The September Issue started out as documentary about Anna Wintour and the famous September issue of American Vogue, but became a story in which Grace Coddington played the leading role. Finally the outside world got a peak inside the Vogue offices, where Grace is the creative director and leading stylist. Now at the age of 71, she still produces the majority of photo shoots for the magazine.
Born on the island of Anglesey, Wales, in 1941 Grace Coddington lives a shy and quiet youth, helping out her parents at the family hotel, every month eager awaiting the new British Vogue she orders at a local bookstore and dreaming away at the pages. She is taught by roller-skating nuns at a Catholic convent. ‘Grace has a sweet way of getting her will’, one school report notes. She sews her own stylish togs on a Singer sewing machine, hoping one day she will be one of the stylish women she imagens inhabit London.
At the age of 18 Grace leaves Anglesey for London. Waitressing at a coffee bar in Knightsbridge and attending Cherry Marshall modeling school fill her days, but the agency says she doesn’t have what it takes to be a model. Than a customer working for Norman Parkinson sends her to meet the photographer and he decides she is perfect for the job. Grace enters British Vogue’s modeling contest and takes the Young Idea category. Anthony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon) snaps her first test shots.
In 1961 Grace becomes a house model for Vidal Sassoon. He chopps her hair into a geometric bob, which later became known as his famous Five-Point Cut. This gives her the exposure she needs. Touring with Sassoon for a series of hair shows in England, she gets involved in a serious car accident. Her face smashed in the driving mirror and her left eyelid is sliced off. Five reconstructive surgeries later, Grace returns to modeling and develops a reputation for versatility.
Than the fashion editor of Queen magazine tells Grace she is too old to model, but ‘should be a fashion editor’. Grace meets Beatrix Miller over lunch and is hired as a junior fashion editor for British Vogue, allowed a great deal of creative freedom. In 1971 she goes on assignment with Norman Parkinson to the Seychelles, where she gets inspired for the first fashion-fantasy travelogue that will become her signature style.
On the set in the South of France (1973), Helmut Newton declares the evening wear shoot ‘bloody boring!’ and calls for something sexy. Editor Coddington obliges and jumps in the water wearing a black bandeau-top bikini and cat-eye sunglasses.
In spring 1986 Anna Wintour takes over editorship of British Vogue, following Beatrix Miller. Grace Coddington, by now the magazine’s fashion editor, resigns by winter, saying “Anna was much more into ‘sexy’ than I was. She leaves Vogue to become design director for Calvin Klein. “If it hadn’t been for Calvin, I wouldn’t have understood America” Grace later tells Vogue. Klein, in turn, will credit her for being the first European fashion editor to appreciate American design. Grace works on the memorable Eternity fragrance ad with Richard Avedon, featuring Christy Turlington. In the meantime Grace moves into a brownstone in Greenwich Village with her companion Didier Malige, the French hairstylist. Anna Wintour moves to the States to take the helm at House & Garden.
In 1988, Anna Wintour becomes the new editor in chief of Vogue in New York and Grace Coddington comes on board as fashion editor. “I was over the moon when she came to the magazine”, Wintour will say later. Grace is named creative director of Vogue in 1995.
“Short stories: celebrating 25 years of Vogue Fashion by Grace Coddington” opens at the Danziger gallery in Soho. The retrospective surveys her work with top photographers at British and American Vogues. She’s honored with a Lifetime Achievement award from CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America). Karl Lagerfeld hosts a launch party for Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue and Hamish Bowles peruses the coffee-table chronicle of Coddington’s work.
In 2005 Grace Coddington produces the fantastical Wizard of Oz portfolio for Vogue’s December issue, with a cast of fashion and art-world stars photographed by Annie Leibovitz
Next week Grace Coddington, a legend in her own time (part 2)