4 Dec 2012

Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington

What’s it about?

Grace Coddington is creative director of US Vogue. Quietly adored by designers, photographers and fashion lovers alike, she won a horde of new fans and mainstream attention in 2007 after her feisty, stand-out turn in R.J. Cutler’s documentary, The September Issue. Grace is her memoir.

From a childhood spent on a dreary Welsh island, to her much-lauded work for the world’s most recognised fashion Bible, Grace charts Coddington’s rise from windswept loner to one of fashion’s most influential women.

What’s to like?

As you’d expect from Vogue’s creative director, Grace is a gorgeous package. In the heavily saturated market of celebrity biography and coffee table beauties, it’s an eye-catching affair: big, weighty and jacketed in vivid orange (a playful nod to Coddington’s unruly ginger mane). The visual treats continue inside, too. Charming hand-drawn illustrations add a touch of whimsy to her tales, and carefully selected photographs showcase her impressive portfolio as top model and genius fashion editor. 

Windswept loner
Why shouldn’t I bother? 

For its size and visual flair, the writing in Grace is disappointingly weak. While Coddington does recount the chance encounters, influencers and hard work that catapulted her to the top of her game, she is extremely light on personal details. Marriages, divorce and a car crash that cost her an eye-lid are dealt with in a tone that is matter-of-fact and devoid of emotion. Even a ‘traumatic’ miscarriage is reduced to a few reserved lines. In The September Issue Coddington is the passionate and oft warm spirit to Anna Wintour’s snow queen. However, on paper, Coddington comes across not entirely dissimilar to her infamously cool boss.

There are some tender moments where Coddington does pause to reflect – the death of her sister, for example, is gently moving as are the words she shares on Tristan, her orphaned nephew who she goes on to adopt. We do catch a glimpse of the naughty Grace, too, when she lets slip a gossipy anecdote about difficult celebs (Madonna) or romances that almost were (Jagger). It soon becomes apparent that while she is sparse on the details of her own life (zipping us through a good seventy years of it!), she delights in casting the spotlight on others, painting some truly memorable pictures of close acquaintances such as Karl Lagerfeld, Calvin Klein and John Galliano. She even dedicates an entire chapter to Wintour, further suggesting that Coddington is far more comfortable sharing stories of her relationships with others than revealing too much of the relationship she has with herself. 

Bruce Weber and his golden retrievers
It sounds like you’re sitting on the fence! Do you like it or not?! 

Grace is less memoir and more gossipy insight into the fashion industry from the 1950s to the present day. Which is fine.  As a fast and colourful history that documents the trends, talents and tantrums from an insider who has pretty much seen it all, Grace really does excel. But for those wanting to know more about Coddington herself and her work, I suggest stocking up on some back issues of Vogue where you’ll get a clearer picture marvelling at the exceptional narratives she creates for its pages.

It does make a stunning coffee table addition though…

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