In revealing the symbiotic and extraordinarily successful working relationship between Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, the 2009 documentary film “The September Issue” catapulted the recalcitrant Coddington into the spotlight.
Coddington, the flame-haired creative director of Vogue, was shown to be the only person fearless enough to stand up to her imposing editor-in-chief as they assembled the weighty tome that was the September 2007 magazine.
Coddington inadvertently became the star of R.J. Cutler’s film, and although she “objected madly” to being featured, it undoubtedly laid the ground for her to pen a memoir.
In “Grace: A Memoir,” the 71-year-old Coddington outlines her 50 years in the fashion industry, first as a model, and then as a fashion editor for British Vogue before she moved across the Atlantic to work at American Vogue in 1988.
A master of visuals, Coddington enlisted her friend Michael Roberts, Vanity Fair’s style director, to help her write the book, and she is at her most evocative when describing her childhood on the island of Anglesey off the coast of North Wales.
“Although it was bleak, I saw beauty in the bleakness,” she says of her isolated upbringing, where she amused herself with picture books, fairy tales and reading fashion magazines, including Vogue.
After seeing a two-week modeling course advertised in the magazine that has come to dominate her life, Coddington moved to London at age 18.
There, she met photographer Norman Parkinson and landed her first modeling job, running naked through the woods for a fashion catalog.
“I was a character, rather than a pretty model, and I suppose that’s exactly what I look for in the girls I now select to put in American Vogue — the ones who are quirky,” she writes.
Coddington eloquently describes working with her favorite models — fellow redhead Karen Elson foremost among them –and fashion spreads she has styled, such as the lauded 2003 Annie Leibovitz shoot in which she convinced designers Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs to play roles based on “Alice in Wonderland.”
“For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs,” she says.
But despite her general sincerity, Coddington appears to have learned a thing or two about reserve from her decades of working closely with Wintour, who is regularly referred to as “Nuclear Wintour.”
Coddington does not reveal much of the emotional trauma she surely suffered when she was seven months pregnant and Chelsea football fans lifted her car and threw it on its side, causing her to lose the only baby she was ever able to conceive.
She also affords less than two pages to discussing how her eyelid was sliced off in an earlier accident, requiring five rounds of plastic surgery and taking two years out of her flourishing modeling career.
“Things had not worked out quite as I had planned,” she says of being disfigured.
Such emotional reticence about tragic events may seem odd in a memoir, but Coddington has spent her life working in an industry devoted to the illusion of perfection. Her memoir is as highly stylized as her best work in Vogue.
Photo courtesy of Flickr — La’J