I didn’t plan to, but found myself reading Grace Coddington’s delightful memoir “Grace” during this most recent New York Fashion Week.
Coddington, you may recall, is the imperious red-headed creative director who didn’t plan to but stole the show from Anna Wintour in “The September Issue,” the 2009 documentary about the inner workings of Vogue as its staff assembles their most celebrated issue.
On the heels of “The Devil Wears Prada,” the documentary made Coddington a household name among fashionistas, recognized in salons, shops, restaurants and the streets of New York City.
Coddington didn’t seek the spotlight, but now sees the delight in it. “…there was an extensive Q and A session with a room full of journalists who kept saying, ‘Oh we think you are so wonderful.’ So I grew to like it…I’m kidding, but it was quite pleasant.”
The younger of two girls, Coddington grew up at the windswept Welsh resort hotel her family owned. World War II ends, her father dies young from lung cancer, books and movies open her mind to a life outside Wales. By 18, she and a girlfriend set off for London, where Coddington quickly became a top fashion model.
It was the early Sixties: models earned two pounds per day, and styled their own hair and makeup. “My bag was huge…I had to drag it everywhere. In it I put all my makeup, wigs and hairpieces, hairpins and hair lacquer, gloves of all lengths, fine stockings in beige and black, safety pins, a sewing kit, false eyelashes, false nails, nail varnish…an apple, a sandwich…a cheap bottle of wine if the shoot went on into the night….stiletto pumps (in) beige or black…costume jewelry… heated hair rollers. You had these if you were madly up-to-date and avant-garde, which I was.”
Coddington’s story is a clear-eyed telling of the lucky breaks she caught, the odd situations she found herself in, her hard work, the car crash that sliced off her left eyelid, her failed marriages, her sister’s decline and death from drug abuse. She smuggles film out of Russia, makes big money working for an American designer, comes home from a far-off shoot to find that her newlywed husband has left her.
In these pages you’ll learn what it is to be colleague and friend to Anna Wintour, Calvin Klein, Bruce Weber and others in the fashion world.
I especially appreciated Coddington’s thoughts on aging well (she’s 71). She’s allergic to the sun, so her ultra-pale skin was spared. Moisturizer, foundation — she has to mask scars left from eyelid surgery — lipstick, hair color and cut. That’s it. “What’s wrong with a few wrinkles, anyway?”
The book is filled with Coddington’s line drawings, as well as photographs from her youth, her modeling days and the fashion spreads she created at British and American Vogue.
In a postscript, Coddington thanks the assistant who urged her to tell her story. I’m glad she did. Hers is a full life, well told and illustrated: the perfect read during Fashion Week. (Thank you, Jeff and Georgia.)