with Tif­fany. But num­ber one in this new phase was cre­at­ing a per­fume. “Anna was very gen­er­ous. She knew it would be a two-year project, and we agreed that, to do it, I would step down slightly from my old po­si­tion. So I of­fi­cially be­came free­lance.”

Grace lives be­tween New York and her coun­try house in Wain­scott, Long Is­land, with Di­dier Malige, the French hair­styl­ist she has been with for years. And, of course, her cats Pump­kin and Blan­ket. What’s her new life like? “I’m lazy,” she lies. “I take the whole of Au­gust off, in Long Is­land. I have my cats, my gar­den, my boyfriend.”

She re­tains her Vogue of­fice at 1 World Trade Cen­ter, in New York,

Puss al­ways gets a good front row seat next to all the most im­por­tant ed­i­tors...

and is still con­tribut­ing the inim­itable nar­ra­tive sto­ries only she can pro­duce, just a lit­tle less fre­quently.

Mean­while, she’s putting the fin­ish­ing touches to her fourth book, a com­pen­dium of her most re­cent work at Vogue. And she’s work­ing on some­thing that prom­ises to be even big­ger – she has sold the movie rights to her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Grace: A Mem­oir, which was pub­lished in 2012, to A24 Films.

“They’re the pro­duc­ers of

Room and the Amy Wine­house doc­u­men­tary – re­ally good, award­win­ning peo­ple. They have a New York point of view, rather than an LA point of view,” she says. “I don’t want it to be another bor­ing film about fashion. It fo­cuses on the be­gin­ning part. There’s a lot that’s visual, nos­tal­gic and romantic. Deep down I’m a romantic sto­ry­teller.”

The ‘be­gin­ning part’ is the story of Pamela Ros­alind Grace Cod­ding­ton, born in 1941 to par­ents who ran the Treard­dur Bay Ho­tel in An­gle­sey.

“We lived inches from where Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton were when he was sta­tioned at RAF Val­ley. There were al­ways hand­some young RAF men around for boyfriends when I was a teenager.”

Grace’s mother loved gar­den­ing, strug­gling to grow roses in the harsh is­land con­di­tions. It’s partly the nos­tal­gia for those roses that went into the per­fume – that, and her mem­ory of buy­ing a Floris rose per­fume in Jermyn Street when she first went down to Lon­don in 1959 and won the Vogue ‘Young Idea’ mod­el­ling com­pe­ti­tion. Add the cat-shaped bot­tle – in homage to her crazy love for fe­line pets – and you could hardly have a prod­uct that is more essence of Grace Cod­ding­ton.

When will the movie come out, though? Grace sighs. Things don’t get done in the movies any­thing like as quickly as she’s used to when or­gan­is­ing fashion shoots. “Films are an in­cred­i­bly long process. You think you’ve got it all rolling, then you haven’t.” The for­mat, even, is still to be de­cided, but Grace is tick­led by the idea that it might be a mu­si­cal. “That would be kind of wild. I’m cer­tainly open to any sug­ges­tion that’s good.”

Then she laughs. “I keep say­ing, ‘You’d bet­ter make it quickly – I’m not that young, you know.’”

This page: The launch of her per­fume, Grace by Grace Cod­ding­ton, in­volved a tour of Lon­don and Paris stores. Op­po­site page, from far left: Grace in her mod­el­ling days, in 1967. With Vogue edi­tor Anna Win­tour at Paris Fashion Week in March last year. The fash­ion­ista and her long-time part­ner Di­dier Malige. Be­low left: One of Grace’s car­toons.

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