The tectonic plates of fashion are shifting.
Donna Karan left the company that bears her name. Ralph Lauren stepped up to become chairman and relinquished the chief executive title at his company. Harold Koda, the curator in chief of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, passed the reins to Andrew Bolton. And now Grace Coddington, the 74-year-old creative director of American Vogue, the yin to the editor Anna Wintour’s yang, and an accidental celebrity since the 2009 documentary “The September Issue,” is dialing down her role at the magazine. She will, said a spokeswoman for Condé Nast, which owns the magazine, become “creative editor at large,” doing “several” articles a year for the glossy and exploring outside opportunities.
Though Wednesday’s announcement was a long time coming — in
a 2014 interview for The Financial Times, Ms. Coddington said, “I’ve been saying, ‘I’m going to leave tomorrow’ for the last 10 years” — and though Vogue says it has no immediate plans to replace her full time, it is bound to shake up the industry for a few reasons.
First, because it signals a potential change in direction at the most famous fashion magazine in the world, one that has not had real movement at the top for decades. (Ms. Wintour has been editor in chief since 1988, the same year Ms. Coddington took her role; Phyllis Posnick, the executive fashion editor, has been with the magazine since 1987; Tonne Goodman, the fashion director, joined in 1999.)
Condé Nast has been in a relatively turbulent state for the past few months, as it wrestles with the relationship between the print and online worlds, with longtime editors such as Linda Wells of Allure being replaced and with the closing of magazines such as Details. As the company’s artistic director, Ms. Wintour is involved in all such decisions, and her moves when it comes to the company’s flagship (and her own magazine) will clearly be seen as indicative of wider future editorial strategy.
And third, because Ms. Coddington was a great celebrator of the fantasy of fashion: its power to transport and transform.
She was less interested in the commercial side of the business and had almost no interest in the digital side of things, eschewing computers and email. She favored models over celebrities (though she did style the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Vogue cover), and she was clear about designers she revered and those she did not — all reasons she and Ms. Wintour were such good sparring partners.
It was the tension between her love of fashion as an art, and Ms. Wintour’s practicality and interest in its functionality, both as a business and in her readers’ lives, that was a large part of making Vogue, and the movie about it, so compelling.
They will still exist, of course — just in a less present form. And Ms. Coddington isn’t exactly going gently into that good night. She is creating a perfume with Comme des Garçons, due out in April (though Ms. Wintour only sporadically attends the Comme shows, Ms. Coddington has been a committed fan). She is doing another book on her work at Vogue (her 2002 opus, “Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue,” weighs 10 pounds, contains 400 pages of shoots and
sells for up to $2,450 on eBay for a signed copy). And there is a film about her 2012 autobiography, “Grace,” in the works. She’s realizing her own brand potential.
As she said in an
interview with the industry website Business of Fashion: “I’m not running away from Vogue, because it has opened so many doors. But it will be nice to collaborate, and nice to go out (and) give talks to people. It’s just another approach. I’m certainly not going into retirement. I don’t want to sit around.” She will keep an office and an assistant at the magazine.
On a more abstract level, however, Ms. Coddington’s move, along with Ms. Karan’s, seems like the beginning of what could be a long chain reaction of a generational shift in fashion. It has been, for an industry that celebrates youth, a strikingly mature sector, with the greatest power concentrated in the hands of the same people for a very long time. Change, when it comes, will have a cascade effect.
Speculation about what might happen with her former job — a key title at many magazines — will now join speculation about who will get
Raf Simons’s job at Dior and who will get Alber Elbaz’s job at Lanvin. It’s going to be an interesting fashion season.
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