BOOKS A sharp eye, quest for de­tail make rich story

‘The Cod’ part of fash­ion for 50-plus years

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - Satur­day, De­cem­ber 29, 2012 MONIQUE PO­LAK

Grace Cod­ding­ton’s mem­oir is a tell some, not a tell all. Cod­ding­ton (known to fash­ion in­sid­ers as “The Cod”), 71, is cre­ative di­rec­tor at Vogue. A former model, she has been part of the high-fash­ion scene for more than half a cen­tury, work­ing with ev­ery­one from Lord Snow­don to An­nie Lei­bovitz, Karl Lager­feld and Madonna. Though Cod­ding­ton must know plenty of dirt, she doesn’t dish it here. Even when she de­scribes per­sonal chal­lenges (an ac­ci­dent that nearly de­stroyed her mod­el­ling ca­reer, the un­timely deaths of her sis­ter and later her best friend), her style is un­der­stated.

Most re­mark­ably, in an in­dus­try known for be­ing cut­throat and phoney, Cod­ding­ton seems to have found a way to stay her­self, es­chew­ing plas­tic surgery (“What’s wrong with a few wrin­kles any­way,” she asks.) and big par­ties, and lead­ing what ap­pears to be a tran­quil life with her long­time part­ner, hair­styl­ist Di­dier Malige, and their cats.

Cod­ding­ton is up front about her lim­i­ta­tions, ad­mit­ting, “I can­not write well at all.” Grace is cowrit­ten with long­time friend Michael Roberts. But the line draw­ings are Cod­ding­ton’s alone and re­veal her sharp eye and sharp wit. In one, a tall, gi­ant-haired Cod­ding­ton asks the cel­e­brated cou­turier Azze­dine Alaia, known for his tight­fit­ting styles, “Does my butt look big in this?”

Cod­ding­ton says she owes her celebrity to R.J. Cut­ler’s 2009 doc­u­men­tary, The Septem­ber Is­sue. In the film, she is the only mem­ber of the Vogue team gutsy enough to stand up to the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tor-in-chief Anna Win­tour.

In Grace, Cod­ding­ton never says a cross word about Win­tour, widely con­sid­ered the dragon-lady of high fash­ion. In­stead, she re­veals an­other side of Win­tour — how she would drop any­thing for her chil­dren, and how she plans elab­o­rate birth­day par­ties for ev­ery­one but her­self. The clos­est she comes to a com­plaint about Win­tour is when she writes, “a lit­tle nos­tal­gia for the days when fash­ion came first doesn’t do any harm.”

Cod­ding­ton was born in An­gle­sey, an is­land off the coast of Wales, where her par­ents ran a ho­tel. As a child, she loved books — more for the pic­tures than the words. She was ex­posed early to Vogue, por­ing over the mag­a­zines af­ter her older sis­ter, Rose­mary, was done with them. Young women in An­gle­sey had few choices: “You could end up work­ing in ei­ther a clock fac­tory or a snack bar.” Nei­ther op­tion ap­pealed to her, and be­cause peo­ple had al­ways told her she could be a model, she en­rolled at age 18 in a Lon­don mod­el­ling school.

It was 1959, and Cod­ding­ton carted her own bag of beauty sup­plies to photo shoots. Model agent Eileen Ford told Cod­ding­ton she didn’t think she “had what it took to be­come a suc­cess­ful run­way model.”

Vi­dal Sas­soon had a higher opin­ion, cre­at­ing his Five Point Cut for her.

In Lon­don, Cod­ding­ton lost an eye­lid in a car ac­ci­dent. Sev­eral op­er­a­tions kept her from work­ing for two years, but she re­turned to the run­way with a new look in­volv­ing “large quan­ti­ties of black eye­shadow.”

Cod­ding­ton’s mag­a­zine ca­reer be­gan at Bri­tish Vogue in 1968, where she spent 19 years as a fash­ion ed­i­tor, be­fore be­ing hired away by Calvin Klein in New York. In 1988, she joined Win­tour at Amer­i­can Vogue.

Cod­ding­ton uses fash­ion to tell sto­ries. The book in­cludes im­ages from some of her most fa­mous shoots, in­clud­ing the Alice in Won­der­land-in­spired spread in which milliner Stephen Jones played the Mad Hat­ter, de­signer Chris­tian Lac- roix played the March Hare and Rus­sian model Natalia Vo­di­anova played Alice.

Un­til she got to­gether with Malige in 1983, Cod­ding­ton had a tem­pes­tu­ous per­sonal life. She called off her en­gage­ment to Al­bert Koski, a pho­tog­ra­pher’s agent, when she dis­cov­ered he was hav­ing an af­fair. In 1969, Cod­ding­ton mar­ried restau­ra­teur Michael Chow. The mar­riage ended when she fell for some­one else. Her sec­ond hus­band, pho­tog­ra­pher Wil­lie Christie, left her shortly af­ter their mar­riage in 1976.

In a chap­ter about Win­tour, Cod­ding­ton de­scribes her boss as be­ing im­per­vi­ous to crit­i­cism. “I care,” she writes, “whether any­one — from the mail­man to the dry cleaner — likes me. Maybe that is my weak­ness.” It’s this sort of ad­mis­sion that makes her hu­man — and her mem­oir worth read­ing.

Getty Im­ages/files

At age 71, fash­ion maven Grace Cod­ding­ton asks: “What’s wrong with a few wrin­kles?”

Grace: A Mem­oir

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