Fashion legend Grace Coddington turns seventy

Vogue cover, 1917

In an age where celebrity comes and goes, and people can become famous for the most trivial things, we often forget to celebrate true talent and achievement. However, a living legend was brought to the forefront of our minds this week, when Grace Coddington, former model and current creative director of American Vogue, turned 70 years old.

Ms Coddington has led an intriguing life; not one typically leading to fashion icon status. Born in the remote village of Anglesey to hotelier parents, she was painfully shy, self-confessed in an interview where she admitted to having begged her mother to allow to take the bus home from school so she could avoid making conversation with her peers. Her one infatuation was fashion: as a teen, she read Vogue religiously, although the issues that she received were always three months out of date – they took so long to reach her isolated town. Perhaps she was excited by magazines because it was so far-removed from – so much more chic than – her village lifestyle.

A convent-educated pale redhead, she was not a typical choice for a cover girl. But, at the age of 17, she won a Young Model competition at Vogue, and she was catapulted into the fashion industry, working on many shoots and campaigns. Then, at the tender age of 26, disaster struck: Ms Coddington was caught up in a tragic car accident, leaving her face disfigured for life. She lost an eyelid. Allegedly, during the reconstructive surgery, the physician asked her what she did: when she replied that she was a model, he immediately attempted to make the stitches finer.

Grace’s modelling career suffered. In an interview, she revealed that one designer allowed her to wear sunglasses on a shoot to cover the imperfection, but this sentiment was not shared by others. Two years after the accident, she got a position as junior editor at British Vogue, allowing her to continue to be part of the industry she loved. She had various positions at the magazine, culminating as photo editor. After nineteen years, she moved to the bright lights of the Big Apple to work for Calvin Klein and enjoyed further success. But her career in this industry was far from over.

In 1988, Coddington was offered one of the most prestigious jobs in fashion: creative director of American Vogue. She remains on that pedestal to this day. She gained further media attention in 2009 when Channel 4 documentary “The September Issue” – a fly-on-the-wall account of the production of the September 2007 edition of Vogue – was aired. Coddington’s creations were famously dismissed by the iron lady of fashion, Anna Wintour (the editor in chief of American Vogue), highlighting the pair’s turbulent relationship. At the time, it was hinted that Coddington was angry at Wintour’s decision to grant channel 4 an AAA pass, but the film’s success must make up for it.

Even Coddington’s personal life has not been plain sailing. She was married, then quickly divorced twice and, although she never had children, she took on her nephew as her own after the tragic death of her sister, Rosemary. She now lives with a new partner and her cats, who she writes stories about (the cats, not the partner). Her next project will be her memoir, aided by her collaborator Jay Fielden. She refuses to retire from Vogue.

Ms Coddington’s life has not been easy, she has endured atrocities and worked hard to prove herself. Fashion is in her blood: her upbringing did not teach it to her, and nothing could drive it out of her. Her creations remain legendary and will live on for many years. Happy birthday, Grace Coddington.


Camilla Gifford