Grace Coddington, the Remarkable Life of Vogue’s Greatest Creative Director
Fashion great, Grace Coddington, has a career of remarkable triumphs and adversity. Born in 1941, her life began on the small Welsh island of Anglesey. Looking back now, she remarks, “Although it was bleak, I saw beauty in the bleakness.” Grace Coddington’s journey from her countryside convent to Creative Director of Vogue is certainly one of fashion’s greatest success stories. Anxiously awaiting the new Vogue issue became routine for young Grace Coddington. Often, the subscription never materialized. She’s shares with US Vogue, “I ordered Vogue every month from the local store. Sometimes it arrived, and sometimes it didn’t. For me, the magazine represented an amazing fantasy world of sophistication and grown-ups. “I dreamt of getting away from the tiny place I was raised,” says Coddington. She soon did just that.
Grace Coddington, the Young Model
Yearning for more of that which she admired so much, Grace leaves home at 18-years-old to attend Cherry Marshal‘s modeling school in London. That same year, a friend encourages her to enter British Vogue’s Young Model Competition. Remarkably, Grace wins the event. She also met Norman Parkinson, who was to become a leading fashion photographer and lifelong friend. Quickly becoming a leading lady of the early sixties, Grace Coddington’s world suddenly came to a stop. In 1961 she was involved in a violent car accident, removing one of her eyelids, and almost taking her life. After reconstructive surgery and some time off, Grace perseveres and starts modeling again. Amazingly, her young modeling career only gets better as she joins the ranks of influential models of the era like Celia Hammond and Jean Shrimpton.
Coddington & Beatrix Miller’s British Vogue
Taking her love of fashion further, Grace decides to forge a new career. The modeling and fashion industry was still evolving throughout the sixties and seventies. Most models were asked to not only muse, but to also act as their own fashion stylist and hair and makeup team. Grace Coddington’s incredible sense of personal style quickly caught the eye of Beatrix Miller; the editor-in-chief of British Vogue at the time. Recognizing the young model’s fashion intuition and work ethic, Beatrice offers her a position as a junior fashion editor at Vogue. The opportunity was a dream come true for Coddington. Little did she know, it was only the beginning.
During the 18 years that follow, Grace works with the most influential creatives of the fashion era. Amongst the elite group is a familiar face, her friend and mentor Norman Parkinson. In addition, Coddington teams up with celebrated fashion photographers including Arthur Elgort, Helmut Newton, David Bailey, and Barry Lategan.
Grace Takes on Calvin Klein
In 1987, Grace is offered an appointment at Calvin Klein and accepts without hesitation. The model turned fashion editor now becomes design director of Calvin Klein. She excelled in the role. Klein later went on record stating that Coddington was the “first European fashion editor to totally grasp and appreciate American design.” Coddington recounts the period to Mark Holgate in a Vogue interview, “Suddenly I had this offer from Calvin. And I thought, well, I can stay at British Vogue for another 20 years, or I can change and see where this takes me.”
Eager to leave London for New York, the new job marked a new beginning for Grace and boyfriend Didier Malige. However,the Calvin Klein position doesn’t completely satisfy Coddington’s desire for creativity and fashion. Just as we she’s starting to leave her mark on the american brand, she departs. Grace is back at Vogue, less than a year after left.
Anna and Grace, the Beginning
“I was over the moon when she came to work for the magazine,” says Anna Wintour. “Her vision was and is very close to mine.” The complex relationship of Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington has long been rumored to be tight-knit and turbulent. Many of these so-called fashion altercations became public in 2009 with the release of acclaimed documentary, The September Issue. However, the veteran fashion editor wasn’t exactly keen on sharing her life on video. In the early stages of filming, Coddington almost turns down the opportunity to appear in the project. After some coercing from the film’s director RJ Cutler, Coddington obliges. Soon after, the world meets Grace Coddington, like never before.
Her on-screen persona proved to be a fan favorite quickly making her the film’s leading lady. “She is charming, delightful, passionate and so committed to celebrating beauty and her revolutionary notion that clothes, models and photographers could tell stories and not just be objects,” shares Cutler. “Every billboard, fashion magazine spread, every advertisement we see today has been influenced by Grace Coddington.”
Amazing Grace, A Written Legacy
Coddington has released three books spanning the last 15 years. Her first effort came in 2002 in a memoir titled, Grace, Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue. Six years later in 2008, she releases “The Catwalk Cats”, a joint project with longtime boyfriend Didier Malige. The book showcases previously unseen photos of Grace Coddington during her young model career. It also documents the couples long and interesting relationship as well as their feline family. Her latest work of literature, Grace: A Memoir came in 2012. This time around, Coddington invites readers along as she reflects on her career and intimate details of her life Speaking about everything spanning her life. The dialogue speaks on topics ranging from her early days as a model in the sixties all the way to present day working alongside Anna Wintour.
Grace Says Goodbye to Vogue?
Recently Grace Coddington, sent shockwaves through the fashion world announcing her departure from her position as Creative Director at Vogue. Remarkably, Coddington promises that she will still maintain and occupy an office at Vogue as creative director-at-large. She shares that the decision to step down was to allow herself more freedom to do projects outside the doors of Vogue. “I really love Vogue, it’s been in my life always, they discovered me as a model at 19,” she told the industry website Business of Fashion.
“I’m not running away from Vogue, because it has opened so many doors. But it will be nice to collaborate, and nice to go out, give talks to people. It’s just another approach. I’m certainly not going into retirement. I don’t want to sit around.”