I’m sorry to say I only first heard of Grace Coddington while watching ‘The September Issue’, the fast-paced 2009 documentary behind Vogue magazine’s annual September issue- the biggest of the year. Who was this lady stomping about the place, red frizzy hair flying, growling at Anna (quelle horreur!!) who was also the second highest on the masthead of Vogue (the credits page) and arguably the most important person on staff? Grace Coddington, it turns out, is a hidden gem to the public but long known behind the scenes as a (THE) fantastically talented creative director of American Vogue. When I learned that Grace had written a memoir I wanted to read it, but only tracked it down this last year. Behold:
What is a creative editor/director? Basically the creative supervisor for all the fashion spreads who conceives the ‘story’ for the shoot, chooses the clothes, the models, the lighting, the staging, etc. etc. etc. sees it through to its final form ready for publishing; who takes ideas and instructions for implementation from Anna Wintour, the designers, the advertisers, and so much more. I’m sure I’ve woefully understated the complexity of it all.
The best way to get a feel for it is simply to read ‘Grace’ as she takes the reader along for a delightful journey from her upbringing in tiny, wet and windy Wales; to London, Paris, Milan and eventually New York. Grace was born in 1941 and became a model early on, almost immediately coming into contact with the best, brightest, and most talented in the fashion industry. When Grace name drops, it isn’t name dropping. She is actual close and familiar friends – or at least close and familiar acquaintances! with the biggest names of past and present. Karl Lagerfield, Calvin Klein, Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Hamish Bowles, almost anyone you can think of. She even styled Prince Charles, and apparently the styling team nearly ran over the Queen while racing to get a shot of Princess Anne on her horse! These little stories make up the lifeblood of the book, but Grace Coddington the person comes through clear and strong.
The very best part about Grace Coddington I think, is that she has all the experience, taste and friends to be the world’s biggest snob – Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ x 1000 – but she isn’t. Instead she’s humble, delightfully kooky, and down to earth in the most puzzling way as someone who’s entire life is fashion-centric. I actually purchased her memoir after reading it the first time and just finished it again.
‘Grace’ is a story simply told marked by humor, grace (haha) about the bad times, and illustrations of fashionable cats. It’s great fun to read all the behind the scenes anecdotes about very famous photographers (Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton) and realize Grace has been the author of some of the best and most famous shoots in Vogue history.
The charm of its author comes through while not bothering with any themes too deep or dark, or making you think very hard about life and what’s it all about? Sometimes this works in a memoir and this is one of those times.
‘Grace’ leaves nothing out: her childhood, her marriages (firstly to Micheal Chow of all people!), her relationship with Anna Wintour, her travels, and…her hair. I found the whirlwind story of her life fun and inspiring, actually, I hope you do too.
Please comment with any thoughts!