This Is Tiffany
Legendary Style creative partner Grace Coddington sits down with Penny Martin to talk about her work with Tiffany and her creative evolution.
By Penny Martin
Above: Photograph by Craig McDean.
As a model in 1960s London, Grace Coddington was required to bring her own jewellery to shoots. Selecting and styling it on other women therefore came naturally when creating extravagant fashion tableaux for British and then American Vogue magazines, where she went on to become the world’s most recognized fashion director. Joining Tiffany as creative partner last year afforded the revered 75-year-old an opportunity to revel in the more intimate pleasures of portraiture, with its power to unlock the unique character of the tiniest accessory. Jewellery should be personal, believes Grace, and an exquisite piece demands close-up attention.
Photograph by Willie Christie.
Penny Martin: To a British woman—you’re Welsh, I’m Scottish—Tiffany seems the quintessence of American style and aspiration.
Grace Coddington: Yes, I do think of it as particularly American, the Tiffany dream. My opinion of the company was formed long before I came to live in New York in 1987. I never used to holiday here but when I was working at British Vogue at the start of the 1980s, I was one of the first fashion editors to travel over for the New York collections shows. This was before everyone did that month-long trip to New York, London, Milan and Paris, and that’s when I first became aware of all those American designers, like Calvin Klein who I later went to work for. I veer towards that kind of modernity, which is how I think of Tiffany: timeless but also modern. That really appeals to me.
PM: Did you own any?
GC: I bought my first Tiffany pieces on one of those trips, the little Teardrop earrings and necklace by Elsa Peretti. I really treasured them.
PM: I see you’re still flying the flag, 35 years on; are those Tiffany pieces you have on?
GC: Yes. This one is last year’s Christmas present, a little link bracelet of tiny Ts from the Tiffany T collection; and this is this year’s, a Tiffany T bangle. Both are in rose gold, which I like very much, and both are from my boyfriend, Didier. But in general, I’m not known to be laden down with accessories. I dress in quite a spare way. In my work, maybe I’ll occasionally include a lot of silver chains or something, but that’s rare. I like jewellery that’s personal. Most of the pieces I own were left to me by my grandmother or given to me by my parents.
Grace Coddington and Lady Gaga photographed on set by Hanna Besirevic.
PM: Lucky you! Did your mother wear fabulous jewellery?
GC: We weren’t a rich family when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s; we were actually quite poor. In fact, my father was always pawning my mother’s jewellery. He’d give it to her one Christmas and then pawn it the next. Looking back, I never think of her wearing much but she had a few lovely pieces, some of which I’ve inherited: little brooches—one in the shape of a pheasant, and a cluster of diamonds with an emerald in the middle. There are rings. Her collection was quite sparse.
PM: Did you fantasize about those pieces being yours one day?
GC: I don’t remember wanting to try them on. They were such a part of her. And I can’t say I dressed like my mother. She was always neatly turned out and had a bad habit of knitting everything. To avoid wearing her knitted creations as a teenager, I was always trying to emulate what I saw on the pages of Vogue, which I had sent to my home in Wales. Using one of their patterns, I could make a couture outfit. Probably not with the same finesse as in the magazine but I had a go at it.
PM: That pragmatism must have come in handy when you were modeling. I gather in the ’60s models had to supply their own accessories and carry them from shoot to shoot.
GC: Oh yes, I had great costume jewellery for shoots—Paco Rabanne and things like that—all now lost. I forget who broke those.
PM: Do you think the experience of wearing it in front of the camera influenced how you went on to use it as a stylist?
GC: At American Vogue, where I’m now creative director at large, I’m known for creating full-length fashion portraits. With clothes, I like to show the whole look. You can feature a perfectly ordinary dress if you have interesting shoes, for example. But if you crop those shoes out of the shot, you’re just left with an ordinary dress. Of course, the problem with most jewellery is that it doesn’t really show in a full-length picture. And I feel strongly that if you can’t see the fashion, it’s not a fashion photograph. So joining Tiffany last year has been an opportunity for me to rethink how to photograph jewellery.
PM: Hence the lovely big headshots.
GC: Yes, the standard mood shot/pack shot combination doesn’t really work for me—I find most still life photography too cold. If I see a beautiful woman wearing a beautiful piece, it’s that connection that’s going to grab my attention. So in the campaigns we’ve been creating, we’ve been coming in increasingly closer to the model than I would have done previously. It can be harder, zooming into the body, since you don’t have much room to communicate emotion. But each piece of jewellery has its own personality and a good model can reflect that.
Lady Gaga on set with her French bulldog, Miss Asia. Photograph by Hannah Besirevic.
PM: You’ve certainly picked an attention-grabbing woman to interpret the spring campaign.
GC: Yes, Lady Gaga was the perfect person to represent the boldness and sophistication of this new Tiffany City HardWear collection—these designs are inspired by the 1971 “Ball & Chain” necklace from the Tiffany Archives. In the past, I’ve often run away from photographing celebrities; but in Lady Gaga’s most recent incarnation—scrubbed down to her skin—she feels so natural, so real.
PM: Do you think your taste in the women that you cast in stories has changed over the years?
GC: Perhaps. I tend to gravitate towards the more romantic woman because that’s how I see myself, I suppose. I think everyone channels their ideas via themselves. I like photographing redheads, for instance. But fashion changes and women change. Taste changes.
“I’ve always been quite rebellious. I never want to be old-fashioned and left out.”
PM: Can there be such a thing as bad taste when it comes to jewellery?
GC: Too much is bad taste. If a dress is beaded or embellished with jewels, and then you put beads or jewels on top of that, I think that’s overkill. But that said, in fashion rules are made to be broken.
PM: So you don’t hold to the traditions of only wearing your tiara at balls in certain hotels or of avoiding putting on diamonds before breakfast?
GC: Oh, those conventions are very old; they stretch back to the 1920s or something! I once did a story in British Vogue that purposely broke every one of those rules. I guess I’ve always been quite rebellious. I never want to be old-fashioned and left out.