"In 1969, a young woman named Pamela Rosalind Grace Coddington joined British Vogue's fashion department. Already well established as a model, Grace Coddington was gifted with an instinct that enabled her to change her look overnight, often ahead of fashion. In time, she would become creative director of the American edition of Vogue and the main producer of the Style Essay. It was she who would make the genre international and would develop its new variations.
Coddington has been in charge of most of the magazine's Style Essays, which have become regular landmarks in the magazine's year. Coddington is considered the most experienced, knowledgeable, and innovative fashion editor working today. 'She has the eye and the instinct to know which look could inspire,' says Wintour, "and an uncanny ability to take the seed of an idea and turn it into a famous narrative . . . . She always sees fashion in terms of stories, of an amusingly romantic bent . . . . Little wonder all the photographers want to work with her: She inspires them and challenges them like no one else."
Ever since I was old enough to appreciate the value and worth of an issue of Vogue I've somehow established a certain custom of how I would devour the pages of a new issue. While waiting in the check-out line to purchase my new issue (because I'm not patient enough to wait for magazine subscriptions to come in the mail and somewhat distrustful of the mailing system because of lost issues in the past that never made it to my mailbox) I usually sneak a quick peek in the back of the magazine to get a glimpse of Grace Coddington's latest editorials, but still manage to contain my excitement and make it back to my desk before going through the magazine from cover to cover. This particular habit goes a little bit like this:
1. I promptly remove all of those loose subscription cards and use them as bookmarks as I quickly flip through the entire magazine to look at the ads and editorials, while marking specific sections such as the Letter from the Editor, any interesting articles that catches my eye along the way, the cover story, and of course Grace Coddington's Style Essays in the Point of View.
2. After this initial observance I backtrack to Anna Wintour's editor letter which perfectly summarizes the major themes and certain highlights of the issue.
3. Then depending on my mood and who's on the cover I would either read the cover story and closely examine the cover spread noting the stylist and the photographer or dive right into Grace's Style Essays taking in the story of the spread and simultaneously making a mental note of all the details in each page (designer of all the pieces, shoes, jewelry, handbag, etc.)
4. I would continue on to the rest of the editorials in the magazine with more precise attention this time around and then read all of the articles starting with the ones that interested me the most.
I know it alls sounds a little crazy and a bit too meticulous, especially over a fashion magazine, but what you have to realize is that it's the images in these magazines that ultimately drive trends each season and contribute to what we see in the media, what's in our shopping malls, and finally into our closets. Fashion didn't become a multi-billion dollar business by being passive and idle. It indirectly influences all of us even if we can't afford those red-soled Christian Louboutin pumps or Karl Lagerfeld's latest recreation of a Chanel tweed jacket.
Most people will never appreciate the images in a fashion magazine, let alone pick up a copy of a glossy and think about the implications of its contents and how it relates to what's going on in the world like politics, health, beauty, the arts, travel, and food. But to me, a new issue of Vogue is more than just pretty pictures or pictures of unaffordable pieces of clothes and shoes on an impossibly tall, fit, and gorgeous model -- that interpretation is too literal. Aside from forecasting trends, which arguably is its main aim, is the fact that it tells a beautiful fashion narrative along the way. And that's why I love and admire Grace Coddington's work so much.
Her work in the pages of Vogue goes beyond showing the readers that shorts are making a huge statement this summer season, as displayed in May 2012's "Short Order" or how designers are making a lot of bold risks in recent collections by experimenting with dramatic volume, shapes, and silhouettes as outlined in July 2012's "The New Normal." Her editorials aim to tell a cohesive fashion story, but it tells it with an additive dose of fantasy, romanticism, and whimsical touch. Take April 2012's "Checking Out" featuring Kate Moss for example. On face value this Style Essay and its accompanying stories informs the reader about the upcoming renovations at the Ritz in Paris and the editors' nostalgic experiences in this famed hotel. But the spread is not just sixteen pages of pictures of an old and historic hotel in France, but rather it's filled with images of Kate Moss clad in the latest couture collections. I mean, what's more appropriate than having Kate Moss dressed in a black Chanel Haute Couture embroidered organza flower coat and pumps in the Imperial Suite where Karl Lagerfeld presented his 1996 couture collection, while simultaneously having the room littered with Chanel boxes in varying sizes??? I can't think of one. Not only do these images portray such a wondrous fantasy, it's almost a piece of art that you want to frame and hang up on the wall. It makes you feel this certain passion and beauty that you can't really put into words, or at least that's how I often feel. It's iconic for a reason.
Other times, some of Grace's editorials touches on current events like the new exhibit at the MET called "Impossible Conversations" in May 2012's "Talk to Her" in which the museum exhibition explores the uncanny resemblances between two designers' work, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada -- despite the fact that both are from two completely different eras (Schiaparelli during the time of Chanel in the 1920s and Miuccia with her current collections such as Prada and Miu Miu in present day.) Sometimes the magazine will even feature an actor, actress, or other artists (not to be confused with the cover story) and integrates that story with one of Grace's famous Style Essays. This particular feature usually pairs such artist with a model to tell the fashion narrative, in which this case May 2012's "Modern Times" has actor Michael Fassbender posing alongside Natalia Vodianova in fall's latest collections. Albeit, May is a summer issue and it is a little too warm and a little too early to show Fall trends (especially those Givenchy boots, but still.. *swoon), but this is the fashion industry we're talking about. In fashion, it's always about what's next and it's constantly moving forward -- I mean the Spring/Summer shows are in the fall (September Fashion Week) and the Fall/Winter shows are showcased so close to spring (February Fashion Week) for chrissakes.
However these images make you feel and whatever your philosophy is on the subject of fashion and trends, if you have learned anything new at all or even felt a little something while getting lost in one of Grace Coddington's famous editorials and features, I personally think, that that speaks volumes as to the impact of this iconic magazine and perhaps Grace. It can be easily argued that all of this is very melodramatic. But I'd much rather be dramatic and passionate about something that's meaning to me than not. Keyword: me.
April 2012: Checking Out
Fashionable guests recall the glory and glamour of the storied Ritz Paris, which, before closing its doors for renovation, hosts Kate Moss in haute couture one last time.
Photographed by Tim Walker
May 2012: Modern Times
The utilitarian city wardrobe gets an artistic reimagining (and a dash of 1920s utopia) on model Natalia Vodianova and actor Michael Fassbender.
Photographed by Craig McDean
May 2012: Talk to Her
The Costume Institute's spring blockbuster exhibition, "Impossible Conversations," explores the striking parallels between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.
Photographed by Steven Meisel
May 2012: Short Order
With mercury rising, so too hemlines, as shorts are fast becoming a city wardrobe staple.
Photographed by Steven Meisel
July 2012: The New Normal
Sarah Mower makes sense of fall's outsize shapes, outrageous volumes, and over-the-top attitude.
Photographed by David Sims