BOOKS A sharp eye, quest for detail make rich story
‘The Cod’ part of fashion for 50-plus years
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.
At age 71, fashion maven Grace Coddington asks: “What’s wrong with a few wrinkles?”
Grace: A Memoir