FROM THE MAGAZINE

Nicolas Ghesquière and Grace Coddington In Conversation

For Louis Vuitton’s artistic director and the legendary stylist, work and play are one and the same.

Photography by Craig McDean
Styled by Grace Coddington

All fashion and accessories (throughout), Louis Vuitton.
All fashion and accessories (throughout), Louis Vuitton.

Grace Coddington & Nicolas Ghesquière first met in 2000, when she was the creative director at Vogue and he was a young designer starting to make waves in the Paris fashion world. The setting: a Steven Meisel photo shoot in an abandoned classroom at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in which Ghesquière appeared alongside other up-and-coming designers who were, as the story’s headline put it, “Changing the Course of Fashion.” Ghesquière remembers, after getting over the awe of finally meeting Coddington, “falling in love right away.” The pair shared a meal after the shoot and have remained friends ever since, collaborating on countless editorials and even on a pet-themed accessories capsule collection for Louis Vuitton.

Coddington, 80, is now an independent stylist, and Ghesquière, 50, is the artistic director at Louis Vuitton. They come from different generations and backgrounds, but their connection is built on an appreciation for fantasy in fashion, a deep respect for craft, and their ability to pull together elements from different time periods, combining cultural references to create images and garments that feel entirely new and original. Ghesquière’s spring 2022 show, with its billowing bolts of velvet and brocade layered over both low-hanging panniers and boot-cut jeans, felt very Coddington in spirit, which is why we asked her to work with Ghesquière on the story you see here. Such a meeting of the minds also begged for a little insider access, so we invited the two fashion legends to discuss their visions over Zoom—Coddington from her sunlit apartment in New York, Ghesquière from his home in Paris.

1/2

Grace Coddington: Your work always has a sense of romance about it. You know that’s what gets me by the heart. It has a touch of being very old, but also very modern, whatever that word means. That’s what’s so clever about your clothes. And I felt that applied particularly to this last collection.

Nicolas Ghesquière: But it’s something I learned from you, Grace! Because who else has done such inspiring fashion stories? They are really about time travel, and are sometimes historical, but never dated and never literal, always on a girl who reflects the current moment. I think it’s something that is absolutely a part of your big contribution to fashion. So this collection feels very connected to your world and your work.

GC: You were inspired by witches and werewolves and things like that. Is that right?

NG: The starting point is never one thing, as you know. There were multiple things going on. One was a project I was developing with the French film director Olivier Assayas. He approached me a few months ago for this series he’s developing for HBO Max, with Alicia Vikander. It’s the story of Irma Vep, a female gangster in the 1920s who is part of a crime ring called the Vampires. She’s a powerful character, and Olivier asked me to dress her for the show. It’s this clash of time periods that I love so much, between today and this historical character that Alicia is playing. At the same time, with the Covid lockdowns and everyone confined at home, dreaming about being able to celebrate, or being with friends and having a good time, I started to imagine what it would be like if Louis Vuitton gave a ball—a dramatic ball in the Louvre. I started to build this scenario in my head of this dark romance, the story of Irma Vep, mixed with the bal des vampires. And then, as always, I layered real wardrobe elements with extreme volumes. Those dresses with crinolines were inspired by the ’20s—they were very Poiret.

1/2

GC: This shoot was the first time I was able to look at these clothes close up. They’re so unspeakably, exquisitely—I mean, they’re amazing. When you run your eyes down each look, it starts off like, god, this is so ’20s, and then suddenly there’s a surprise, and it takes you somewhere else.

NG: But you saw the movement, right? They’re almost done for dancing.

GC: They cry out to have a series of portraits done, like a Victorian portrait on an Irving Penn background or something. But I thought, I can’t do that, because that’s so boring. I hope you like my pictures. I was a bit daring.

NG: That’s what I love about wonderful fashion stories. They show us designers what could be inspiring for the next season. Remember that time before digital? We knew that we were going to find, because of you guys, the step to the next season.

GC: That’s funny, because I always feel it’s the other way around, that it’s you guys who inspire us to do what we do.

NG: It’s a dialogue. I think that’s the most beautiful thing about the work you do: clearly bringing the clothes into a different context and telling a story. And it’s always, for me, something that drives my inspiration; it gives me the desire to do my job. It’s not only doing the clothes and doing shows, it’s also the fact that those clothes will become the subject of fashion stories.

1/2

GC: It’s all very well if the clothes look fancy and wonderful on the runway, but they’ve got to look great in real life too. I often like to walk the clothes in the street, just to make sure that it’s all working. Do you think this collection was a departure from your previous work, or a progression?

NG: It was definitely a break from things I did in the past. But sometimes I really love to dig into the historical. There are cycles, and sometimes it’s also about contrast. The winter collection just before this one was big bubble shapes and very much about today. I also wanted to have a collection that was very embellished, embroidered, and crafty.

GC: Right, you got that, my god. They’re hanging on the rack and they’re all clinging onto each other because of all the embroidery and beads.

NG: Yes. Because it was also a moment to say, Okay, let’s all work together on what we do best in Paris and use the resources that are here—to make beautiful things with this beautiful talent in this industry in a difficult time for so many people. So that was another reason to do something so flamboyant.

GC: I think it’s fascinating to see everybody’s different approaches to having to deal with Covid, and to try and confront the situation in a positive way. If this was just another normal year, maybe you wouldn’t have thought to do that. But one thing the pandemic has done is make us stop and think, which is never a bad thing.

NG: I think there is also a desire for elevation. We’ve been talking about engineered clothes, and I love hoodies, I love sweatpants, I love T-shirts. I’m like everyone. But who’s waiting for another hoodie or another pair of sweatpants with a logo? I mean, honestly. Some people do that amazingly, and I can do some too, and I did some in the past. But please, there is a moment when you’re like, Okay, this is not why I chose to do this job. This is not why I’m here. Doing things that are truly luxurious is very important, especially during the fashion shows. I really need to respond to this desire, and also to the demand. The demand is real. We sell those clothes; they’re not staying on the racks.

GC: Do you dream at night a lot? I’ve started dreaming. It’s really funny. It’s incredible. I have a lot of romantic dreams of beautiful things and beautiful places.

NG: Well, strangely, I think having Covid made me dream more. Probably it was the fever. And I had lots of family dreams recently, I think because I saw my parents just before Christmas. I saw my grandmother, who is 100 years old, so there was a lot of thinking back about family things. We went to this place near where I grew up. It’s a beautiful, massive abbey in the Loire Valley. And it has a unique story. Strangely, this collection is related to that. I realized how much I grew up surrounded by old stone and old castles and old churches. That area is full of them. So, I guess that’s why I’m so attached to those elements.

GC: One’s childhood is a big influence, whether it’s good or bad. For the rest of your life, it’s inside you somewhere. And I’m a druid myself.

NG: I think, probably the more you get old, the more it’s coming back, right?

GC: Definitely. Try being my age.

1/2

Hair by Jimmy Paul for Bumble and bumble at Susan Price NYC; makeup by Francelle Daly for Love+Craft+Beauty at Home Agency; manicure by Megumi Yamamoto for Chanel Le Vernis at Susan Price NYC. Model: Giselle Norman at Elite NY. Casting by Michelle Lee at Michelle Lee Casting. Set design by Stefan Beckman at Exposure NY. Produced by Gracey Connelly; photo assistants: Nicos Kraszni, Guanchen Liu, Shri Prasham; digital technician: Tadaaki Shibuya; retouching: Dfactory; fashion assistant: Conor Manning; hair assistant: Jasia Stewart; makeup assistant: Sam Kettell; set assistants: Henrique Cirilo Neto, Ben Hamilton, Sergio Gutierrez, Nora Bayer.