News & Runway

Grace Coddington Gives Us a Glimpse Into Her New Memoir

Grace CoddingtonSomeone who admits to not using email may not seem like the obvious choice for a feature on a website. But Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington's unique vision transcends the difficult to traverse generation gap between traditional fashion media and the new class of tech-savvy industry acolytes. Her beautiful editorials are still culturally relevant compositions that steer the industry, even if she's not familiar with the technology most people use to consume and discuss her genius.

Thanks to her high-profile work with the best and brightest models and photographers in the industry, from when she was just hitting her stride as an editor in the 70s to now, and a more than incidental appearance in R.J. Cutler's documentary The September Issue, the fashion pack will be flocking to gobble her new book Grace: A Memoir next month.

"The world of fashion has become crowded, noisy, and self-promotional," Teen Vogue Editor Amy Astley said. "Grace's quiet creative force allows her work to speak for itself."

Of her fantastic success and truly cult status (I mean, not everyone gets a shout out in a P'Trique video), Coddington says, "Timing in my life has been so important, and great, and fortunate."

Having started out as a model ("I was very obnoxious on shoots, I'd say those are terrible shoes I've got other ones in my bag."), Coddington parlayed that into a Junior Assistant position at British Vogue. She worked there for 19 years before coming to America in her 40s. She started out as Design Director at Calvin Klein before calling up Anna Wintour, whom she knew from British Vogue, after the not-yet-famous editrix started her position as editor of American Vogue. Wintour asked Coddington to join her at the U.S. publication.

One hallmark of Coddington's work is the narrative element. "There's usually a story. You arrive at the photo and something has come before and something is coming after," said Eve MacSweeney, features director for Vogue.

In her memoir, Grace remembers some of her favorite shoots for Vogue, including a 1982 Chanel couture editorial with Steven Meisel and another famous Meisel shoot in the 90s that brought grunge to the fashion consciousness even before Marc Jacobs

"I wanted to do a shoot about vintage clothes," she says she told Meisel, who suggested the whole Kurt Cobain, grunge moment as inspiration. "It couldn't be more opposite of couture, but it was very pure."

Another favorite is one I remember being excited about in 2003. Rumors were flying for months before it published that Annie Leibovitz was working on an Alice in Wonderland editorial for Vogue starring Natalia Vodianova and several designers.

"Anna said I think you should cast all the designers of the moment as the characters," Coddington recalled. This included Olivier Theyskens as the author of Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carol, Tom Ford, Nicholas Ghesquiere, John Galliano, and more. 

The level of perfection and attention to detail, on a shoot so elaborate, was breathtaking. "Everything has to be perfect," Coddington said. "You can't just fudge it … To do things right takes a lot of work … Life is tough. You have to work really hard, long hours. At five, you don't switch off your brain and go to a party, you keep thinking about it."

It's clear that Coddington never really stops thinking about fashion and her work. She recalls a photographer telling her as a model never to close your eyes, don't sleep in the cab, always be looking around because you can be inspired by anything. Her love of fashion is clear.

"Fashion makes me feel happy, it's a sort of international language," she said. "It's a feel good thing. If you feel good you can get through the day."

image: Jeff Grossman/WENN