Vogue’s creative director at large Grace Coddington began her career as a model, something readers can learn more about in Saving Grace: My Fashion Archive 1968-2016 – an elegant clamshell box containing both volumes of Coddington's collected works, Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue and Grace: The American Vogue Years.
Grace shares this early career move with one of her greatest, collaborators, the German-born model-turned-photographer Ellen Von Unwerth who is, as Grace explains in Saving Grace, very good at putting her young prospects at ease.
“Around Ellen, the last thing anyone ever feels is inhibited,” she says. “She gets models to do things they wouldn’t do for anyone else. It’s as if they temporarily turn into different people – girls who just want to have fun. A lot of that comes from Ellen’s spontaneity."
Of course, Grace and Ellen also put in a huge amount of preparation, mounting cinematic-style shoots, often inspired by great movies.
“We thought The Piano seemed perfect the year Galliano’s muse was Scarlett O’Hara,” says Grace. “As with everything he does, his hoop skirts were immaculately made and very delicate. Attached to real bone frames were layers of chiffon and antique silks. When I nervously told John where we hoped to photograph his fragile creations – a remote beach in Jamaica that can’t be reached without a machete – he nonchalantly replied that a few rips and stains were exactly what his ball gowns needed.
“As a twist on one of the love stories in The English Patient, Ellen and I imagined an aspiring actress from New York hiring an Indian cabdriver to take her to Hollywood. Somewhere around Palm Springs, we had them fall in love."
Other Coddington and Unwerth shoots have contextualised fashion by placing it in a real-world setting.
“During the early nineties, fashion seemed to be divided into two camps – the opulent and the austere,” Grace recalls. “For a shoot on the designers whose clothes fit the latter description – Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, Calvin Klein – nothing seemed to capture the homespun spirit quite like the Amish. We even found an Amish family who allowed us to fashionize their farm in Pennsylvania. As we went about doing our story, the family went about their usual day of chores. They let us use whatever we needed, including a team of mules (and their son, whose youth allowed him to be photographed) for a shot in the field. Far from being suspicious of outsiders, they even had us to dinner.”
A “fashionized” Amish farm? Who else could have thought of that? Check back soon for another of Grace’s photographers and for more Grace, you can buy Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue here; Grace: The American Vogue Years here and order Saving Grace: My Fashion Archive 1968-2016 here.