Grace Coddington On The Secrets Of Reinventing Yourself

By Ruth La Ferla
New York Times
Grace Coddington. Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen

At 83, longtime Vogue editor, stylist and artist Grace Coddington says that “listening” is one of the most important things you can do. She explains to Ruth La Ferla, in her own words, what continues to motivate her.

I’m not modern. Now is not the moment for people who are

At Vogue, I didn’t want to be part of that. And on the other side, they didn’t want me. For me, it’s never been “Oh, I want to just get this done.” It’s “I want it done better than I did it last time.”

It’s important to keep your brain occupied, to keep just one step ahead. If I were to retire to the country, I’d probably end up in bed, not doing anything. So I have to push myself. The more you get into doing things, the more competent you become.

The things that have always inspired me inspire me now. People in the street can inspire me. Even if I don’t really approve of how they are dressing, I may see something emerging or a kind of story that I can put a twist to or have fun with.

 Grace Coddington in 'The September' Issue documentary.
Grace Coddington in 'The September' Issue documentary.

I’ve been told that I’m always reinventing myself. That was said of me even back in the ‘60s, when I was a model. I had long hair, and I would chop it to nothing. Then I would grow it again and dye it blond.

I recently chopped it and find that I’m modelling again. That makes me smile, because I’m not a fresh young girl with high hopes. But I’ve still got it, I guess. Just send me the cheque.

I wouldn’t say that I’m in demand, but I’m always looking for things to do, beyond being a fashion editor. I’m making murals, making drawings that are being reproduced on teapots and coffee mugs, and I’m working again on fashion shoots. I’ve just done one for W, with Craig McDean.

Grace Coddington modelling in April, 1967. Photo by McKeown / Getty Images
Grace Coddington modelling in April, 1967. Photo by McKeown / Getty Images

I do have nostalgia for having lived through the very best times doing fashion pictures for Vogue; it was a period when I could be very creative. I got so much enjoyment out of collaborating, out of having all those talented people around me. I miss that terribly.

But some of those people have become my closest friends. A lot of them are young. They are usually my old assistants. We often stay in touch by phone. You get to know if they’re happy or if their boyfriend left them. The calls can go on for hours, but that’s okay. It’s part of getting older, to listen. I don’t think you should cut all that out of your life.

Of course, there are things that you might regret, but I don’t really want to dwell on them. It’s better to be more forward-driven.

I’m still asking questions and being told that I’m difficult. I was asked recently to judge an A.I. competition, and I thought, “You’re asking the wrong person.”

A still from 'The September Issue', featuring. US Vogue creative director Grace Coddington (left) and editor Anna Wintour.
A still from 'The September Issue', featuring. US Vogue creative director Grace Coddington (left) and editor Anna Wintour.

When we made “The September Issue,” I fought being on camera, becoming a personality. I fought it like mad. Since then, I’ve become more recognisable. I walk out the door in this particular area of Chelsea, and I hear strangers calling, “Grace, Grace!”

How I present myself is still important. I don’t know if I’m unique in that because I was a model and have been in fashion all my life. I just don’t think you should walk around looking like you’ve given up, you know. I don’t really believe in plastic surgery. I’ve never had anything done, though I wouldn’t mind losing my three chins.

Grace Coddington's memoir, 'Grace', published in 2012.

Grace Coddington's memoir, 'Grace', published in 2012.

Right now I’m happy to be working. Not long ago I created the murals for the bar at the San Vicente Bungalows in Los Angeles. I’ve always wanted to make murals but never had the chance.

In one of my drawings, I put flamingos in the pool. My friend Gabe Doppelt — we worked together at Vogue — was managing the project. She said, “You have to take the flamingos out.” I said, “No.” She said: “You remember working with Anna? You had to compromise. You never said no to Anna.” And I reminded her, “Yes, I did, actually.”

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Written by: Ruth La Ferla


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