Like many people, I fell in love with Vogue‘s creative director, Grace Coddington, after watching The September Issue. She was often portrayed as the fiery counterpoint to Anna Wintour’s stoicism, a woman not afraid to challenge her notoriously difficult boss. So of course, when I discovered that Coddington was writing a memoir, I simply had to get my hands on it.
Coddington begins her memoir by addressing her post-September Issue fame. I wouldn’t say that the Coddington we saw in the documentary was an act, but it was definitely a Coddington with the volume turned up: she had adamantly refused to be a part of the film at first and decided to “swear like a trooper” in hopes that the film crew would find the material unusable. She finally gave in and agreed to be in the film on the condition that no one would get in the way of her work, but little did she know that she would become one of the film’s stars. She finds her newfound fame bizarre and is mostly amused by the fact that she’s now recognized wherever she goes.
The September Issue, however, is just one tiny chapter in the life of a woman who has been a part of the fashion industry for over fifty years. Once she addresses the film in her prologue, she mostly ignores it throughout the rest of her book, choosing instead to reminisce about her early years as a model (which includes the story of why she has no eyebrows). It must have been an amazing time; through networking, colleagues, and smart career decisions, she was able to spend the 1970s rubbing elbows with up-and-comers like Manolo Blahnik and Karl Lagerfeld, or partying with celebrities. She went through two marriages — I had no idea she’d once been married to Michael Chow, of Mr. Chow fame — but has been with her current partner, Didier Malige, for over thirty years.
As her modeling days drew to a close, Coddington was advised to go into editorial work at a magazine. It made sense, as she’d always shown a great eye for style as a model (in those days, models did their own hair and makeup and provided many of their own accessories). The rest is history: she started at British Vogue and worked her way up the ladder, helping to breathe new life into the magazine with her beautiful fashion spreads. Meanwhile, a young woman named Anna Wintour was also making waves ; she still had to pay her dues and prove she could run a magazine, but rumor had it that she was all but guaranteed to take over American Vogue in the future. The two would cross paths over the years, and when the finally time came for Wintour to take control of Vogue, Coddington was right there with her; they’ve worked together ever since.
People picking up the book expecting nonstop fashion gossip might be disappointed by Coddington’s quaint childhood stories, the chapter devoted to her love of cats (yes really!), and the fact that she’s comes across as a much quieter person than the one the world saw in The September Issue. The name-dropping and gossip is still there, but Coddington reveals herself to be loyal to her friends and colleagues. Personally, I appreciated these aspects. Some of my favorite touches were all of the illustrations drawn by Coddington, as well as the dozens of photographs from her modeling days; the back of the book has a collection of some of her favorite magazine spreads, many of which she discussed at length in the book. If you’re a Vogue fan, you probably don’t want to miss all of the insights from one of the magazine’s most memorable figures.
Grace: A Memoir was released in November 2012 by Random House.