Grace and style: Vogue, modeling, and memories

In “ Grace: A Memoir,” Vogue magazine’s Grace Coddington reveals that she rarely reads books and, when she does, she prefers the picture va­riety. So how come she has penned an inky, text-heavy memoir of 330 pages? Guess there is lots to tell.

Coddington – famous for her electric-eclectic fashion spreads for American and British Vogue – man­ages to capture the fashion industry’s revolution from the late 1950s to the present day. This is the memoir of a life fulfilled.

The former model achieved ce­lebrity status through “The Septem­ber Issue,” a film documentary about the complexities of publishing the most formidable fashion mag on the planet. A fearless Coddington was the only staffer with the moxie to take on editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, often characterized as an ice queen. She would deliberately sidestep Win­tour’s editorial orders and was not shy with the expletives. Coddington – an artistic soul and romantic – was the yin to business-savvy Wintour’s yang.

And inevitably, Vogue’s success was a chemical reaction to their mu­tual admiration.
She was also a fashion industry traditionalist who eschewed technol­ogy, preferring to sketch out clothing that caught her eye from a seat by the fashion show runway.
Clever headlines and subtitles serve up this life’s colorful chapters: “On Modeling: In which our hero­ine leaves home, lands a job, learns how to walk, runs naked through the woods, and discovers sex,” or, “On the Fashionable Life: In which Eng­land swings, France goes ye ye, mini­skirts rule, discos go kapow, and pop art makes a lovely seat.”

Coddington was born in a sprawl­ing old hotel on the isolated coast of an island off Wales – a homeland that was the template for the creative ge­nius of her fashion spreads, some of which are on colorful display in this memoir.

She devotes one chapter to her “children” – her cats, which she takes on walks and sketches in couture. Coddington confesses that her love for her feline brood is much deeper than her passion for fashion.

Her best friend was Liz Tilberis, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. Tilberis, who died of ovarian cancer, is described as a mover and shaker, mother, lover and one of those rare people embracing life to the fullest. Coddington singles out a chapter for Tilberis in homage to the treasure of friendship and the deep, aching sad­ness of her friend’s death.

This is a solid and satisfying memoir – as entertaining as it is re­flective – and a must-read for clothes­horses from all walks of life.

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