State of Grace

Juergen Teller
Stella Greenspan
Alix Browne

When I visited Grace Coddington at her office in Chelsea on a rainy January day, I was surprised to be greeted at the door by… a dog. She was very quick to point out that Bob the dog, a 5 month old Maltipoo, in fact, belongs to her assistant, Yvonne. In addition to being a legend in the fashion world on both sides of the camera, Grace is a well-known cat lover; her delightful illustrations of her Persians, Blanket and Pumpkin, have become a phenomenon on Instagram. Pumpkin’s adventures in Hollywood are soon to be explored in a feature film – based on Grace’s 2012 memoir – currently in the works.

AB: It’s a very fortuitousmoment to be talking about cats –as symbols go, they have become quite politically charged. The pink pussy hat is synonymous with the women’s movement.
GC: They’re called pussy hats. Why?
AB: It goes back to Trump’s comment about –
GC: Grabbing a woman by the pussy. Oh! I didn’t see the history of it.
AB: Were you political at all in your youth? Or are you now?
GC: I don’t really like talking politics, but I’m quite happy to post a few things on Instagram. I drew my two cats as Mrs. Clinton and the then Mr. Trump. Everybody was upset for poor Blanket who had to be Trump because he’s the boy. And then I did them at the march. I got a lot of responses. I got a lot of likes. I also got a lot of hates. The strange thing is that the people who hate write reams and reams and reams and the people who like just say, ‘Great,’ ‘Love it!’ or something like that. The hate is so deep. It’s really incredible.
AB: And all you were doing with that post was encouraging people to vote.
GC: Yeah, but people were just assuming. Let them assume – it’s fine with me. So my next post was “I’m with her.”
AB: Is Pumpkin a sort of alter ego that allows you to express things that you might not otherwise be able to?
GC: Kind of. I’ve always used the cats in my relationship with Didier. If I want to tell him something difficult, I say, “Pumpkin really doesn’t want to go to the country this weekend.” We both do it. He says, “Blanket’s decided that we are not going to come home from the country on Sunday night, we are going to stay until Monday” – which he knows is going to annoy me, because I have to be in the office on Monday. So yes, Pumpkin and Blanket are the spokespeople.
AB: Are they outspoken in their opinions on fashion? I would imagine that working for Vogue, one isn’t always free to speak one’s mind.
GC: One can’t. Pumpkin has to be a Vogue person so she can’t really take sides or say something rude about a collection, because it would reflect badly on me somehow. Not that we say bad things. We’d rather say positive things. People put a lot of work into a collection. Having briefly worked on that side at Calvin Klein, I know what it’s like. If you don’t get it right, it’s sad, but you don’t want to be whacked on the head.
AB: In other words, cattiness doesn’t have a place in fashion.
GC: No, Pumpkin is not catty.
AB: We should look up the origins of the word catty. Why catty and not doggy?
GC: I suppose cats have that look on their face, like.. “Really? Seriously?” They have that look all the time.
AB: They haven’t mastered the Front Row Mask.
GC: No. They have not. [Laughs.] Exactly.
AB: In the August 2008 issue of American Vogue, there was a story starring Karen Elson and shot by Steven Meisel that you styled. Karen’s red hair was all teased out and she was surrounded by cats. The reference was unmistakable, but in case you didn’t get the hint, the story was called Graceful Elegance.
GC: There are two ways to look like me. One way is to carry a cat under your arm, and the other is to wear a red wig. Karen didn’t need the wig. And we got the cats from the same breeder I’d gotten Pumpkin from because Pumpkin does not like to be photographed. She absolutely hates it. Well, she doesn’t mind if I photograph her – or Didier. But she does not like strangers, not even Steven Meisel who absolutely loves cats.
AB: I can imagine your cats have had many opportunities to be shot by some of the greatest photographers in the world.
GC: They’ve had offers. But they normally don’t take them. My cat Bart was photographed by Annie Leibovitz. She’s not a cat person. I chose Bart because he was the most tolerant to outside people, but Annie expected him to be able to do exactly as he was told. She said the editing was incredibly difficult, not because of me, but because of the cat.
AB: Being able to navigate all the personalities in the fashion world and to get your own way must have served you well throughout your career. That strikes me as a very feline trait.
GC: Is it?
AB: Well, if you look at Bart not bending to the will of Annie Leibovitz. I don’t think very many humans have ever succeeded in that.
GC: I hadn’t thought of it like that. No, I don’t bend to people very easily. It is a battle of wills always. I always remember one of my school reports said, sarcastically, I had a sweet way of getting my own will. So I guess it dates back.
AB: Did you have cats growing up?
GC: No, but there were a lot of feral cats around where I lived, which I would go and try and play with, rather unsuccessfully. We had dogs – a Scottie and a Yorkshire terrier.
AB: When did you get your first cat?
GC: I had a couple of bad attempts when I was still modelling. A boyfriend gave me two cats. But they were Siamese and very neurotic. So that didn’t work very well, because I was always traveling. I had another one that I rescued – a teeny kitten. It was too young to be without its mother and it died two days later. It was quite a long time after that before I had a cat again. I guess I didn’t get another one until I got married – for the second time. My first husband was allergic to cats.
AB: I guess you could have predicted that marriage wasn’t going to last!
GC: [Laughs.] It should have been a warning! My second husband liked cats. We had two British Blues, Brian and Stanley. I got them in the break-up. But one got run over and the other one kind of died of a bro- ken heart. And then I had two Tabby cats, Maureen and Doreen. When I was thinking about moving to America I left them with a friend. He absolutely loved them. In the end, I didn’t go back to England and my friend kept the cats and they lived to a ripe old age. When Didier and I got together, I had Coco and Ari. I found them at a cat show. They were Chartreuse, which is the French version of a British Blue. A year later, I got Madame Gres, who we called Baby. She was always the baby and she always ate too much. She died very suddenly, at 9, of kidney failure. I got Puff, I’m ashamed to say, from a pet store. But he was in the window, and he’s a red-haired cat. He became the alpha of the family. He was an amazing cat, very strong willed, very independent.
AB: Karl Lagerfeld has become something of a cat person.
GC: Yes. You know if you can’t get Karl, and you desperately want some information from him, I text him a cat picture and he responds immediately with some picture of Choupette. It’s crazy, our text conversations. He sends me all these pictures which are really nice. And then I send him pictures of Blanket, he’s the latest one. I got him when I lost Bart.
AB: How does going to a cat show compare to going to the fashion shows?
GC: Oh, it’s much better! [Laughs.] You probably haven’t been to a cat show, but they are really crazy. In a dog show, the dogs walk around the ring and things like that. In a cat show, they have all the cats in rows in their little boxes, and they call your name and you have to take your cat up to exhibition 56 or whatever, where they are showing Persians, and then the judge takes them out of their cages one by one and inspects them. 
AB: So they don’t have that runway moment like in the dog show?
GC: No, they don’t. I guess dog people are crazy too, but cat people are very crazy. The cages are all decked out. Sometimes they have four-poster beds with leopard pillows on them and satin curtains – it’s just insane. 
AB: Do you have any special décor for your cats?
GC: They do have a Louis Vuitton blanket. It dates back from a time when Marc was at Vuitton. It was very very cold and they gave out this miniature blanket for everyone at the show to put over their laps, particularly people in the front. It didn’t work as a scarf, but it was perfect for a cat basket. 
AB: Has Bruce Weber photographed cats that you know of?
GC: Yeah, in fact, he found two kittens, I think they wandered into his garden in Miami. He had to bottle feed them every two hours, because they were just a few days old. I think there were three and he gave one to somebody and kept two. And he had to feed them every two hours. I don’t know if it was always him feeding them, but I do know he was tied to his house for some time feeding these little things. I haven’t met them. That was last summer. But he had Station Wagon and Chevrolet when I first met him and they were very independent cats. He used to take them everywhere, to the Adirondacks and they would go in the woods. It’s amazing they weren’t taken by wild animals. Even in Long Island I’m scared. Although we don’t have coyotes in Long Island, but I’m sure in the Adirondacks they do. But they always seem to survive. And then he had another cat that walked in on him in Miami, called Tyson, after Mike Tyson. He passed away about two years ago. He is more of a dog person, but he’s wonderful with all animals. He’s photographed some of my cats, together with me, or not, as the case may be. 

“I suppose cats have that look on their face, like, “Really? Seriously?” They have that look all the time.”

AB: Can we talk for a minute about your leonine mane? I’m always astounded when I see that famous picture of you with the Vidal Sassoon Five Point haircut.
GC: How I kept it so smooth?
AB: Yes! And what made Vidal Sassoon think you were the perfect person for that precise, geometric style?
GC: It was very early on in my modelling career – very early, in fact, the first few months. That wasn’t the first cut that he did on me. I think I got a lot of jobs to do with hair early on because I have good, strong hair. And somehow I got to Vidal, who was a very key person in London at that time. He did that Five Point cut on me before anybody else. In America, everyone thinks Peggy Moffitt had it first, but I think he actually practiced on me in London. You can get my hair straight quite easily. It’s particularly curly to- day because it’s so damp.

AB: At what point did your red mane become a signature?
GC: When I stopped modelling, I wanted to grow my hair long again. I didn’t want to go near a hair dresser, so I wore a hat for two or three years. Or a scarf wrapped like a turban. Otherwise I might look at it and say, it looks so bad I have to trim it. When I decided that I would show my hair again, I also decided to give it a little boost of color. I hennaed it and I permed it. I guess I didn’t think it was curly enough. It was a huge afro, that, for the first week, you couldn’t put a comb through. And then it relaxed slowly. And I lived with that for a while. And then I got lazy with the perming. And then it was just red. I dyed it white blonde briefly after my marriage broke up, just to see if blondes had a better time.
AB: And do they?
GC: Not really, so I went back to red.
AB: What’s up for you next? Any projects on the horizon?
We have lots of projects, but they all seem to be going nowhere. One that I’m very keen on is to do an animated film of The Catwalk Cats. We’re coming along with it. We’ve done our treatment for it. I have a producer.
AB: Who will do the voices of Pumpkin and Blanket?
GC: We haven’t gotten that far, but hopefully it will be famous people, if we can persuade them. The film is along the lines of my life. It’s about Pumpkin going to Hollywood. Although she goes a bit further than I did in that she starts off modelling and then she gets all these film offers from people like Baz Luhrmann and so on. That’s where it is now. But maybe she won’t get an offer from Baz Luhrmann, if he doesn’t want to be in the film [Laughs]. We’ll see!
AB: Wes Anderson!
That would be great!
AB: Let’s put some namesout there!
I thought Sofia Coppola would be a good one because she’s fashion. I love that idea. And then they go to Hollywood. Right now, in the treatment they have a kind of weird experience of Hollywood.
AB: Is there an unweird experience of Hollywood?
GC: Exactly! It’s the experience that I’m having! My memoir is also supposed to be made into a film and it’s been 5 years talking about that already. Hollywood is so slow. No one can make up their mind.
AB: You’re used to fashion. I don’t know about you but I think fashion spoils you.
GC: It spoils you for everything else! It does. For my memoir, I’m working with A24 who are a fabulous company. They’re very young and they’re in New York, which already makes them better. But we haven’t gotten anywhere yet. We’ve got a lot of people who have shown interest but then they get some other thing that they find more fascinating so they drop me like a hot potato.
AB: Aren’t cats a little bit like that?
GC: Yeah. That’s the trouble with being a catty person. But I keep saying, you better hurry up. I’m not getting any younger! Hopefully, I’ll be able to go to the premier of one or the other.
Grace is wearing a vintage dress from Early Halloween
Photography: Juergen Teller
Styling: Stella Greenspan
Words: Alix Browne
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