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Grace: A Memoir
on 26 April 2014
British-born Grace Coddington, creative director of American 'Vogue' became a celebrity almost by accident when she appeared in RJ Cutler's film entitled 'The September Issue', a documentary which was intended to be about the making of the 2007 September edition of 'Vogue', but when the film was released, was more about the dynamics between the legendary and rather daunting editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, and her creative director, Grace Coddington. In her memoir, Grace writes of this documentary in her introduction, telling us that she was in total shock when she saw the first showing, feeling there was way too much of her in the film, and is always surprised that people who have seen the movie, respond to her in such a positive manner, explaining that perhaps this is because people find her a more emotional and spontaneous character than Anna Wintour who, in contrast, she tells us "is by nature much more determinedly and quietly controlled." Having dealt with the film that brought her into the eye of the general public, Grace presents her memoir in a mostly chronological format, starting with her birth in 1941 in Anglesey, Wales, and moving on to her schooling at Le Bon Sauveur convent school in Holyhead, where she wore a grey worsted wool tunic, a flannel shirt and thick lisle stockings, and the nuns spent their lunch-breaks roller skating on a flat roof where their robes flapped about them making them look "like crows on wheels".
At eighteen, Grace left Wales, telling us that if you stayed in Anglesey, you would end up working in either a clock factory or a snack bar, and she arrived in London to attend a two-week course at the Cherry Marshall Modelling School, working part-time as a waitress in a bistro to pay the rent. After entering a competition in British 'Vogue' in 1959, where she won the Young Idea section, Grace tells us that suddenly everyone began asking for her and she was later photographed by Terence Donovan and David Bailey. Nicknamed 'The Cod' (not as attractive a nickname as Jean Shrimpton's 'The Shrimp' she admits) Grace had a special hairstyle created for her by Vidal Sasson, the Five Point Cut, and she goes on to tell us how she and her friends would drink and dance until dawn and then rush off the next morning to another modelling job. However, life was not fun all the way: as a passenger in a car accident during the 1960s, her left eyelid was sliced off ("Luckily they found my eyelashes") and she had to undergo five plastic surgery operations in the following two years; she lost the only child she was ever able to conceive when, at seven months pregnant, Chelsea football fans turned over her Mini and she suffered a miscarriage as a result; and her older sister, Rosie, sadly died from an overdose leaving two small children behind, one of which, Tristan, Grace tried immediately to adopt, but was unable to due to her single status at the time. Over the following forty plus years, Grace married, divorced, met Didier, the man she has now spent more than thirty years with, left modelling and started working for British Vogue; she then worked for Calvin Klein and finally for American 'Vogue', where remains to this day and is still working creatively at the age of 73.
Although Grace Coddington has undoubtedly had an interesting and, at times, a rather exciting life, in common with many memoirs/autobiographies, she only tells us what she wants us to know - which is fair enough, but I do feel that this could have been a deeper and more interesting memoir if we had learnt a little more about her feelings and motivations. Understandably there are areas in her life that the author does not wish to dwell on as they are most probably too painful to revisit, but I was a little surprised that some of the most important and life altering events were dealt with so very briefly. That said, this is a very easy book to read; Coddington writes in a chatty and informal way and for fashionistas and those interested in 'Vogue' magazine, there is plenty to interest and entertain. I must confess that I did not buy this book - it was on the coffee table of a friend I was babysitting for and I picked it up just to flick through the photographs, however once I started reading, I was interested enough to carry on until the end of the book. Attractively presented with almost four hundred pages of text, drawings and scores of beautiful photographs printed on good quality paper, this is one of those books that you can easily dip into, or read, as I did, in one extended sitting.