An old woman is standing on the stone steps of the palace of Versailles, her fiery red hair flying about her face in the wind as she looks out at the beautifully tended gardens… “I think I got left behind somewhere because I’m, you know, still a romantic. You have to go charging ahead; you can’t stay behind.”
This was Grace Coddington, the Creative Director of American Vogue and the star of The September Issue which featured on More 4 last night: a medley of stunning couture, striking models, lettuce leaves, more than a little bitchiness but most of all beautiful photography.
The woman who stole the show was surprisingly not Vogue's editor Ms Anna 'Nuclear' Wintour but the brilliant Grace Coddington: a flame-haired woman who grew up in rural north Wales. Coddington's journey to the top began with a subscription to Vogue in her early teens, she would catch the bus to the post office to collect her "probably three months out of date" copy before studying the pages and enjoying the escapism it gave her from her far-from-chic lifestyle. Her copies of Vogue were her only connection to the fashion world until her big break came at 17 when she won a Vogue model competition after a friend entered some "awful" (can't have been that awful!) pictures of her – from there she went on to have a successful modelling career and eventually landed a place at the Vogue head office at 28. At 68 Coddington's not doing too badly for herself – still working, still proving the sharp-tongued Wintour wrong, still styling her photoshoots and even dressing the models herself to produce fashion photography which could easily hold its own alongside the work of leading photographers in top galleries.
It's painful to watch Wintour slate Coddington's work in the documentary, especially her collaboration with Steven Meisel, an exquisite 1920s styled shoot named Je T'aime; the problem is that while Wintour is all about the new, looking forward and crisp clean images, Coddington rightfully describes herself as a romantic – her shoots revolve around a central story or character and the images created are soft and look as if they've come from some far away fantasy world. In my opinion that effect is much more beautiful than colour blocks, clean lines and hard faces – but I guess that's why I'm in art not fashion!
I didn't think I'd enjoy The September Issue as I find the fashion world a little odd, but the creativity involved in shoots and styling fascinated me and I think that's down to Coddington. She's currently writing her memoirs and I think her expert insight into creative styling and some back-handed comments about Anna Wintour sound like a good read!
Here are a few photos from Grace's shoots. Enjoy.
p.s. The first one is my absolute favourite and was actually cut from Grace's beloved '20s shoot by Ms Nuclear Wintour! This explains the small grainy image, I decided I'd share it with you anyway as I think the fact that it was cut for a 22 page spread of Sienne Miller looking pretty average is a travesty!!