Revelations on Vogue, Anna Wintour, and Cats from Grace Coddington's Memoir

Though Grace Coddington is more of a behind-the-scenes person--her job requires it and she describes herself as shy and reserved (in high school Coddington's parents arranged for her to eat at a quiet cafe so she "didn't have to talk to anyone")--when The September Issue made her a star and forced her to open up while doing press for the doc, she figured "maybe I had a bigger story to share." And we're so glad she did because Coddington's life story is not only funny and poignant, blunt and inspiring, but it's also an insider's history of the fashion industry and how it's changed from the 1950s to today. Starting her career as a model in the '50s and becoming an editor at British Vogue in the '60s before moving on to American Vogue in the '80s--Coddington has truly seen it all. Here's what we learned, in Coddington's own words.
Avatar:
Leah Chernikoff
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
531
Though Grace Coddington is more of a behind-the-scenes person--her job requires it and she describes herself as shy and reserved (in high school Coddington's parents arranged for her to eat at a quiet cafe so she "didn't have to talk to anyone")--when The September Issue made her a star and forced her to open up while doing press for the doc, she figured "maybe I had a bigger story to share." And we're so glad she did because Coddington's life story is not only funny and poignant, blunt and inspiring, but it's also an insider's history of the fashion industry and how it's changed from the 1950s to today. Starting her career as a model in the '50s and becoming an editor at British Vogue in the '60s before moving on to American Vogue in the '80s--Coddington has truly seen it all. Here's what we learned, in Coddington's own words.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

During New York fashion week, we noticed that Vogue creative director Grace Coddington was carrying around an advance copy of her just-released memoir seemingly everywhere--even at fashion shows like Donna Karan and Rag & Bone.

And ever since I got a copy of Grace: A Memoir, I've been doing the same thing: toting the large orange tome around everywhere, prompting strangers on the subway and in elevators to ask "Is it good?" If my willingness to schlep a big hardcover around NYC wasn't a clear indication of how I feel about the book, I happily spell it out for these inquiring minds: "Yes! It's so good. You should get it."

I'm not moonlighting as a Random House publicist. I just think the book is great.

As Anna Wintour said in an interview published in today's Telegraph, "[Grace Coddington] is one of the great unsung heroines of our business." This was a fact that became evident to everyone who saw The September Issue, where Coddington emerged as the star thanks to her wit, candor, and, well, her balls--she seemed to be the only one willing to talk back to Wintour.

Though Coddington is more of a behind-the-scenes person--her job requires it and she describes herself as shy and reserved (in high school Coddington's parents arranged for her to eat at a quiet cafe so she "didn't have to talk to anyone")--when The September Issue made her a star. Doing press for the doc forced Coddington to open up and she figured "maybe I had a bigger story to share."

And we're so glad she did because Coddington's life story is not only funny (she's got a distintictive blunt, "let's get on with it" kind of tone) and inspiring, but it's also an insider's history of the fashion industry and how it's changed from the 1950s to today. Starting her career as a model in the '50s and becoming an editor at British Vogue in the '60s before moving on to American Vogue in the '80s--Coddington has truly seen it all.

Here's what we learned, in Coddington's own words.

Photos: Courtesy Grace: A Memoir (Random House New York)

"With my original eyebrows in a picture taken on winning the British Vogue model competition. Photo: Norman Parkinson, 1959. Copyright Norman Parkinson Limited/ Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

"With my original eyebrows in a picture taken on winning the British Vogue model competition. Photo: Norman Parkinson, 1959. Copyright Norman Parkinson Limited/ Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

On modeling [in which we learn that Coddington once had brows to rival Cara Delevingne's...until Eileen Ford destroyed them]:

When I entered the room, the first thing she wanted to know was why I didn't possess a waist cinder (a wide elasticized belt), followed by the whereabouts of my sweater bra, which is a bra without seams to keep a cleaner line under your clothes. She then told me she didn't think I had what it took to be a successful runway model anyway. To see if I could possibly look any better in fashion photos, she personally came at me with a pair of tweezers and plucked my eyebrows (they used to be dramatically heavy) into a thin arch--only to afterward declare me unfit material for fashion photographs as well. For goodness' sake, I was five feet nine with an eighteen-inch waist, thirty-three-inch bust and hips, and long legs--and Vogue loved me. How bad could I honestly be?

Grace with her favorite cat, Puff. Photo: Didier Malige, 2000

Grace with her favorite cat, Puff. Photo: Didier Malige, 2000

The cats chapter of the book is towards the end and I must confess it's the one I read first. You guys know we have a cat obsession here at Fashionista.

There are lots of incredible details about the many cats Coddington has owned over the years--like that one time she had her assistant drive her cat Pumpkin (the one who is depicted wearing Balenciaga on those Fashion's Night Out bags) up and down the West Side Highway, testing out different treatments, to try to make him calmer during car rides--but here's our favorite quote: On cats:

Do I dream very much? Do I dream predominantly about fashion? No. I dream much more about cats. ... In New York, I'm cat central: Absolutely everyone calls me for advice. They call me if they need to find a vet or discuss their cat's symptoms or get the telephone number of my cat psychic. She's brilliant by the way. Her name is Christine Agro, and I was introduced to her by Bruce Weber. ..Whether or not you fully subscribe to her findings, the insights she reveals about the inner world of your pets are so charming--and conjure such compelling images--that they're possible to ignore.

Grace's sketches of her cats.

Grace's sketches of her cats.

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

The second chapter I read, also completely out of order, was the one about Anna Wintour. Because who doesn't want to know more about her?

You might already have read how Coddington describe's Anna as "very flirty" around boys (no matter if they're "100% gay") and how she develops "crushes" on certain stars like Puff Daddy, Ben Stiller, Roger Federer--and we'd add Seth Meyers.

But did you also know how much she hates The Devil Wears Prada?

On Anna:

The bane of Anna's life is The Devil Wears Prada. Even ex-President Sarkozy mentioned it semi-jokingly in his speech at the official Elysee Palace ceremony in Paris before awarding the Legion d'Honneur in 2011. But it's not a joke. After seeing a few clips, I never looked at the movie again. I thought it made our business look laughable. Even more so than Pret-a-Porter, one of the worst movies Robert Altman ever made, which caused chaos one summer at the Paris collections when people like Sophia Loren and Julia Roberts were filmed playing characters from the fashion world attending the shows. When I first heard that a former assistant of Anna's had written the 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.

Still, Wintour went to the premiere...in Prada.

Anna Wintour's first American Vogue cover.

Anna Wintour's first American Vogue cover.

Want to know what it's really like to work at Vogue? We did too. Here's Coddington's take on American Vogue in the years right after Wintour took over.

On Vogue:

It was pointless complaining to Anna, saying things like "She stole my dress," because the reply would simply be "This is not a girls' boarding school. Deal with it yourself." However, despite outsiders' elevated view of Vogue as a temple of cool and sophistication, a girls' boarding school--with its sulky outbursts, tears and schoolgirlish tantrums--was exactly what it occasionally resembled.

The shoot in question, from a 1999 issue of Vogue.

The shoot in question, from a 1999 issue of Vogue.

On a particularly trying shoot involving Annie Leibovitz, Kate Moss, Puff Daddy, and every designer ever:

Annie Leibovitz, who is not exactly the happy partyish type at the best of times, looked like thunder. All the designers had telephoned to ask how late they might arrive for their photograph, each one wanting to be last. John Galliano, who was working out regularly in those days, wanted to pose topless. Kate was totally drunk, as was my assistant Tina Chai, who normally doesn't' drink at all but had been sent to drag Kate out of th Ritz and ended up joining her for a glass of the extra-potent "Kate" cocktail that Colin the barman had created especially for her in the Hemingway bar.

More of that infamous shoot.

More of that infamous shoot.

Have we teased you sufficiently?

Click through for some more awesome vintage photos of Grace hanging out with Karl Lagerfeld and Angelica Huston, and click here to buy the book.