"At this point, I wouldn’t call myself a stylist. I’m working on campaigns, but it’s more than just styling. Rather than just putting clothes on the girls, I’m focusing on the overall direction of the campaign. When people think about my style, I think they see that I put a narrative into the story. Because I like to put things in a place—a dress needs a situation. Everything is lifestyle, but an enhanced lifestyle at the same time. It’s always a romantic vision of life.
[I went freelance] when a friend of mine, who I had worked with, asked me, ‘Don’t you want to do some new projects?’ I didn’t really know because I was still full-time at Vogue. And then she asked me, ‘Would you like to do a perfume?’ So I said yes, and we started going around to all the places to try and sell the idea. Everybody seemed very interested, but it was looking like a very long process. I kept saying, you know, ‘Don’t make it too long, because I’m quite old! I want to be around when it comes out.’ There was always another meeting and someone else to meet, so we started to get disheartened. At one point I said, ‘I’m going to call up Adrian [Joffe] at Comme des Garçons.’ He’s a friend of mine, and he just happened to be in town, which was fantastic, because he’s not often here. He said, ‘Oh, come ‘round now. Yes, I’ll do it.’ Even on the phone, he said, ‘I’ll do it!’ To work with someone that’s so spontaneous is really extraordinary. He was very excited to do it, and it kind of sprang from that.
When we started working with the nose on Grace by Grace Coddington, I said I wanted something pure. I love the smell of roses, but I’ve gone through so many perfumes that just cling and make you feel claustrophobic. I like something that’s fresh but still smelled of roses. The first fragrance I wore was from Floris, just a very light toilet water—I like the old-fashioned-ness of it. And then I had a Calvin era...he brought me to America, so I wore the first Calvin Klein fragrance for a while. But that’s a little strong, and I hate strong things. More recently, I wore the Hermés Rose Ikebana. I love the Hermés perfumes. I think they’re amazing, really amazing. So that’s my history and what we were working with during the two years we developed the scent. That said, I wouldn’t say I’m driven by scent… I mean, I’m very aware of smells—usually bad ones! I choke on candles. Air fresheners are the worst!
There’s a funny story from when I was younger—I had this boyfriend and I guess I was 14 or something, and I had an older sister and I kept saying, ‘Oh, I’m so in love. I’m so in love.’ And she kept saying, ‘Has he kissed you yet?’ And I’m like, ‘What’s that? What’s that?’ And she says, ‘Well, you know, if you make yourself more attractive, I’m sure he’ll kiss you. You should put some lipstick on.’ So she lent me her lipstick. It was probably 1955, something like that. So the color might have been something like a pearlized pink. Anyway, I put this lipstick on, and my boyfriend arrived at the door, and I got my first kiss. And I fainted! I was so working myself up for it that... I mean I didn’t completely go unconscious, but weak at the knees. I felt that was fainting. But lipstick did the trick for me, obviously!
I really learned about makeup when I went to model school. In those days, one used to do one’s own makeup as a model. I mean there must’ve been makeup artists, I suppose. What they taught was very basic, you know, blue eyeshadow, pink lipliner... It’s not like you were being taught by Pat McGrath or someone. For shoots and shows, you did your own hair, you did your own makeup, so you were taught how to do a chignon and how to curl your hair, how to backcomb your hair. And then for advertising, you brought your own shoes and jewelry and stuff like that. And I was quite popular because I always had the latest Paco Rabanne earrings or whatever. And I always thought I wore much less makeup than other girls… Because part of that revolution from the ‘50s into the ‘60s was to wear much less makeup. Still, compared to today, it’s a lot of makeup. The things we did were all those little painted spikes around the eyes… ‘Twiglets,’ whatever they’re called, that Twiggy did. But we did them first because we came before her.
When I stopped modeling in ’67, I really didn’t wear any makeup at all. If I went out, there were no red carpets, so you weren’t really photographed. I would get dressed up to go to a club. There was a great one in London called the Ad Lib. And everybody went there, and you danced alongside the Beatles and the Stones, and it was really cool—but I would wear, you know, three layers of false eyelashes and stuff like that. Stay up all night…
Makeup is a part of my everyday life but I do try to play it down. I wear as little as I can get away with. Obviously if I feel that I’m getting red or a blemish, then I put more foundation on—I’ve been using Chanel foundation and concealer for years—but normally I would try to have no foundation on at all. But the thing is, I have this big scar on my eye because I had a car crash when I was 20, and so I always have to put some makeup to balance it because I had a skin graft, so I have to match it to the other one. The best thing is just to put a lot of foundation on the other eye because the skin around your eyes—or around mine anyway—tends to be dark. Otherwise I don’t mind black rings under the eyes, but when you put cover-up in one place, you feel like you have to put it everywhere to even it all out.
My favorite lipstick is one that’s discontinued—Sebastian Trucco Stain Sheer 76955. It feels like a lipgloss but looks like a stain because it’s sheer and moisturizing but has color. And I put it on quite thick. And then I also use the Dolce and Gabbana Classic Cream Lipstick in Ultra. The texture of it’s really nice. And then I think I had one mascara that lasted me 35 years, and I preferred it in the end because it dried up!
I never did anything at all [for my skin] until very recently, actually. As I got older, my skin did get drier. But I also started dealing with rosacea a couple of years ago, which is just a nightmare. I look like I’m blushing all the time—and sometimes I am. But sometimes I’m actually not. I’ve taken medication for it, but I’ve also tried laser, which can work, but afterwards, your skin gets even more sensitive. There’s a good and a bad side to that.
Sun is also something I have to be careful about. In summer, I have to wear a hat all the time. And put heavy sun lotion underneath. Three years ago I had a lot of sun damage, so I also had a treatment where you put cream on every day for like 14 days, and then you get a big scab—but afterwards my skin was amazing. My dermatologist is Dr. Orentreich and now most of my skincare is what he sells.
My hair was a series of changes. I was one of the original models for Vidal Sassoon—I had those straight bangs with a ‘W’ at the back, the five-point cut. And he did it on me first and then afterwards he did it on Peggy Moffitt. So Vidal and I were very close. We met because he was one of those London kids that were around with the Beatles and the Stones and all those people that, you know, they all hung together and it was a sort of model-photographer thing that interwove with the music business.
I actually did a whole series of hair shows for him where we toured England in a bus, you know, like a music group! And we were all on this bus and we went from town to town, and it was kind of hysterical, because these crazy shows had local hairdressers that built the most amazing hairstyles that were all completely backcombed so that you could roll around in them and they wouldn’t move. That’s how heavily lacquered everything was. But then Vidal came along, and he was all into cut and the health of the hair, and he had products to help it. And so he could like cut some local girls’ hair, and then he’d show me off and I’d walk up and down the runway and shake my head. It was just a brilliant cut because you could go upside down, go sideways, whatever, and there was never a hair out of place. I mean it was out of place, but it all fit into that geometric shape. It was just so good, so I did a whole series of hairstyles for him over several years.
And, you know, that’s the one thing—I still have quite good hair. You can’t destroy it, it doesn’t matter how much you put color on it, however many years… And I’ve done everything to it. I mean, my mother used to perm it. There was a big hair night in our house once every three months or something. We’d all sit there and that awful smell of perm… For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t put a comb through it. But she did it. We’d sit there at home with those little rollers and then you put this on and there was even a sort of funny dryer that you go under.
The color’s always been pretty red, actually, and I just added a bit to it since the late ‘70s. I started off just by henna-ing it after I got it all cut off. I started growing it, hid it for a while under a hat, then I permed it again. I mean it’s really been through some things… [Now,] it's kind of bristly and dry, but I like it like that. It’s Louis Licari [who colors my hair]. He’s been taking care of me since I came to America. Now, I have to go every two weeks because I’ve got white hair now. I’ve thought about letting it go white, but the process of growing it out is kind of torturous. I’d have to hide for a year. Or I guess I could wear a hat again.
I wash it about once a week because it’s very dry, and actually, it looks the best after two or three days usually. The waves come back. It looks the best if it just airdries, but I’m usually in a hurry and late, so I just blowdry it. And then brush it. Louis just gave me Milbon Deesse’s For Natural Color Design Hair Treatment to use when I do wash it. At the salon, they put it on, wash it off, put it on, wash it off, put it on, wash it off... But it’s not heavy and sticky like conditioner often can be. I use Philip Kingsley Moisture Balancing Shampoo, because at one point my hair was really falling out, so I started going to him, and he’s incredible. Because hair really is so important—I’ve always thought it was the most important part of a photograph. Makes it or breaks it."
—as told to ITG
Grace Coddington photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on April 8, 2016.
More like Grace: Debi Mazar has brow tips in spades, Jenna Lyons loves an orange-red lip, and Donna Karan wants to convert you to essential oils. And read more of The Top Shelf over here.