Grace Coddington on a lifetime of storytelling
From creating the most whimsical stories at American Vogue to collaborating with Louis Vuitton and starring in the first-ever insider fashion documentary – The September Issue, Grace Coddington talks to Savoir about a lifetime of storytelling.
When The September Issue first premiered in 2009, many were yet to learn the name, Grace Coddington. Starring alongside Anna Wintour, the legendary then editor-in-chief of American Vogue, she quickly became an icon of her own. In her signature all-black attire and long, curly red hair, she took the audience on a journey of creating one-of-a-kind stories for the magazine.
Following her appearance in the documentary, her book ‘Grace: A Memoir’ gave even further insight into a career that spans over five decades. Born in Wales, with a trail of success as a model in London, Coddington swiftly found her place behind the scenes of photoshoots at British Vogue. But when she was ready for a new challenge, she packed up a suitcase and moved to New York. Creative directing and styling some of the most memorable campaigns across the ocean, she eventually found herself back at Vogue to continue crafting creatively daring stories. This time, however, she could execute her vision on a much larger scale at American Vogue. “If [Anna] Wintour is the Pope, Coddington is Michelangelo, trying to paint a fresh version of the Sistine Chapel 12 times a year.” exclaimed The Times magazine of her unparalleled instinct for storytelling. Now, after her departure from Vogue, she shows no signs of slowing down in her creative path.
When Grace visited our New York showroom earlier this year, we were instantly enchanted by her creative spirit. Creating the perfect mattress that fit her sleep habits and needs was an experience that led us to a conversation about this city, and how its shaped her career. Join as Grace talks to Savoir about the inspiration behind some of her most recognised work, the lessons she’s learnt throughout her career and why good sleep is the most precious luxury to her.
Your experience is valuable even if the world has moved on. Hold on to your friends. Always be dependable. If you say you will do something, make sure you do it, there is nothing worse than letting people down.
Savoir: Is there a particular moment in your career that’s been the absolute highlight for you?
Grace Coddington: I think when I packed up and left England for America was a pretty big moment for me. It was taking a big jump both in my career and private life. When I first came here, [I] worked for Calvin Klein, which was a fantastic introduction to this country but I missed magazines. So, I soon went to US Vogue, which was a huge challenge – it was finally [about] working with the “Big Boys” and I was measured at a global level. It was exciting, and demanding, and rewarding all at once.
Finally, culminating with my memoir, which I would have never had the opportunity to write, had it not been for my participation in the film ‘The September Issue’, which kind of made me a household name. It was on The Times Bestseller list for several weeks.
You’ve created some of the most iconic and whimsical stories throughout your career. How do you remain inspired and where do your ideas usually stem from?
It is strange, over the years my inspirations have come from a wide variety of influences. Gardens and their magic have always inspired me, leading me to fairy tales. My absolute favourite was Alice in Wonderland with Anne Leibovitz. A huge production with weeks of preparation – I was involved with every aspect to do with it, from the idea and casting to the layout. It was as close to perfection as anything I’ve ever been entrusted with. I am truly proud of it.
Sadly, the romance of fairly tales like that (and the budgets for them) have passed. They are no longer relevant. But happily, stories on lifestyle intrigue me too, and that can just come from looking around me… Also, films have always been a great place to find stories and ideas.
You have travelled a lot throughout your life, how do you maintain healthy habits and ensure you get enough rest when on the go?
I haven’t done so much travelling since I left Vogue – it was beginning to tire me out – living out of a suitcase. I like to sleep in my own bed these days, but I did enjoy seeing the world, especially when working for Vogue it was made so easy.
[My tip would be] That when you’re travelling with a team, always have someone to show you the way. I was very spoilt – still am these days when I go to the incredibly special locations of LV cruise shows – Brazil, Japan, Italy, south of France – in luxurious hands of LVMH. I am forever grateful. I always like to leave a couple of days early to get over the jet lag in a civilised manner. And drinking lots of water.
I am a perfectionist and no one has time for that. Having said that, there are still projects I want to do, like another ‘Catwalk’ book. And I am making an animated version with Disney, so that is exciting. And I’d like to do another book on my work since leaving Vogue.
When you departed from your role at Vogue, you’ve mentioned that you had no intention of slowing down. So, what’s next on your agenda?
Well, I think I was a little over-ambitious. Right afterwards I was indeed pretty busy, but life has inevitably slowed down now. It is now several years on and I am several years older. There’s been the pandemic and that changed everything.
Nowadays it seems only younger people are wanted in the work force and they have a very different energy. I am a perfectionist and no one has time for that. Having said that, there are still projects I want to do, like another ‘Catwalk’ book. And I am making an animated version with Disney, so that is exciting. I’d like to do another book on my work since leaving Vogue. And drawing – I love drawing. Doing collaborations – I did a big one with Louis Vuitton, which was really fun and I’ve really loved working with you to design my new mattress – why wouldn’t I, it is the most handsome and comfortable thing in the world – thank you!
What’s one thing you wish you learnt earlier in your life or career?
I think to follow my beliefs and never let anything fall below my standard. You must be proud of what you do. Always help others, help the younger generation (if they will let you and listen). Your experience is valuable even if the world has moved on. Hold on to your friends. Always be dependable, if you say you will do something make sure you do it, there is nothing worse than letting people down.
I’ve really loved working with you to design my new mattress – why wouldn’t I, it is the most handsome and comfortable thing in the world – thank you!
What’s one luxury you can’t live without?
Good sleep – a good night’s rest is the most important! If I don’t sleep one night, it takes me days to catch up. Bless the day I discovered Savoir beds, who were able to make me a perfect custom mattress, not just the size that fits my not standard bed but also my personal comfort level – soft, but also firm enough for my difficult back. And a topper that just tops off my every whim and desire.
How do you find calm after a long day, do you have a bed-time routine?
Putting my feet up. Reading the newspaper with my cats, a light meal, a glass of wine and maybe watching a documentary of one of the TV series on my iPad – going to bed early on my new mattress now it is so very comfortable – I just float away…
And lastly, when’s the last time you’ve done something for the first time and what was it?
I feel like I’ve tried just about everything interesting I’ve ever wanted to do, except perhaps parachute out of a plane – but I am far too much of a coward to try that!