Edward Enninful and Grace Coddington in Conversation

Edward Enninful and Grace Coddington
*Coverage from Edward Enninful's Instagram Live with Grace Coddington on April 26, 2020. This interview has been condensed for readability.*

British Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful played with the position of his phone to get the perfect angle as he started his Instagram Live. The viewers quickly jumped from 200 to over 700 as people tuned in for a much anticipated but short-noticed conversation. Grace Coddington, a legendary American Vogue creative director, would be joining him shortly. Edward gave a few hellos to the people commenting as a welcoming gesture until Grace popped in.

Grace joined the live from her home in Wainscott, New York. Edward began the conversation asking Grace how her lockdown was going. “I’m getting a taste of retirement and its pretty quiet” she said happily and began to talk about the two new kittens she got before the quarantine began. The kittens are as entertaining as the names she gave them. Grace revealed the names Jimi, as in Jimi Hendrix, and Blondie, as in the singer. She also has a 5-year-old cat named Blanket. “I’m afraid to get puppies because Rue isn’t the friendliest at first. But I’d like more” Edward says referring to his dog, expressing that he has thought about getting a puppy.

Grace Coddington's home Grace in her garden at home in Wainscott. Photo from Architectural Digest/Eric Boman, 2018.


The day was gloomy and rainy where Grace was. She said her days follow the weather. When it’s a nice day out she likes to garden in her yard. “Cutting the bamboo down is heavy work. I’d ache like crazy the next day,” she said. But today she is sitting in and being “lazy.” She sarcastically jokes that luckily Didier, her partner, has been cooking. She states “well I’m English and English people usually do not cook, have you been Edward?” “No,” he replied “but I’ve promised myself that I’d take cooking lessons after we come out.”

Edward’s days are much different as the head of a lead fashion publication. He said he is in Zoom meetings from 9am to 6pm. “That’s terrible! But I guess you have a job. I don’t have a job.” Grace jokingly says. “I think God is teaching us a lesson to slow down. I’m not religious but it just makes sense that it’s gotten out of control… I know people who are running around with two phones and plugs in their ears. We go to dinner now and everyone is looking down at phones, working. I tell them ‘put that away!’” she said. “That has become our lives,” Edward agrees.

Grace considers this period as a reset. “I’ve been praying for this moment for the last 15 years, everything has gotten too speedy.” Edward agreed saying the fashion industry has been pushing everyone onto the next thing so quick and that we are constantly pushing ourselves, the shows, and the designers.  “They create a collection ever two months, one overlaps the other. How can you ever think straight doing that?” Grace questions. “I sound like an old person…Back in the day we had two collections a year and I thought that was a lot.” They agreed the industry was being pushed to their own breakdown.

“You’ve got to be of a certain confidence to be pushed like that and then you can go about and organize everything so that it’s all doable. But with these kids you can tell them go do something and they will go and do it.” She said. They agree that now we live in a can-do-everything culture. “Remember at Vogue you use to tell me ‘You’re moving too fast Edward! You can’t do everything!’ In my youth I felt like I had to take every job and do everything.” Edwards says. “I’ve been lucky to pick and choose my assignments,” Grace said realizing her path was very different.

“I sound like an old person…Back in the day we had two collections a year and I thought that was a lot.” - Grace Coddington


Grace Coddington: I remember seeing you at the shows you stand out.
Edward Enninful:  Well there’s not many that look like me, back then anyway. I’ve always loved your work but I never had to courage to come up to you and introduce myself. I was walking down 7th avenue and I got a phone call. I thought it was one of my friends, they said “Hello Edward, its Grace.” I asked who’s this and they said “Grace Coddington, can you come and see Anna?” Do you remember? And when I came to Vogue you were so sweet and you gave me the best advice. And then you sent me off to meet with her.
GC: And I remember telling you to wear high heels and don’t wear black.
EE: I remember meeting with her and making her laugh. And she asked me what photographers do I want to work with and I remember telling her all them were dead. Then we hit it off there…
I remember my first Vogue shoot. There is something called a run-through.
GC: Oh yes, a run-through. You need a run-through even if you’re shooting a sock.
EE: If you all don’t know what a run through it’s when you prep your clothes and put them on the rack and you present it to Anna.
Grace: I remember for me it was always a no, no, no.
EE: My first run-through was a disaster. You and Virginia helped me rearrange the clothes. I remember every day at Vogue watching you, it was amazing. I’d go to lunch and come back and you’d take a room full of clothes down to the most exclusive pieces.


GC: Vogue was an amazing school for me. It was not many people (At British Vogue). Beatrix Miller very much let you have your own head. She wasn’t really a fashion person, she was more so into features but all the designers were her friends. She was also a very shy person, she didn’t do speeches or interviews… I had a dinner for my exhibition at the James Danzinger in Soho and Beatrix flew over for it. I thought everyone should make a speech and I told B, we called her B, and she nearly died at thought of making a speech. So, she wrote it all out in long hand, about 100 bits of paper and she was made to stand up in the middle of dinner and when she stood up her bits of paper fell and went all over. Everybody was feeling so bad for her. But it was ok. She was a great woman and a hell of an editor. It was a very good school, a slow school.  I was there for 19 years. It taught me a lot but when I got to American Vogue it’s as if I knew nothing at all. It shouldn’t look like this is work or that we are advertising this dress. You’d have to do it all subliminally. I couldn’t use garments that weren’t in store but I thought “It really doesn’t matter does it?” But it did.

“And don’t be nice to everybody, not even me because they will stab you in the back! And remember I stabbed you in the back and reshot your story.” - Grace Coddington


EE: There’s a scene in September Issue that I still get emails about it. I’d literally came out of Anna’s office and she had said my rack was no good. And you came out and started putting clothes together and I was not happy at that point. You had said to me “Edward, you’re too nice!... you remember?”
GC: Yes, I said something like “And don’t be nice to everybody, not even me because they will stab you in the back! And remember I stabbed you in the back and reshot your story.”


GC: All sorts of things, occasionally its movies, I go to the movies a lot. But movies are tricky because no one wants to see a shoot after they’ve seen the movie. It only works if you’ve seen a preview. Sometimes when I’m at the collections the inspiration just hits me. You then ask the least likely people to come together for the shoot so it doesn’t look boring… it makes so much difference. Let’s say there is a hairdresser you want, you can’t just use whoever.
EE: I remember you always saying “Stick to who you want, wait for the right person. Quality. Never compromise on choices.”
GC: Yes, because you will always be told to hurry up or “it’s just hair” and it’s not. It’s actually a major part of the photograph. And speaking of film, have you seen Unorthodox?
EE: Yes, I have.
GC: The most amazing and power film. The Israeli girl in it, you should put her on the cover!
EE: Well you should style her then Grace!
GC: Yes, I can do that!
EE: We will discuss that later, you’re not going to get me in trouble!

Vintage Vogue Photoshoot "Gypsy Soul" in US Vogue April 1992, shot by Bruce Weber.


EE: Back to shooting; I came from shooting at Vogue Italia with Steven Meisel. We were shooting 50 pages of stories and covers. Then coming to US Vogue where you had one dress and you had to make a story out of that dress, and a narrative out of that dress. Some of those stories were my favorite but also the hardest. People don’t realize.
GC: And sometimes you had to make that believable. But it’s taught me how to please everybody. How I can please myself, and the editor, and so on.
EE: Do you miss creating narratives?
GC: I keep trying to do narratives but it’s difficult to do. You have to do it in the studio because there is no money to do shoots, and that’s hard to do. I’m more ingested in that than how far should I roll up the sleeve or the collage. I like to do lifestyle but it doesn’t mean boring. You can do lifestyle and it be fun. But I hate over accessorized. You know leg warmers and rubber stockings. In a way its enhanced reality, Beatrix Miller always said that to me. You can wear a little to nothing dress and have big hair. And that’s fun, it’s still lifestyle, just enhanced.


EE: I’ve spent this and every week speaking to young designers and how we can help them. We realized they are all exhausted.
GC: They are probably all exhausted because their brains don’t stop. They should rest, they should take this as an opportunity to reset.
EE: How do you think the industry going to reset? I think we can see what to do as magazines and media.
GC: They were fast becoming not relevant. As you said I think we need to slow down, do less but better, including quality. I’ve said it for 100 years, I don’t wanna do stuff to do stuff. I know Im annoying to work with because I work slower.
EE: No, you’re not.

“It’s important for the personality of the magazine to stay straight for the readers. Readers that pick-up Vogue see themselves in it.” – Grace Coddington


EE: Do you think we are going to go back to small teams? You were saying to me in the 70s, there was just you and a photographer, there were not all these big teams.
GC: Yeah we have to because the money spent on those big teams are ridiculous.  I mean I kept saying this is ridiculous, I could build a house with this. I mean it’s not needed. If you have a lot of people you’re going to need more people to look after them. And somehow it can slow you down because you can move 4 or 6 people but you can’t move 25 ya’ know? I think it has to be smaller teams and people can’t have a million assistants with them.

EE: I’m looking forward to what this world will be when this is all over not just the industry.
GC: I’m looking forward to doing another story for you. I had a shoot lined up but it looks like we can’t use a piece because the designer won’t be selling that collection. I think everyone should make the collections that came down the runway in February and March. They should make those because those are the clothes we will be wearing in December. I mean that’s a part of all of this. Why waste all that energy and creativity from all the shows we just saw and throw them out the window and have to start again from scratch? That’s crazy.
EE: Yeah that’s the more sustainable way.


EE: What advice would you give the stylists today?
GC: Stylists I’d say find another job. I’m joking, I’d say look into film and video and study that more so that than still photography. I feel like that’s where its heading. Look at your career in movies, videos, and stuff like that… I don’t call myself a stylist or a fashion editor. I feel like that is gone, you all are just using freelance people. That’s how identity is lost.
EE: I like using freelancers to get different looks and perspectives but use the same ones for continuity.
GC: I liked being at a magazine and being immersed in that magazine. I’d hope I was a major component in making that magazine good. It’s important for the personality of the magazine to stay straight for the readers. Readers that pick-up Vogue see themselves in it. So, they pick up the magazine to see where they should go next and what they should be doing. If we became rock and roll all of a sudden, it’d be weird.

Grace Coddington style Tami Williams
Tami Williams in Dior Images: Paolo Roversi, shot by Paolo Roversi, 2018. Styled by Grace Coddington.


EE: Who are your favorite five designers dead or alive?
GC: Nicolas Ghesquière, Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs, Sarah Burton, and Rei Kawakubo.
EE: Who are your favorite five models that you’ve worked with?
GC: Karen Elson, Rianne Van Rompaey, Tami Williams, Adut Akech, and Natalia Vodianova.

Grace and Edward end the conversation mentioning how they must shoot together soon. “You better hurry, I’m getting old,” Grace warns jokingly. “Say hello to those babies for me,” Edward says referring to the cats. “Say hello to Rue,” Grace says. And they exit the live with byes.