I am guilty of judging books by their covers. But even if Grace Coddington’s memoir wasn’t fronted by an electric orange jacket, delightfully hand drawn font and image of her in the 70′s (no instagram filters needed here) I would have still bought it because I am so intrigued by her.
I can’t claim to be one of those people who knew of Grace Coddington before she was inadvertently introduced to the main stream in the ‘September Issue’ but it certainly was the point where I started to admire her. The September Issue documents the production of Vogue’s September Issue (surprise, surprise) – the most important issue for Vogue every year. Note: When I say ‘important’ I mean their biggest money spinner because more than half of it is advertising and you’ll struggle to find the actual content. While the documentary’s aim was to give an insight into Vogue’s notoriously cold Editor, Anna Wintour, it actually made Grace Coddington and her eye for the beautifully interesting known to the public. On film Grace was real. And I like to think that even people with dream jobs go through the same frustrations/politics/disappointments as everyone else.
And so it was with the worst kind of expectations (high ones) that I embarked on my journey through Grace Coddington’s memoir. From humble beginnings Grace describes what is a very unremarkable childhood. No big cities or bright lights, just a real love for fashion and beautiful things. She is given her break winning a modelling competition and moves to London where her new life unfolds. A car accident early on in her career has a distinct silver lining eventually moving her behind the camera rather than in front – where I get a sense that she is much more happy in any case. And I can honestly say that from this point onwards much of the rest of the book is a blur. There are pages dedicated to various fashion shoots and career moves. A whole chapter on her cats. Grace loves cats. A lot. And a constant stream of big names. I don’t feel like she is name dropping but as someone who doesn’t necessarily know the great fashion photographers from the 60s and 70s it gets a bit, well, same same.
I think that, it being a memoir, I was expecting more feeling. More opinion. Grace reveals tragedies that she has experienced but only devotes a few very matter of fact sentences to them. I have no doubt that she would have understood what it was like to have creative differences with people. But I can’t know for sure because she certainly doesn’t mention them here. Maybe that’s just who she is. A no-nonsense, ‘such is life’ kind of person. I wanted a wildly extravagant journey, fuelled by champagne, bourgeoisie and couture. Instead what I got is a gentle bicycle tour of her life, never stopping anywhere for too long. Interesting and beautiful. But not in a ‘take your breath away’ kind of way .
Once I made this realisation though, I really enjoyed it. She offered me some escapism and an un-inflated view of a world that can be so easily idealised.
Read it on: A rainy day with a cup of tea and shortbread
Best bits: Grace’s whimsical line drawings, some seriously beautiful images from her archives and chapters on ‘growing up’ and her very dear friend Liz Tilberis.