Age 17, Grace Coddington was working as a waitress in London, where she had recently moved from the – somewhat isolating – solitude of Anglesey, Wales as the result of a competition for up-and-coming models in British Vogue. Having submitted shots from her first photoshoot, she won the ‘Young Model’ section…
…and the rest is history…
… until the car crash which put an end to this era of her life and left her, like a phoenix, to rise from the dust. After extensive surgery on her eye, she began to try to model again. Having to disguise the scars, however, was not practical and she instead applied to work at British Vogue in 1968 as Junior Editor, where she remained until transferring to American Vogue in 1988. It was not until 2007’s The September Issue, however, that Coddington came into the public eye as the mastermind behind the magazine.
I want to write, though, not about Coddington herself, but about her work, which The Guardian called “fashion’s most memorable imagery”. Speaking of her work, she stated:
“For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs. I still weave dreams, finding inspiration wherever I can and looking for romance in the real, not the digital, world.”
I couldn’t help but note the similarities between her thoughts on the process, and those across all other creative disciplines – be it writing, film making, theatricality or music – in that making people feel the work is her central motive. Coddington’s work always tells a story. It’s always magical. Its more than fashion photography – the clothes are there, but they’re part of a bigger picture.
An example of this is her 2003 Alice in Wonderland shoot, featuring Natalia Vodianova in the lead role, and fashion’s leading designers – including Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford – in supporting roles. This was her metaphor for the industry: to enter the fashion world, one must go down the rabbit hole. Like Alice. And every day is like Wonderland. That is, there is not one set style – each garment has endless possibilities.
In spite of this, her work is always real. There’s an undeniable rawness – nothing is done ‘for the sake of it’. The clothes may be complimented by their surroundings (spatial and temporal), but in many instances it is the stark contrast between the two that adds such intrigue and mysticism to her work. This image (below),for example, says so much but so very little. Who are they? Where are they? In their best Galliano… in such a depleated room. There are no answers – in fact, Coddington herself probably doesn’t know. They could be anyone; they could be everyone. It is, as they say, ‘in the eye of the beholder’
It is impossible to even begin to cover the immense breadth of Coddington’s extraordinary work. She is an icon. She is a legend. She understands how clothes work… how style works… how people work… and how art works. She gets it. It’s clear from her work that she has studied her craft; compare this image (left) with the work of Brassai. Its subtle, but it’s there.
That’s how you can instantly identify a Grace shoot – there’s something magical about it. While remaining at Vogue, in her newly reduced role as Creative Director At Large, she recently released her memoirs Grace (to which film company A24 optioned the rights in 2015), published a portfolio of her work Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue, released her debut fragrance with Comme des Garçons and began working with Tiffany’s.
Age 75, she has shown no signs of slowing down, always referring to her life-long mantra:
“Perseverance, dream a bit, and be passionate about it”