This morning, Business of Fashion reported that Grace Coddington will step down as Vogue’s Creative Director. She will assume the title of Creative Director at Large, and though she’ll continue to style “several shoots throughout the year,” Coddington will begin working on projects outside the Condé Nast publication. (According to BoF, there are currently no plans to fill the role of Creative Director.) To celebrate the next step in her career, Amelia recalls the time she interned on a shoot with the iconic stylist.
I used to be terrified of Grace Coddington. She scared me more than Anna Wintour did back when I interned at Vogue.
Granted, everyone (and everything) felt potentially life-threatening when I began there; make the wrong person mad — mess up their coffee, forget a stylist’s dress, lose an editor’s belt — and I was sure I’d be doomed out of a career in fashion. It was a semester spent on fabergé eggshells.
But a lot of that — most of that — was in my head. The women were hard working and dedicated, creative and deeply invested, sometimes stressed but never mean and whether intentional or not, they were teachers. I think that’s why Grace Coddington scared me. It’s never really the principal you’re worried about, right? It’s the teacher who can send you to the principal’s office.
Every morning we interns would roll the racks away from the editors’ desks and line them up throughout the hallways, getting a peek into the thought process of the those minds who painted Vogue’s pages with ideas. The garments on Grace’s were always confusing. I remember having no clue as to why she’d want some ratty old tank top (Balmain) or some clunky black shoes (Balenciaga) or what good some black latex corset-dress-thing (Comme des Garçons) would do for anyone. Other racks were more inviting, easier to “get,” prettier to see. But everyone said she had the vision. Critics of The September Issue said she was the star. And the assistants said her shoots were the one to score.
The last month of my internship, I scored such a spot. The shoot would take two days, the photographer was David Sims, the models were big (Freja Beha Erichsen, Arizona Muse) and the theme was “Punk.” It was the first and only time I’d get to watch Grace Coddington work. Prior to this, our interactions largely consisted of me trying not to do anything weird as she walked by.
When you’re young and you puncture what you thought you knew about X with a safety pin purchased from Saint Mark’s Place, the world kind of opens up. Fashion — uptown and aspirational for as long as I could remember it — exploded for me during that shoot, with Grace holding the sharpest point. She created a fantasy world before the camera with those shapes and fabrics I hadn’t previously understood. She told a story with her styling, slipping models in and out of characters with an expert eye, kneeling frequently to adjust cuffs and tug at hems. If you’ve ever watched a sculptor sculpt, then this was it.
The decision to pursue a career in such a strange field was a culmination of tiny pieces and mostly happy accidents, but I’m almost certain that this shoot, “Punk’d,” in the March 2011 issue of Vogue, was the thing that taught me fashion was a whole lot more than Chanel. That clothes are as expressive as words, that an editor’s eye is no less scrupulous when it comes to the fall of a drape than a word out of place, and that Grace Coddington was not terrifying at all. To everyone who has ever lost themselves in the vision she creates, she’s a teacher. And after nearly 30 years, she’s expanding her classroom.