Grace: A Memoir
Without meaning to do so, Grace Coddington stole every scene she was a part of in the documentary The September Issue, a vehicle that was supposed to show the softer side of the infamous Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, the alleged “Prada-wearing devil.” But as in their collaboration at the storied magazine, Wintour is shrewd enough to step back and let Grace do what she does best: use her 40-plus years of fashion experience within its pages. After the documentary was released, Grace became its breakout star, and soon everyone was clamoring to know more about this enigmatic figure with the flaming red hair who handled each shoot with such care and precision.
This memoir is for those who wondered Who is this Grace Coddington? And for any fashionista, budding or experienced, it reads like a primer for all things haute-couture, street-chic, and everything in between.
But before the red carpets and runway shows, Grace’s journey started off without much fanfare or glamour. Born in the tiny Welsh village of Anglesey, she was raised at her family’s hotel high on a bluff overlooking the sea. Many days saw young Grace and her older sister Rosie riding their bikes into the small town to purchase the latest copy of whatever fashion magazine they could get their hands on. She was clever enough to surmise that if she ever wanted to achieve something beyond village life, she would have to leave Anglesey to pursue her dreams. As soon as she came of age, Grace headed off to London to make her way. Starting off as a young model, she found bookings immediately. Her combination of English rose looks and wholesome accessibility made her a popular choice for photographers, and through careful observation, she was quick to take note what each photographer was looking for and give them exactly that: “The images that stood out for me the most were by Norman Parkinson….I began to recognize his work for its lighthearted humor and irrepressible personality. Parkinson would come to play an important role in my life.”
"GRACE is that rare mixture of beautiful coffee table book, with lush photographs and cute drawings by the author herself, and an in-depth, who’s-who in fashion --- a must-read for any and all fashionistas on your holiday list."
After a devastating car accident, Grace feared she would never work again, but ever resourceful, she just used extra kohl eyeliner to hide the scars around her eyes and continued to earn a living as a model, with the glamorous life to boot. Shoots in Paris, weekends in St. Tropez, romances with prominent and successful men, Grace was living every girl’s dream. But the peripatetic lifestyle was taking its toll on her and her relationships.
When Grace was in her late 20s, a powerful magazine doyenne brusquely suggested, “Grace, you should be a fashion editor. You’re too old to be a model.” Although some might be insulted, Grace knew she had a good eye for details and how to style herself for shoots. Could she parlay that into a career? Brusque or not, Grace took the advice to heart and it eventually led to a junior editorial position at her favorite fashion magazine, Vogue, which would become her true home. Embarking on a new career in fashion, Grace “could realize all my fantasies. Which is why I ended up hoping my years there (all nineteen of them) would never end.” Along with her new responsibilities came invites to all the fashion shows, which were much more about the clothes back in the day. As she puts it, “We weren’t there to be seen or be fabulous. Everyone was kind of anonymous, there to look at the clothes.”
In addition to her keen eye, Grace also possessed an invaluable trait that would help her get far in the chaotic world of fashion. “The more someone gets angry with me, the calmer I become, a policy I have stuck to all my life.” This policy no doubt has come in handy when dealing with her boss, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, to whom she devotes an entire chapter and for whom she has nothing but enormous respect. There might be the occasional editorial disagreement, but Wintour herself has commented, “Grace is the only person in fashion who can actually grind (her) down.” On her boss’s relationship with Andre Leon Talley, Vogue’s famously flamboyant Creative Director: “He was closer to her than any husband, and their relationship has lasted a lot longer than most marriages (especially mine!). It was he who, in a fashion meeting one day, came up with the idea of ‘red-carpet dressing’…”
Never one to mince words, Grace gives her honest opinion of the people she’s worked with over the years: Carré Otis: “…a real pain in the neck”…..Tyra Banks: “…a flash in the pan…she was never cut out to be a serious model.” She has no time for nonsense and respects hard work, real effort and talent. She has overseen some of the most famous and groundbreaking layouts in fashion history. She has worked with and championed photographers like Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, Annie Leibovitz and Ellen von Unwerth, as well as famed models such as Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Karen Elson. All have benefited from Grace's attentive eye for detail.
GRACE is that rare mixture of beautiful coffee table book, with lush photographs and cute drawings by the author herself, and an in-depth, who’s-who in fashion --- a must-read for any and all fashionistas on your holiday list. Quite simply, this is a riveting read of a rich life well-lived --- and so fashionably, too.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on November 21, 2012