insi-De The Wise Up Issue, i-D Creative Director Terry Jones talks to American Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington about meeting David Bailey, working together at Vogue and Grace’s journey to becoming Grace.
Grace Coddington is the Creative Director of American Vogue and one of the most loved and influential creative forces working today. The former model with the flame red hair has shaped the fashion industry for over twenty-five years. To mark the release of her highly anticipated new book, Grace, A Memoir, i-D pays homage to everybody’s favourite fashion icon.
Sitting in her front row seat, with Anna Wintour by her side, Grace is instantly recognisable for her frizzed out mane of red hair, which has been her signature look since the sixties and today is just as iconic as Anna’s sharp bob. 2012 is a special year for the Creative Director of American Vogue, who is looking back over her remarkable career with the publication of Grace, A Memoir, a stunning coffee table book published by Random House and designed by Grace and her good friend and confidant Michael Roberts, the Style Director at Large of Vanity Fair. Born Pamela Rosalind Grace Coddington in 1941, Grace’s childhood was far removed from the fashion industry she has since made her home. Grace grew up in the Tre-Arddur Bay Hotel her parents ran on the remote island of Anglesey, off the coast of Wales. She went to school in the local convent with 60 other shorter Welsh girls, but was always dreaming of the bright lights of the big city. Grace flew the nest aged 18 and caught the bus to London with a copy of Vogue in her pocket and a dream of becoming a model. In London, a horrific car accident put a halt to her dreams and forced her to endure two years of reconstructive surgery to her face. But, on recovery she re-entered the fashion industry and together with Twiggy, Celia Hammond and Jean Shrimpton went on to become one of the most successful models of the sixties. In 1968, Grace stepped to the other side of the camera to became Junior Fashion Editor of British Vogue, quickly working her way up to Fashion Director. She left for New York in 1987 to work with Calvin Klein before realising her heart lay in magazines and joining Anna Wintour at American Vogue in 1988. A position she has held ever since.
Terry: When you look back at your time at British Vogue, what are your favourite memories?
Grace: When I look back, I realise I had a very easy time. Firstly, I only did one shoot every six weeks or so. There were no commercial hang-ups either. You could shoot anything you liked. I went to China once for British Vogue and thought, ‘Hmmm… maybe I won’t shoot all these suitcases of clothes I’ve brought with me after all, I want to shoot everybody in uniform.’ You could never do that at British Vogue today. You probably couldn’t even do it at i-D! You have to keep your eyes open, because life is real, and credits are real, and that’s what pays your wages at the end of the day. But, back then, you didn’t have to be realistic, you could be totally spontaneous. It was amazing.
Terry: You were always fantastic at discovering new talent.
Grace: It was my pleasure to work with young photographers back then. It’s not so much now because time is money and it’s such a responsibility on my shoulders. If I do push for someone new to shoot at , and I win, then I have a heavy voice in my ear going, ‘Shit, this had better fucking work, because if it doesn’t you’ve just lost one hundred thousand dollars!’
Terry: Who taught you how to be a fashion editor?
Grace: I don’t know. It’s all to do with the way you see things. Clare Rendlesham [Fashion Editor, Vogue] was someone I watched very closely. I think she was an amazing editor. As was Sheila Wetton [Fashion Editor, Vogue]. She was a much older lady, but I loved her attitude to life. I always think I’m Sheila Wetton reincarnated. I love cats, I swear like a trooper and I used to be a model and so did she. I think she was extraordinary.
Terry: How did you get involved with fashion?
Grace: I’m very lucky. I’ve fallen into everything that has ever happened to me in life. I lived in North Wales, Anglesey and I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life there. I loved it, but birds have to jump out of their nests at some point. So I jumped on a train and came to London. I worked as a waitress for a friend of mine at a coffee bar called Stockpot, on Basil Street. I used to read Vogue – I know this sounds like an advert for Vogue, but seriously I used to read it – which was difficult in Wales in the 50s. In Vogue I saw an advert saying, ‘You can be a top model too.’ So I applied and went and met Cherry Marshall [London’s top model agent at the time] and I did a modelling course in the evenings with her.
Terry: So where did the name ‘Grace Coddington’ come from?
Grace: Grace is my grandmother’s name. I was actually called Pamela, and my friend at Stockpot was called Panchita. Everybody shortened her name to ‘Pan’ and mine to ‘Pam’. So she said, ‘You’ll have to change your name, people are going to confuse us.’ So I changed it to my grandmother’s name, and entered the model competition as Grace Coddington. Through that I met Brian Duffy, Terence Donavan and David Bailey… It was the wild 60s.
Terry: What were your first impressions on meeting Bailey?
Grace: I don’t remember the first time I met Bailey, but I do remember meeting Terence Donavan very clearly. He had this little studio in Knightsbridge, in Yeoman’s Row, opposite the Bunch of Grapes. I walked in with my book and he had his feet up on the desk like this [crosses arms]. He said ‘Hello’ and we started chatting. Then he said ‘I got married today.’ I said, ‘You did? What are you doing in the studio then?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I got married today. But, you know, whatever…’ I left there thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is the world of modelling, how incredible!’
Terry: That’s so funny.
Grace: I couldn’t understand a word he said because of his cockney accent. He would just talk and talk. Then through him I met everybody else. Bailey was just starting out then. He may have been working at Studio 5 with Norman Eales. But Vogue soon scooped him up and loved him. He was so cute looking. Everyone would always say, ‘Oh, he’s so cute!’ Which he was.
Text: Terry Jones
Images from top: 48_Huston, courtesy David Bailey (sitting far right); Grace Coddington courtesy Arthur Elgort’s personal archive; Grace Coddington courtesy Arthur Elgort’s personal archive; Grace with Karl Lagerfeld, Paris, 1974. Photography Julie Kavanagh; Illustrations and captions Grace Coddington; Grace Coddington courtesy Arthur Elgort’s personal archive; Grace with Vidal Sassoon in his Mayfair flat, London 1964, Photo courtesy Vidal Sassoon archives; Grace Coddington courtesy Arthur Elgort’s personal archive. All images from ‘Grace: A Memoir’. Final image: Grace by Arthur Elgort for The Wise Up Issue. On cover Grace wears coat Céline.