Like most of the people who know who Grace Coddington is, I first became aware of her when I watched The September Issue, a documentary about the creation of an issue of Vogue magazine. Anna Wintour was intended to be the focus of the film (thanks to her becoming a household name after the success of The Devil Wears Prada) but it was Coddington, the creative director of the magazine, who stole the show by stomping around in her sensible shoes, rolling her eyes at Photoshop abuse, and going head-to-head with Wintour whenever something was cut from one of her photo spreads. She seems like an incredibly cool person, and the fact that she’s been working constantly in the fashion industry since the 60’s is nothing to sneer at.
This book is an in-depth look at her rise in the industry, starting with her winning a modeling competition in her teens and ending with her job at Vogue. In between are a lot of fun details about the fashion industry (it’s really cool to see how it’s changed since Coddington first started out – when she was a model, she was expected to do her own hair and makeup for shoots), plus some gorgeous descriptions of runway shows, and lots of fun name-dropping, like this excerpt:
“During a dinner at the Brasserie Balzar in Saint-Michel with Linda Evangelista and the photographer Peter Lindbergh, Linda’s cell phone rang, and a distraught Naomi [Campbell] came on the line, babbling about [Mike] Tyson. ‘Come over here immediately,’ insisted Linda, forever the supermodels’ head troubleshooter. Naomi dutifully arrived trussed up in a tight little Azzedine Alaia dress, her hair totally disheveled, her tights shredded. She had apparently been with Tyson when he had spun alarmingly out of control. ‘So I ‘ad to ‘it ‘im over the ‘ead with me ‘andbag,’ she memorably said (the bag in question was a fairly large, sturdily constructed model). And so it was off again. But not for long.”
The only thing lacking is a sense of reality – Coddington is firmly entrenched in the vain, fantastical world of fashion, and it can begin to feel suffocating at times. In an unintentionally hilarious passage, she describes seeing Zoolander and calls it “a crass and truly mind-numbing experience”, completely missing the point of the movie. Although, in Coddington’s defense, it’s hard to maintain a sense of perspective when you’ve been in the same business for over forty years.
She even addresses The Devil Wears Prada, although briefly. She writes, “When I first heard that a former assistant of Anna’s had written a book, I thought, ‘How disgracefully disloyal’ and ‘What a horrible thing to do.’ Basically, she was making money out of making fun of Anna’s character.” And then Coddington delivers a truly magnificent burn when she writes simply, “I don’t remember the girl at all.” BOOM.
If nothing else, this memoir is fantastic because of the amount of photos included – besides candid photos of Coddington throughout her life, there are a ton of magazine covers and fashion spreads included, ranging from the early 1960’s to 2012. Even if you don’t care about fashion (which honestly, I don’t) the photographs are stunning, and the book’s inside look at a secretive and unknown world is fun and compelling.
Verdict: four out of five stars