Grace Coddington - Creative Director, US Vogue
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Join Date: Feb 2005
source | cosstores.com
THE LEGENDARY CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF AMERICAN VOGUE DID NOT CO-OPERATE IN THE MAKING OF ĎTHE SEPTEMBER ISSUEí,
A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MOST POWERFUL MAGAZINE IN FASHION.
SO WHY IS SHE THE FILMíS SURPRISE STAR?
Grace Coddington has been a fashion stylist for over four decades, making her one of the most experienced in the industry, and is the creative director of American Vogue, making her one of the most powerful. Nevertheless, she rarely gives interviews and dislikes media attention: ĎI just want to get on with my job,í she says. So when documentary-maker RJ Cutler and his film crew arrived at Vogueís New York headquarters to trail the magazineís creative team for an entire nine months, she refused to take part. But six months in, she was persuaded to take part by Anna Wintour, American Vogueís editor in chief who first brought her to the magazine 21 years ago. It is the fascinating and frequently confrontational relationship between the two women that forms the central narrative of the resulting documentary, The September Issue,
which is released this September.
COS: Why did you not want to take part in filming for The September Issue?
GC: Well, I really donít like publicity and I never seek it. Annaís always doing interviews: thereís always a camera in the building somewhere, and Iím always avoiding it. So the idea that a camera crew were coming into Vogue for nine months horrified me. For the first six months I closed my door and got on with my job within my office. Which was kind of awkward, because a lot of the time my job involves going to the art department, going to Anna. People react differently when thereís a camera there; some things you canít say. So I refused to speak to Anna unless they were kept out of her office.
What made you change your mind?
When we started shooting the stories that were going to run in the September issue of Vogue, Anna basically put a gun to my head and said, ĎTheyíre coming along with you.í (Laughs) And I said, ĎWell, you will hear things you donít want to hear. I will do things that perhaps you donít like. Thatís how I work, and Iím not gonna change. And I swear like a trooper too! On your head be it.í It was not something I agreed with, but I had to do it because she pays my wages. The first shoot was with [Steven] Meisel and he doesnít allow camera crews, so I was like, phew! But on every other shoot we did, no one had the balls to say no to the crew.
You look like you got on with the film crew though. You even had one of them modelling in a shoot!
Well, having seen them for six monthsÖ theyíre extremely nice people. Theyíre funny and real, and have done very serious political documentaries, not Survivor-type reality TV. So I was like, OK, if youíre gonna come along with me, youíd better be friends. Youíd better come out for a drink with me afterwards and do what I do with anyone else Iíd work with.
Considering you didnít get involved till the end I was surprised how much screen time you got?
Well, me too! Ninety per cent of what they filmed was without me, but itís amazing what you can do in the editing. On the rare occasions when I have been interviewed I always get cut out of the movie. But this film ended up being about my relationship with Anna, largely.
And the final line of the film is Annaís verdict on you, calling you a genius.
I was amazed she said that on film! Iím incredibly flattered and I really do respect her enormously. Thatís the reason Iíve worked with her such a long time. I mean, I argue with her, as youíve seen! But that doesnít mean I donít respect her.
How did you feel about the film when you saw it?
I think they did a really great job; I like it and it really made me laugh. But in the way itís edited they focused on one small narrative. In film terms it makes a story, but there are an awful lot of people who work at Vogue besides myself and Anna [who you donít see], and Anna does an awful lot of things besides just talking about shoes. So I think maybe she was a little disappointed that they didnít show other aspects of what she does and what Vogue does.
Were you surprised someone was going to such lengths to make a documentary about Vogue?
Yes I was! Although in the world of magazines I think Vogue is quite high-ranking. So I guess if youíre going to make a documentary about a magazine, Vogueís as good as any.
As high-end fashion has enjoyed a broader audience in recent years, have you noticed a growing public curiosity about what goes on at Vogue?
Withering) Thereís a growing curiosity about how many times people go to the bathroom. HonestlyÖ thereís an incredible curiosity about the inside of everything. Everyone wants to see what the inside of actressesí houses looks like, so what do they do? They bring in some stylist to jazz up the apartment, and then they photograph them in there which is somewhat unreal. But I think what you see in The September Issue is nitty-gritty real. I think itís interesting that it comes out around the same time as the Valentino movie [Valentino: The Last Emperor], where everything is incredibly, unreally beautiful. In recent years weíve had several comprehensive behind-the-scenes fashion films Ė LoÔc Prigentís documentaries on Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and Marc Jacobs at Vuitton, for exampleÖ Itís very different from the days when fashion was created always behind closed doors and the final spectacle was all that mattered. Well there are so many fashion films like, dare I say it, The Devil Wears Prada Ė which honestly people should stop comparing to this one, because it bears no resemblance; oneís fiction, the otherís reality. I think [the makers of The September Issue] have depicted fashion in a good way and made the people in it look somewhat real and serious as opposed to stupid airheads. That was another reason why I was worried about it, because every single movie made about fashion makes fashion look stupid. PrÍt-ŗ-Porter made fashion look completely ridiculous. Which it is not. Itís something that makes people feel good, or should. Iíve been doing it all my life so I get upset when I see those really stupid, stupid movies. I thought the Marc Jacobs documentary was very good and very funny, though.
These days stylists wield as much power in the fashion industry as designers, but back when you were working on British Vogue in the Sixties and Seventies, stylists didnít even get credited. Why do you think stylists are so much in the spotlight now?
Itís this whole era of celebrity. Everybody is a celebrity. So all the backstage people now have come front of stage. And then thereís the gullible public, who just want a little bit of whatever about anyone. Their appetite is insatiable. Itís really extraordinary. They made a documentary about Annie Leibovitz a few years ago and every time I went to shoot with her thereíd be a camera in my face! I was so furious, and I had so many arguments where I said, please donít do this or Iím just not gonna work with you any more Ė I canít deal with trying to behave like a normal person on camera! Annieís not an easy person to work with, so you are so stressed, and to have a camera record all this on top was impossible. But itís what happens now. Everything is recorded. Every time you go in the studio these days thereís a film crew recording whatís called Ďthe B-rollí. Certainly if you shoot covers Ė which thank God I almost never do, because theyíre all of celebrities and I hate celebrities Ė you get [that celebrityís] B-roll crew that comes along too. Youíre trying to find the picture and thereís a camera in your face. For the photographer itís very inhibiting. But thatís how it is these days, everybody wants to see everything. Before every movie you see behind the scenes of the movie. And youíre not seeing reality, youíre seeing a faked reality. Itís ridiculous. Get back to reality. Everybody go home and we can have a few less magazines and less of all this trash. Youíre well known for your vociferous dislike of celebrity.
Do you prefer working with models because they do a specific job Ė playing a role in a fantasy that you create?
Well, celebrities certainly donít make that job any easier. Normally they dictate the dates, the hair, the make-up, the photographer, what they will or wonít do. Thatís a little inhibiting. And theyíre not the same shape as a model: often theyíre much shorter, so you got to get something made specially and usually you donít have the time.
Also youíre restricted by their public persona. Youíre not creating a character.
Exactly. They want to look like themselves. Thereís no point shooting a celebrity and making her look like somebody else. Although actually thatís what actors are supposed to do Ė they play somebody else. Thatís if theyíre any good as an actor. Most of the ones that go on the cover are the ones that only play themselves and promote themselves and thatís why everybody wants to know about them, and why theyíre on the cover. But Iím not the poor ****er who has to deal with it. Iím lucky, I deal mostly with models and thatís the way Iíd like it to remain for the next however long Iím working.
In the film you complain about the way shooting fashion stories has changed over the years. What change do you dislike most?
What I donít like is shooting on digital. With digital cameras comes a whole new concept, a whole new group of people and a whole new dynamic. Everybody thought it would be much cheaper and quicker and more efficient, but in fact what happens is that it entails a huge crew. And with that huge crew you lose a bit of personality. I donít think the process is perfected yet. And thereís no chance of accidents. And everybodyís working on retouching before theyíve even taken the picture.
On digital shoots photographers often pay more attention to the image on the computer monitor than to the model.
Yes, it totally skews it. Theyíre saying, oh Iíll take that head and put it on that body and so on. Theyíre not just focused on taking the picture. Theyíre already editing. And theyíre not editing alone ícause everybody can see it and theyíve all got their own opinion. And Iím guilty too! Itís funny, I was photographed the other day for the first time by someone using a digital camera, and it was so odd to have three or four people jumping up and down going, move to the left! No, move to the right! And the photographer said nothing except, ĎOh thatís nice.í When I was a model way, way back, it was very different. The photographer would lock everybody out of the room, including the [fashion] editor, and just get on and take the picture, which was his picture 100 per cent. But now a picture is done by a team. I donít know if it makes it worse. Itís supposed to make it better! (Laughs) It makes it different is all I can say. In my experience. Which has been some years. And now when someone works in non-digital Iím totally confused. ĎEr, er, erÖ I canít see a picture!í Thereís not many. Bruce Weberís about the only one I know. The role of the stylist has certainly become elevated in the years since you worked uncredited at British Vogue. Totally elevated. Itís become ridiculous.
Ridiculous? Do you think?
Oh, come on. The photographer should be the star. Not the [fashion] editor. We bring the clothes and we hope like hell itíll look pretty! Weíre not there to discuss whether the arm should be up, down or sideways. We are now but reallyÖ I wish the photographer could just get on and take the picture and not be distracted by all of us waving our arms and having an opinion.
Do you think the expectations of the stylistís role has changed?
I think more responsibility is laid on our shoulders, yeah. Because if the pictures are no good itís 50 per cent your fault. Which it didnít use to be. Before it was, ĎOh my god, heís a bad photographer.í Now itís, ĎWhat the hell did you think you were doing?í
You mentioned in the film that your job gets harder and harder. But you must still love it to keep doing it.
AahÖ (Pause) Well I need to pay the bills. (Laughs) No, I do. It still interests me. Itís never dull. Thatís why I like it. I donít think I could work in a bank; I might just get bored. Fashion keeps evolving, and the people change all the time, and thatís what I think is remarkable and great. ĎThe September Issueí is out September 11
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