Grace Coddington: life after Vogue
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
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.