Grace Coddington. Drawing her notes.

a perspective

The accidental star of RJ Cutler’s 2009 documentary The September Issue spent close to 30 years working at American Vogue, where she remains on the masthead as creative director at large. Behind some of the most iconic imagery in fashion history Grace Coddington has worked with photography greats such as Arthur Elgort, Steven Klein, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Irving Penn, Mario Testino, and Bruce Weber during her time at American Vogue. 

Starting out as a model photographed by the likes of Helmut Newton, Norman Parkinson and Guy Bourdin in 1968, Grace Coddington went on to work as fashion editor at British Vogue for 19 years. She rose to the position of Fashion Director where her long-term working relationship with Anna Wintour began. In 1988, Grace joined Anna Wintour at American Vogue.

A cat owner and lover Grace would often sketch and share depictions of her cats in fashionable situations; like her her old ginger cat, Puff, named after the rapper, front row at fashion week seated next to Suzy Menkes, or her cat, Baby, wearing the tiered wooden skirt from Hussein Chalayan’s Autumn Winter 2000 collection.

In 2018 Nicolas Ghesquière and Grace Coddington collaborated for Louis Vuitton’s 2019 Cruise Collection featuring her sketches of her cats plus Ghesquière’s dog, Leon.

“Some people were surprised at what they saw in The September Issue because I think I had a reputation before for being sort of cold and austere . . but then that movie came along and people saw that I was very passionate.

I’m not very good with words, so I always found it easier to illustrate with pictures rather than with words. [They’re] always been based on real people or real animals—not too much from my imagination. Well, what they do is in my imagination, but the actual cast of characters are always real. 

It evolved when I became a fashion editor and you would see everybody writing notes in their notebook when they went to collections, like ‘pink dress with tall skirts and Balmain sleeves,’ but I never could find those words quickly. So, I started to draw every dress that came down the runway, and continued to do that for close to 50 years. Every collection is in my drawer, with pretty much every dress, and it helps me to remember the collections. I just draw easier than I write words, so that’s why I went there.

I’m a fashion person. I do play with the thing of putting dresses on my cats. I don’t actually put dresses on my cats, and I would never dress them up, they wouldn’t like it—they wouldn’t expect it—but the dresses I draw on them are always actual dresses, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, or something like that. I draw all my favourite designers on the cats.

Once, I was asking Oscar de la Renta to make dresses for me for a story I was doing, and I was trying to describe to him the feeling of the dress. I didn’t want to design the dress for him, obviously because that would have been wrong, but to give him the idea of the kind of style that I wanted. So rather than draw it on a person, as if I was sending him a fashion drawing, I sent him a drawing of the cat wearing the dress, which amused him and he made the most interesting dress.

I love drawing and I’m happy to share [them] on Instagram, but otherwise, I don’t engage in social media at all.

I think those kinds of things have changed the world so that everybody now multi-purposes and multitasks, which makes it hard for people to focus on what they’re doing and where they are in the moment. I think that’s a sad loss in life. You have to live a little bit more in the moment and appreciate and see. It is what I’ve always done in my life, just look at where I am. 

What I really want to do is an animated movie. I’ve been doing little, teeny videos on my Instagram. They’re just so fun to do, and it’s really fun to see my drawings come alive. 

My Instagram is 90 percent drawings, because I just didn’t want to do that normal Instagram thing of showing what everybody’s having for breakfast. I had so much fun doing drawings of just stuff, and then we started doing these videos, actually for the perfume, [Grace by Grace Coddington Comme de Garcon] they’re really cute. 

I’ve been drawing cats for a long time: I did a whole book inspired by my cats, The Catwalk Cats So [for Louis Vuitton] I pulled out their characters again. Baby was always fat, and Henri was always chunky; Coco was the thinnest of all cats, she was Coco Chanel, the fashion cat. They all have their own character, and that’s what I illustrate. I was thinking of myself: ‘What would I want if I were a client?’ For example, I would really need an umbrella in case it were raining cats and dogs … and I was desperate to have a blanket printed with Blanket, my cat. 

I even made a trunk, but it’s a soft trunk that you can lift, and since I love drawing, it contains bags each filled with crayons, and pencils, and paper, all things connected with what I’d like to do if I were to go on a picnic. I have a tablecloth, a few little stools and my pyjamas to wear so that I would be comfortable.

I think that Nicolas thinks I’m eccentric. I don’t know if I am. I don’t think eccentric people ever think they are; they think they’re normal. I think I’m normal.

Image attributions: Photo by Fabien Baron sourced from Photo by Leslie Kirchoff sourced from Illustrations by Grace Coddington sourced from Used under Fair Dealing terms (AU).

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