Imagine you are invited to a dinner party with a group of glamorous people who you know only by sight but find utterly intriguing. The women are beautiful but snooty, the men have florid complexions and are a little over-sunned and over-banked. Over the course of this evening you will listen intently to one anecdote after another, the locations for these stories reading like the cities on the side of a designer store carrier bag: New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, …..and Anglesey? Because here’s the thing – Grace Coddington is in many ways an outsider sitting right on the front row of the catwalk that is world of glossy magazines, and watches it all with the observance of someone who was not born into this world. Her breezy book reads just like the best dinner party story telling – revealing, intriguing, exclusive and memorable – and to quote Kenny Everett ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’.
Coddington grew up in a decaying hotel in North Wales; her family was at the poor end of an upper middle class family and lost out in family inheritances. But her beauty (and I would guess her wit) got her to London and into the world of modelling. After suffering a car accident which resulted in plastic surgery on her eye, and she transitioned to life behind the camera to enormous success, working as creative director at British Vogue, Calvin Klein and American Vogue.
If you saw The September Issue, or The Devil Wears Prada, or wondered how Princess Diana bloomed into a fashion forward icon, then “Grace” will unpeel the onion a few more layers and you’ll learn a lot more about how a magazine like Vogue has developed over the years.
I particularly enjoyed Coddington’s tales of her upbringing and the early days of modelling in London in the late 50’s and early 60’s when models were expected to do their own hair and make-up and would cart all of their tools and accessories around to every shoot. Her experience in the fashion world spans more than fifty years and reflects changing times and culture. Coddington uses the book to stick it to a few people like Eileen Ford who wrecked her eyebrows, but speaks very affectionately about difficult characters like Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld.
This is worth reading in the hardback edition as her pen illustrations are cute, and the book itself is beautifully designed and printed. Just what you would expect from someone as passionate about the details of art production.