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State of Grace

After working as a stylist for more than 30 years, concocting some of the most iconic images in fashion, Grace Coddington is finally ready for her own close-up.

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Perhaps that old adage about never working with animals and children didn'tmake it to the fashion world. Or perhaps the fashion world, typically willful, just chose to ignore it. Whatever the case, the creative director of Vogue, Grace Coddington, and photographer Arthur Elgort seem blissfully unworried as they corral four children under the age of 12 and one palomino into their remake of Annie Get Your Gun. Re-creating theWild West at an East Hampton horse farm, Vogue's version of the musical stars models Carmen Kass (as Annie Oakley) and Patrick Sullivan (as Frank Butler), a Buffalo Bill look-alike (whose method acting extends toturning up in an Annie Get Your Gun T-shirt, circa the Bernadette Peters years), and racks and racks of Ralph Lauren clothes.

It's only eleven in the morning, but already the heat is fierce. Coddington-- the British model who swung with the best of 'em in sixties London before becoming the fashion world's best-known stylist (Vogue editor Anna Wintour calls her "our jewel in the crown") -- is in her element. "This is the kind of story I love to do," she says, taking shelter under a canopy.Coddington is dressed in white shirt and pants accessorized with flat Prada sandals and an Hermès fishing hat, which shields her alabaster skin andTitian hair from the sun. She sits furiously sketching out the story in her notebook while Elgort nibbles at slices of watermelon. "We're aiming toshoot at Gary Cooper time," he says, sinking his teeth into the fruit. "High noon."

The door of the location van swings open, and Carmen Kass swaggers out in afringed skirt, cowboy boots, and a ten-gallon hat. Elgort gives her the once-over. "Who would have known that a girl from Estonia would be playing Annie Oakley?" he asks. Sullivan trails after her, wearing a shiny vintage Western suit whose provenance suggests San Antonio rather than Savile Row."Man," he says, mopping his brow, "you can tell this is made of polyester."

By now, all of the assembled cast -- Kass, Sullivan, the kids, and the horse-- are being arranged for a group shot. To get everyone in the mood, Betty Hutton and Howard Keel are belting out the score's finest moments from thesound system of an SUV parked nearby. Elgort calmly moves around trying tofind the best light while Coddington keeps one eye on those being photographed and the other on Elgort. "Have you changed the camera?" she asks as he clicks away. "No, no, no," he says, straightening up. "We've got the shot. It looks beautiful."

Getting the shot is everything in the fashion world, and it's something thatGrace Coddington has always been pretty adept at. How adept is best judged by taking a look at her forthcoming book, an outsize tome titled Grace:Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue, which samples some of the visualtreats she has concocted in her 30-plus years as a fashion editor. In addition to Arthur Elgort, just about anyone who ever picked up a Hasselbladin the name of fashion is represented: Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz, Ellen von Unwerth, Steven Klein, Helmut Newton. The result is an amazing narrative of fashion over the past four decades, everything from Newton's images of louche seventies poolside parties to Weber's turquoise-and-petticoats visions of the American West in the eighties right through to Leibovitz's quintessentially nineties cocktail of fame and fashion, starring Puff Daddy, Kate Moss, and a gazillion dollars' worth ofhaute couture gowns. And all of it was styled by Grace Coddington, the woman who has done more to create the template for the contemporary-fashion story than anyone else in the industry.

The book will be released on September 15 by Editions 7L, the publishing company co-owned by Karl Lagerfeld. Coddington has already been fêted with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the CFDA in June, and with a party at Lagerfeld's gallery on the rue de Lille in Paris during the July couture shows. This latter shindig preceded an in time dinner for 60 at the designer's Left Bank apartment, where Lagerfeld tangoed with Oscar de la Renta, and Manolo Blahnik got on the dance floor despite an injured leg. Blahnik, a friend of Coddington's since their days together as members of the London jet set, snapped up six copies at the party and calls it "the best fashion book ever." (Despite his reservations about its size: "It weighs kilos. It's not what I'd call light.")

It's also a book that may help answer that million-dollar question: What exactly does a fashion editor do? "They all ask me that," Coddington says with a sigh. She has invited me over to her office, on the twelfth floor of the Condé Nast building in Times Square. She shares it with her assistant, Jessica Diehl, framed images from previous shoots stacked on the floor, and, on her desk, a fifties-retro cat lamp -- an indication of herlove of all things feline (she has four Chartreux cats) -- that she picked up in the Hamptons for $20. "Of course, choosing the clothes to shoot ispart of it, but it's also much more than that," she says. "It's playing witheveryone's personalities and making sure that everything is jelling. When I'm on top of a mountain with a photographer who doesn't want to shootsomething because it doesn't look sexy, and the magazine wants it in the issue -- at that point, I'm the one who has to keep everyone motivated."


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