Students of the 1960s, will know the very famous photos of the ‘five point cut’ conjured up by top hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. Only a select few however, I’ll wager, would know the identity of the model featured beneath the hair. She was selected for her ‘incredible bones, and marvellous neck’ as Vidal put it at the time.
A few years back I watched the documentary ‘The September Issue’ which looked at the life behind the magazine US Vogue. It featured its then artistic director Grace Coddington. Those familiar with that name will instantly conjure up an image of Grace with her abundance of frizzy orange hair. The film also revealed her previous career as a top model in the 1960s and yep you guessed it loyal reader, SHE was the model beneath the Sassoon haircut.
Grace was born on the island of Anglesey in Wales in April 1941, a million miles away from the world she would later inhabit. As a teen she would devour old copies of Vogue that ended up in her hands already three months out of date.
As a result of her photo being submitted to a Vogue model competition, she won first prize in the Young Model section. Winning that and those infamous Sassoon photos catapulted her into the middle of the swinging sixties storm.
However a motorcar accident aged 26 cut short her career. She suffered head injuries and lost an eyelid, undergoing plastic surgery as a result. But her years as a model, where she often took care of her own hair and make up, and often accessorised the shoot was remembered by British Vogue editor Beatrix Miller who promptly offered Grace a junior fashion editors job once she had recovered in 1968.
That year she also married restaurateur Michael Chow, though they were divorced a year later.
In 1970, as part of her work, she featured a model on the front cover of UK Vogue wearing no make up, a first for the magazine at the time. This was seen as a radical move back then, one that resulted in an outraged postbag of complaints. This would prove later to be the first of many contentious fashion moments to come for Grace.
Despite any of that, she steadily worked her way up the ladder and became a senior fashion editor on the magazine in 1976.
She left Vogue in 1986 to work for Calvin Klein in New York, but was then asked to join US Vogue by its notorious editor Anna Wintour in 1988, and Grace became its creative director.
Over the next 30 years she became famous for her vivid and often-controversial photo shoots. For example Jerry Hall posing on top of a Soviet memorial resplendent in a red swimsuit. So enraged were the authorities at the disrespect shown, they attempted to take the negatives. Grace instead somehow managed to smuggle them out of the country.
Over the years she became well known for her collaborations with celebrated photographers such as Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz and Bruce Weber to name just few.
In January 2016, Coddington announced that she would be exiting her role as creative director at Vogue to pursue other projects.
Among consultancy work for a few select fashion brands, she is now also working as a chat show host in the US
All a very long way from Anglesey I think you’ll agree.
The Mumper of SE5