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State of Grace

Winning the contest got her an introduction to photographer Norman Parkinson, who championed her at the magazine (and later acted as her mentorwhen she went to work there as a fashion editor). But her career nearly came to an untimely end when, in the early sixties, she was involved in a car crash in London. As a result of this, Coddington had plastic surgery to graft skin onto her left eyelid, an episode she is reticent about. "Luckily they found my eyelashes," she comments, simply, in Grace. By the time she'd fully recovered, Mary Quant and her mini-skirts were shaking things up, and Coddington was not going to be left behind. "Vidal Sassoon started giving me these geometric haircuts. He was in that very tight circle ofpeople that were happening in London. There was Vidal, Mary Quant, photographers like David Bailey and Terrence Donovan, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones -- and I knew all of them," she remembers. "And suddenly it didn't matter that I wasn't a pretty blonde."

"It's interesting with Coddington," says Vidal Sassoon. (Incidentally, in a groovy throwback to the sixties, he always refers to her as Coddington.) "You take those perfect-looking girls -- Jean Shrimpton, say -- that haircutwouldn't have worked on them. With Coddington's bone structure, and thatsense of herself, she had something beyond beauty." Photographer DavidMontgomery took a portrait of her that resulted in a starkly graphic, almostPop Art image; Sassoon remembers it adorning the wall of the sixties Londonhot spot the White Elephant. It was this photograph that Manolo Blahnikpinned to his wall when he was 16 and "mesmerized" by her. He wasn't alone;most of sixties London was mesmerized, too. "She was a huge celebrity inthat world, an incredible beauty," says Wintour. "I was in awe of her."

Yet she began to feel that it was time to move on. In 1969, Coddingtonmarried restaurateur Michael Chow and went to work at Vogue. Shepartied with the fashionable faces that often ended up in her stories.Sometimes she turned up in the stories herself: "I think I worked withHelmut Newton more times than I did when I was a model." The seventies wentby -- Coddington and Chow divorced, and she married photographer WillieChristie and raised her nephew Tristan after her sister Rosemary died.Coddington experimented with new ideas and designers, becoming what Hicksdescribes as "an international fashion figure -- but one who was still basedin the then very parochial world of British fashion."

That was soon to change. In 1986, Calvin Klein asked her to come to New Yorkto work with him. And her boyfriend, hairstylist Didier Malige, whom she isstill with, was living in New York. "Tristan had grown up and wasindependent, and I was free to do whatever I wanted," she recalls. "SuddenlyI had this offer from Calvin. And I thought, Well, I can stay at BritishVogue for another twenty years, or I can change and see where this takesme." She came to New York in early 1987, and she and Bruce Weber set towork on Klein's advertising. "She worked on some of the best campaigns we'veever done," says Klein, including the original Eternity ads with ChristyTurlington. But Coddington was longing to return to magazines. "In the end,"says Klein, "her passion was for working with photographers and doing herstories."

"I love Calvin," Coddington says. "He taught me so much about living inAmerica. But I missed being all over the place and seeing a lot of differentpeople." Arthur Elgort maintains that Coddington needed to return to being afashion editor because she "likes to sit in the front row and see what'sgoing on. She missed sketching the clothes and dreaming about thefashion."

By this time, it was 1988 and Anna Wintour had been appointed editor of U.S.Vogue. She jumped at the chance to bring Coddington back into thefold. "I was over the moon when she came to the magazine," says Wintour."Her vision was and is very close to mine. We both admired the samephotographers, and we both liked to see a certain romance in fashion stories-- that the model should look pretty and not dour and depressing."Coddington says that her dogmatic nature about what she thinks is rightmeans that before every shoot, she and Wintour "have this game of pushingeach other as far as we can. I do say, 'Why do we have to go through thisevery time?' But it's crucial to do it; it's that process which makes astory work really well."

Coddington's time at Calvin Klein did, however, leave a lasting impressionon her. "I didn't really enjoy the merchandising side of working at Calvin,"she says. "But I realized that if you don't sell it, then there's no pointin making it. Now I feel the same about fashion pictures. I used to say,'Let's just go for the shot -- if it's not right, then at least we'll havedone it.' But if a photo's not printed, it doesn't have any validity. Peoplehave said to me, 'Oh, you're doing a book -- you'll run all the picturesthat never got published.' But you know what? I'm not. I felt that there'ssomething funny about them; I don't remember them at all. You go back tofind the picture that you cared so much about and think, Why did I makesuch a fuss about it?" Coddington starts to laugh. "Then you have toadmit that they were right. Goddamn it."