I am surprised I have not written about her sooner. She is, after all, the reason I am so addicted, in love, obsessed, etc. with fashion. She is quoted as saying, “I like masculine things…for their simplicity and functionality… I do think I counteract the masculine thing with my red hair. It’s the best accessory I could ever have.” Any fashion maven or aspiring magazine editor would know who sports the aforementioned red hair: it is famous the world over and easily recognizable as the counterpart to Ms. Anna Wintour’s severe bob.
While you should know who she is by now, I will continue for those fashion virgins. Wintour herself proclaims this woman is “the world’s most magical fashion editor.” Yet, she is also the nicest woman in fashion, which is quite a feat in itself. Even more, she is my inspiration, my idol of sorts– she is the first person I have ever really looked up to as a model of success. I read Vogue religiously, like an addict, entranced with her spreads, never really knowing who was the ringmaster behind the creativity at Vogue, until now. The hair, and the quote as well, belong to the person who is the reason I am obsessed with fashion.
Her name: Grace Coddington. Her occupation: Creative Director of American Vogue.
During her many years at British Vogue, Coddington fine tuned her editorial skills and developed her own personal style for photo shoots. She prefers to turn the potentially harsh and stagnant spreads into stories or narratives, making them livelier and above all else, “tongue-in-cheek.” This makes the editorials much more accessible to her readers because they can relate to the stories and the characters she creates. Coddington loves morphing childhood fairytales and famous works of art into pages of a magazine.
While at American Vogue for the past 15 years she has created masterpieces in her exuberant fashion stories. Coddington’s personal favorite is the famous 2003 Alice in Wonderland photo shoot with Natalia Vodianova as Alice and Annie Leibovitz behind the lens. The nearly 20 page spread also included designers such as Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, and John Galliano as characters from the Lewis Carroll classic. Vodianova wore a blue dress (or ensemble) from each of the designers she was photographed with, tying in fashion, fantasy, and the classic story of Alice. More recently, for the December 2009 issue of Vogue, Coddington styled an elaborate Hansel and Gretel themed shoot, inspired by the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production, with model, Lily Cole and her costar in the upcoming movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Andrew Garfield. As the witch, Coddington originally wanted British singer Susan Boyles to play the part but Wintour vetoed it opting instead for the extremely high profile Lady Gaga, who infamously arrived completely naked to the photo shoot except for her white rubber rain coat.
She is also the star of The September Issue (directed by R.J. Cutler) my [The] Godfather or Scarface if you will. I even went so far as to stand in a very very long line at Barnes and Noble for her to sign my copy of the extraordinary DVD, which I have now viewed about five times since it premiered in theaters last fall.
Cutler’s film brought both Grace Coddington’s genius and her hair to the masses. It was an inside look into the making of the September issue of the magazine, which is always the largest and most extravagant (and of course expensive). Shown in theaters across the globe, the movie introduced people to Vogue, Prada, and Coddington and Wintour’s epic standoffs.
And her brilliance has been awarded repeatedly, most notably with the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Lifetime Achievement award. Less notably, but more amusing, was when the British television show (and my favorite TV show) Absolutely Fabulous, the character Patsy says her idol Ms. Coddington is, “Fash. Ed. Supreme” meaning Fashion Editor Supreme.
Coddington knows that the clothes are aspirational for most women, yes, she knows we can’t all afford a $500 t-shirt or a $10,000 scarf. The photo shoots and the way she styles clothes are made to inspire us to look our best and be creative when it comes to what we choose to wear. But money is everything these days. On the tips of everyone’s tongues and in the print of the newspapers at everyone’s the fingertips. She is able to style clothes into wearable outfits, ensembles that can actually be worn to work or to Central Park, and maybe if you’re lucky to the famous MET Costume Gala hosted by Ms. Wintour this upcoming year.
Coddington has created a new way to view fashion. One that is more inviting and engaging. Long are the days where only the wealthy could wear designer clothes and look fashionable. Coddington has brought style and creativity to the masses, showing us it is okay to experiment with clothing and above all, to believe in yourself. Not only did she make it as a model, and as a design director, and as a brilliant creative director, and as a fashion editor, but she has also been an inspiration for me. After her car accident in which her eyelid had to be surgically reconstructed, and her modeling took a back seat, she watched her world fall apart, but she also saw that it could be built back up again, so she persevered. Dressing in black nearly everyday, very little makeup, and hair as wild and crazy as ever, Coddington lives vicariously through the pages of Vogue and through her magical, whimsical photo shoots, and I hope, through me.