Chapter one of Grace Coddington’s eponymous 2012 memoir features a candid photograph of a young Grace, standing hand-in-hand with her older sister Rosemary in cream knitted separates hand-woven by her mother. The picture – taken in the wild and bountiful surroundings of her family home in Trearddur Bay in rural Wales – is encroached by a large tangle of white hydrangeas in full bloom. “I did love the outdoors,” she writes in the accompanying text. “Right through my teens I was always more outside than in, sailing, climbing and clambering over the rugged slopes of the nearby mountains of Snowdonia, or wandering along our island’s country lanes, their hedgerows dotted with wildflowers.”
Flowers, of all incarnations, have remained a fragrant fixture in Coddington’s romantic and extraordinary vision, best realised in her quixotic fashion stories for American Vogue, for which, until January of this year, she remained as creative director. This spring, however, the flame-haired editor is embarking on style pastures new, and has touched down in London to celebrate the launch of her debut fragrance, Grace by Grace Coddington, at Dover Street Market which distils the delicate yet distinctive scent of English rose. “I am a visual person, and I think I always tend to respond to visuals, almost more so than aroma,” she explains to AnOther, while tracing her fingers around the top of a glass tumbler filled with the Rose Bakery's finest green juice. “But, my first real memory of fragrance was actually in my late teens, when I first came to London and happened upon a shop by the British perfume label Floris. It was such a beautiful environment to shop in, the whole set up was very intricate, and quite classical actually,” she recalls with a smile. “I bought a perfume called Red Rose and wore it often. In those days, 1959 or 1960, Floris was one of the only mid-level fragrance brands available, it wasn’t like now.”
Grace, what does your first fragrance smell of?...
Coddington developed her namesake scent in collaboration with Christian Astuguevieille, the esteemed French nose and creative director of Comme des Garçons Parfum, whom she immediately describes as “extraordinary”. “You know half of his extraordinariness is virtually lost on me because he only speaks French,” she says. “But then again, as a visual person I could feel what he was saying.” The process was relatively quick, taking just over two years to materialise, considering the complexities of the task at hand. “Initially, all I knew is that I wanted to create a scent that was romantic but practical, and not overpowering in any way, as I find that so claustrophobic and cloying. But by talking about my whole history and background, Christian was able to interpret what would work, what I loved beyond the realms of smell,” she notes.
After a brief dalliance with the scent of peony, what clicked instinctively for Coddington was rose – which forms the middle note of the scent –“But not the top,” she intercepts, adding, “the brilliance of Christian is that he infused the rose with other spices such as peppercorn, lemon and mint. He explained that rose alone can be too much, and much like cooking a steak, you have to season it properly with other ingredients to get the desired effect. And, of course, he was right.”
Grace, how does your perfume make you feel?...
Another (more unlikely) source of inspiration for the fragrance stemmed from Coddington’s long-term love affair with cats, which informed the feline silhouette of the flacon she developed with acclaimed French art director Fabien Baron. “Yes, cats inspired the bottle, but not the scent,” she humours, exclaiming, “I would just hate for people to think it smells like kitty litter or something!” Rest assured, the resulting design is comprised of an elegant glass vial, topped with a smooth, rounded stopper that takes the shape of a cat’s head. “Cats just make me really happy,” she enthuses, “We were exploring options for a while, and nothing was quite right, then I simply doodled a very minimal cat’s head, and Fabien he said he loved it. We actually even added a tail at one point [laughs], but I didn’t want it to be cutesy, I wanted it to be classic but contemporary,” she adds, concluding. “So here we are. I believe that things can always be enhanced and improved upon, but I’m happy with the result – besides, I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve yet. ”
Grace by Grace Coddington is available now.