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Grace Coddington Discusses the 'Instagirls,' Anna Wintour and What's Next for Her Career

Vogue's creative director at large joined British Vogue's Lucinda Chambers onstage at the Vogue Festival in London on Saturday.
Grace Coddington. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Grace Coddington. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

On Saturday morning, Grace Coddington took the stage at the fifth annual Vogue Festival, held before a moderate-sized crowd at the Royal Geographic Society in London, to discuss her career and the many ways the industry has changed since she first joined the fashion world as a model in the late 1950s.

Her talk, moderated by British Vogue Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers, was full of juicy soundbites — among them: "I'm very picky, I don't like compromises on things," and "I have trouble dressing people I don't like" — but also some interesting observations on changes in the modeling industry. "I used to be able to tell [who was going to be a famous model]. I find it more difficult to predict now — now this whole thing is based on how many [followers] you have on Instagram, and not on the person, and that's a world I don't know," she confessed, adding that many of these Insta-famous models, like Kendall Jenner, are already developed before she's able to work with them. "Something about the younger girls a little time ago, when they're hungry — and I don't mean anorexic — then you can develop the relationship. By the time I worked with Kendall [Jenner], she was already really established. I like to grow with them... I don't feel she's part of me, we didn't take the journey together."

Coddington also talked about what's next for her career, now that — as of January — she is no longer the full-time creative director of American Vogue. "I'm keeping busy. I'm still working at Vogue, just not as much, I'm freelance versus full-time. I still get a few stories for them per year," she said. "I'm looking for ideas, if you have any ideas, my agent is here,” she said half-jokingly, urging the audience to also pick up a bottle of her new fragrance and a copy of her memoir at a pop-up across the street.

Here were a few more highlights form her talk.

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On working with young models
"When I worked with British Vogue, it was easier to work with new faces. Nowadays it's more difficult to work with new faces, especially at American Vogue, you don't have time to develop them into strong girls."

On her famous "Alice in Wonderland"-themed shoot with Natalia Vodianova
"Anna said we should do a story on Mary Poppins. I hated Mary Poppins, I thought she was stupid, Mary Poppins," Coddington recalled. "[We] settled on Alice, I got my way, Anna came back and said, 'Why don't you make all the designers all the characters in the book?'" A very good idea, Coddington conceded. "Tom Ford absolutely wanted to be the White Rabbit; I thought Karl [Lagerfeld should be]. Karl didn't want to be, he wanted to be himself." In the end, Coddington said they ended up shooting Lagerfeld separately, and working him into one of the photographs as the Red Queen."Was he mad?" Chambers asked. Coddington: "He never mentioned it."

On being pigeonholed as a creative director
"People have pigeonholed me into what I do is narratives. That's the most fun thing to do, one thing after the other after the other, until the art director comes in [and moves the images around]."

On her best and worst days at Vogue
"I've been working for close on 50 years, so it's hard to remember. I had to say my two worst days were my first days at British and first day at American Vogue, which were so confusing. I had a lot of best days. The best day is when you see a story has gone down to press complete."

On working with Anna Wintour
Near the end of the session, an audience member asked Coddington how she managed to work with someone as intimidating as Anna Wintour. "I'm older than she is," she quipped.

On the relative importance of trends
"I think [when] trends are prominent I think they're just boring. Because it's what everyone does, and I think it's more interesting when you do something everyone isn't."