Grace Coddington, who stepped down as Vogue's longtime creative director this year and took on the role of creative director at large at the magazine, is known for her cinematic fashion spreads, impeccable taste and quirky outspoken personality — as seen in 2009's much-beloved fashion documentary "The September Issue."
Now Coddington, who loves cats and has 196,000 followers on Instagram, has added "perfume creator" to her creative portfolio. As her new fragrance Grace by Grace Coddington debuted in April, we caught up with the 75-year-old flame-haired iconoclast to get more details about her latest project.
How is creating a perfume different from styling a fashion shoot?
It adds up to the same thing, really. You're testing and trying and looking at it to see if it pleases you. It's just different materials you play with.
Your fragrance collaborator Comme des Garçons is known for its deconstructed modern clothes and fashion-forward scents that might evoke High Mass in a 14th century French cathedral or the unisex notes of Pharrell Williams' fragrance. How'd you hook up with the fashion label?
Working with big corporations, you visit lots of places and you keep waiting for answers. So after the 10th one, I called Adrian [Joffe, who owns Comme des Garçons with his wife, Rei Kawakubo] and his response was so fast. Things happened immediately. I'm a huge fan of CdG. Their approach is so edgy and interesting, and I wanted to do something different and not be another celebrity doing a perfume.
So your perfume is edgy?
[Laughs] It's actually very classic. I'm quite a traditional, old-fashioned person so I liked the idea of a fairly straightforward rose. Of course, it's got other things in it. But I feel a big connection with roses. I love receiving them. I have roses growing on my terrace. My mother had a little rose garden. We lived by the sea in North Wales and very little grew there, but she was passionate about her roses.
What kind of input did you have with creative director of Comme des Garçons Parfum Christian Astuguevieille?
I kept saying to my nose, "Keep it fresh." I like subtlety, lightness. I hate strong-smelling perfume. A rose perfume may sound very flowery and heavy, but mine isn't. It's got citrus and white musk. We must have gone through five or six iterations. I kept saying, "It's really close. Can we just try it a little more lemony?" And then they send you three new variations. But you have to live with it for a while because it changes on your skin.
How important was the design of the bottle?
I'm very visual. I can't have anything ugly on my dressing table, even if it smells divine. I brought [creative director and friend] Fabien Baron [of Baron & Baron] to design the bottle with me. I thought we could do something that hints at a cat. I have a thing about cats, you know. But I wanted minimalist, not cutesy. It's not got eyes and a nose and whiskers. I didn't want sharp corners. I wanted the feel of a beautiful round pebble you pick up on the beach that has been washed a million times by the waves. The cap grew out of a sketch I drew.
What's your earliest scent memory?
I don't remember my mother having perfumes. Floris Red Roses was the first one I recall. I was 17, living in London, starting to model. I loved going into the Floris shop in London. It was an apothecary with wood-paneled walls and old jars. I bought a bottle and used it sparingly. It was a luxury for me. I wasn't earning much at the time. It was toilet water, and I'd dab a teeny bit behind my ears. It was part of dressing up.
When I started coming to America to cover the New York shows, I wore all things Calvin [Klein]. The first Calvin perfume, it wasn't anything heavy like Obsession. It was quite fresh, almost masculine. Later I wore Chanel No. 19.
After decades on staff at Vogue, you're now the magazine's creative director at large, which gives you more freedom for independent projects. Will there be another Grace Coddington perfume?
I've had about three perfumes in 75 years. Let's see how this one goes.
Grace by Grace Coddington eau de toilette (1.7 fluid ounces $110 and 3.4 fluid ounces $145); available now at gracecoddington.com and Dover Street Market in New York as well as at all Barneys New York stores in the Los Angeles area starting May 4.