'I'm not running away from Vogue'

Grace Coddington, creative director of American Vogue, will become ‘creative editor at large’, doing ‘several’ stories a year for the magazine and exploring outside opportunities.
Grace Coddington, creative director of American Vogue, will become ‘creative editor at large’, doing ‘several’ stories a year for the magazine and exploring outside opportunities. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Long-time creative director Grace Coddington's leaving signals a changing of the guard at the magazine

The tectonic plates of fashion are shifting.

Donna Karan left the company that bears her name. Ralph Lauren stepped up to become chairman and relinquished the chief executive title at his company. Harold Koda, the curator-in-chief of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, passed the reins to Andrew Bolton.

And now Grace Coddington, the 74-year-old creative director of American Vogue, the yin to editor Anna Wintour's yang and an accidental celebrity since the 2009 documentary, The September Issue, is dialling down her role at the magazine.

She will, said a spokesman for Conde Nast, which owns the magazine, become "creative editor at large", doing "several" articles a year for the glossy and exploring outside opportunities.

Although last week's announcement was a long time coming - in a 2014 interview with me for The Financial Times, Coddington said, "I've been saying, 'I'm going to leave tomorrow' for the last 10 years" - and although Vogue says it has no immediate plans to replace her full time, it is bound to shake up the industry for a few reasons.

Vogue... has opened so many doors. But it will be nice to collaborate and nice to goout (and) give talks to people.

GRACE CODDINGTON, creative director of
American Vogue, on her move

First, it signals a potential change in direction at the most famous fashion magazine in the world, one that has not had real movement at the top for decades. (Wintour has been editor-in-chief since 1988, the same year Coddington took her role; Phyllis Posnick, executive fashion editor, has been with the magazine since 1987; Tonne Goodman, fashion director, joined in 1999.)

Second, Conde Nast has been in a relatively turbulent state for the past few months, as it wrestles with the relationship between the print and online worlds, with long-time editors such as Linda Wells of Allure being replaced and with the closing of magazines such as Details. As the company's artistic director, Wintour is involved in all such decisions and her moves when it comes to the company's flagship (and her own magazine) will clearly be seen as indicative of wider future editorial strategy.

And third, Coddington was a great celebrator of the fantasy of fashion: its power to transport and transform. She was less interested in the commercial side of the business and had almost no interest in the digital side of things, eschewing computers and e-mail. She favoured models over celebrities (although she did style the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Vogue cover) and she was clear about designers she revered and those she did not - all reasons she and Wintour were such good sparring partners.

It was the tension between her love of fashion as an art and Wintour's practicality and interest in its functionality, both as a business and in her readers' lives, that was a large part of making Vogue, and the movie about it, so compelling.

They will still exist, of course - just in a less present form. And Coddington is not exactly going gently into that good night.

She is creating a perfume with Comme des Garcons, due out in April (although Wintour only sporadically attends the Comme shows, Coddington has been a committed fan). She is doing another book on her work at Vogue (her 2002 opus, Grace: Thirty Years Of Fashion At Vogue, weighs 10 pounds, contains 400 pages of shoots and sells for up to US$2,450 (S$3,507) on eBay for a signed copy). And there is a film about her 2012 autobiography, Grace, in the works. She is realising her own brand potential.

As she said in an interview with the industry website Business Of Fashion: "I'm not running away from Vogue, because it has opened so many doors. But it will be nice to collaborate and nice to go out (and) give talks to people. It's just another approach. I'm certainly not going into retirement. I don't want to sit around." She will keep an office and an assistant at the magazine.

On a more abstract level, however, Coddington's move, along with Karan's, seems like the beginning of what could be a long chain reaction of a generational shift in fashion.

It has been, for an industry that celebrates youth, a strikingly mature sector, with the greatest power concentrated in the hands of the same people for a very long time. Change, when it comes, will have a cascade effect.

Speculation about what might happen with her former job - a key title at many magazines - will now join speculation about who will get Raf Simons' job at Dior and who will get Alber Elbaz's job at Lanvin.

It is going to be an interesting fashion season.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline ''I'm not running away from Vogue''. Print Edition | Subscribe