Tuesday, November 20, 2012

10 Things You Can Learn From Grace Coddington

Photo by David Sims

It’s hard to miss her with her trademark Pre-Raphaelite red hair.  And, though Grace Coddington, Vogue's creative director, is a highly-visual person she was mostly behind the scenes until her surprisingly spunky and strong performance in The September Issue where some say she stole the show from the steely, stealth Anna Wintour. Today Coddington’s memoir Grace goes on sale.

Her third book: she also has one on cats and one about her Vogue fashion  features 
Grace-- and  Grace-- looks back at her colorful life in the U.K  and U.S. as a model and “supreme fashion editor”, as she was called on Absolutely Fabulous.   The book includes photographs and anecdotes from her childhood in Wales, her decadent decades as a London model in the '50/'60s, her establishing days as a fashion editor at British Vogue—and her fantastic second life in the United States, first working for Calvin Klein and later returning to her roots as “creative genius” as Wintour called her—at American Vogue from 1988 to present. Grace Coddington, now 71, remains a tour de force as iconic and perhaps as influential as her boss Anna Wintour (below left) and maybe another of fashion’s grand dames, Diana Vreeland (below right). (Of course, that Grace in the middle.)

I haven’t read the book yet but I have seen the movie, studied the excerpts in Vogue and the Daily Telegraph and scoured the Internet for illustrative facts about the dazzling redhead.   Here are 10:

1.    She grew up the second daughter of hoteliers in the remote island village of Anglesey, Wales.  As a young girl, she favored the sweaters her mother knitted and sewed her own clothes on a Singer sewing matchine from Vogue patterns and special-ordered fabrics.
Learning: Material and design matter, in clothes and in life.

Rosemary and the angelic Grace

2.    She went to a convent school where the nuns roller-skated despite their confining habits.
Learning: Fashion doesn’t have to be restrictive.

Note influence of nuns' habit in an ensemble Grace wears often

3.    Her first fashion shoot was with the legendary Norman Parkinson who  asked the naive young model to pose nude.  Later, she accompanied  him to the Seyshelles for a story that prefigured the fashion-logues that have become her hallmark hybrid where travel meets style.
Learning:  Find a mentor that is the best in the business-even if it takes you outside your comfort zone.

That's the young Grace Coddington as photographed by Norman Parkinson  in Jamaica (left) and in the buff.

4.  Grace, not Twiggy-developed the distinctive eye make up that Twiggy made famous.  The exaggerated eyelashes became know as twiglets.
Learning: Sometimes other people get the credit.

It's not Twiggy, it's Grace with the TWIGLET eye makeup she wore first. 

    5. She married twice: first to restauranteur Michael Chow, then 
        to photographer Willie Christie. It was not until she met 
        Didier Malige that she found “equilibrium”.  The hair stylist 
        influenced her move to NewYork in l988, and the pair are still 
        together, sharing a Greenwich Village apartment and a house in the Hamptons.
        Learning: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Wedding Number One                                                                    Wedding Number Two
6.   She always wears black, except when she wears green (as she did when she shocked the Paris fashionistas and foreshadowed color on the runway in 2007—and blue (Celine coat) on the cover on the current cover of i-D.
Learning:  Fashion doesn’t have to be dogmatic; you can
make and break your own rules

If you can't buy the book, buy ID magazine, available Nov.22, for cover story on Grace Coddington. 

7.    She often wears sensible shoes, sensible Prada shoes but still sensible shoes.
Learning: Fashion can be functional.

Patent leather sandals  complement the look but would the nuns say they'd  reflect your underwear?

8.  She loves, loves, loves cats. She has two of her own.  Grace wrote a book about some hip cats on the fashion runway; she has a red cat lamp in her Vogue office she bought for $20 at a flea market; and sometimes she wears cat jewelry. She even designed an accessory line with cats for Balenciaga featuring the Pumpkin (that's the name of her cat)-colored tote below.
     Learning: Don't be afraid to play to your fetishes.

   9. At the fashion shows, she occupies a front row seat but in the  
       world of Instagram and Facebook, she sketches her  favorite 
       Learning:   It’s okay to be "old school".

A rare glimpse of Anna Wintour (center) sans sunglasses, with Andre Leon Talley (right) and Grace, pen in hand. 

10.    After 50 years in a business that tends to eat its young, she works like a dog, demands--and gets-- the impossible and still produces the most imaginative, exciting, glamorous,  quirky, cutting-edge, dramatic, revolutionary fashion stories  in any publication.
Learning: Adjectives are the lingua franca of fashion. ( Of course, that’s not the lesson. )
Grace Coddington turns a brilliant 70, complete with multi-colored cat cake.
Second Lives Club members know the real learning:
 Age doesn’t matter, talent endures!


  1. My husband actually called me from work to tell me that "Fresh Air" on NPR featured Ms. Coddington in an interview about her book. I didn't even know he had any idea who she is. Go figure. This must mean he's buying me the book ... you think?

    1. Janin. . .

      You have an enlightened husband! I too heard Grace on "Fresh Air." ( Love that Terri Gross.)
      I was interested to hear she's no fan of facelift She even said she thought some people looked worse
      after them. (Grace, tell us who?) Let me know if your husband buys you the book. I will be really
      impressed. We may have to put his picture on Second Lives Club and make him an honorary member.

      Warm regards,

  2. It's all about living in a fully engaged way regardless of age. I had no idea she was on her 70's. Amazing!

  3. Thank you so much for telling me some things I didn't know about Grace Coddington. I've always found her most interesting. I'm going to listen to the story on NPR right now. (And here's the link: http://www.wbur.org/npr/165557978/a-model-career-grace-goes-from-runway-to-vogue )

  4. Great post. Love Grace Coddington.

  5. Inspiring, such joy, such happiness to embrace and revel in style..

  6. I agree Grace is exceptionally talented and always did work hard. I had the privilege of working with her in the early 70s when she was at British Vogue. She was quite a private person and modest compared to some of the other editors of the time. Very interesting post. The book is on my Christmas list.

  7. Grace Coddington has been over in the UK doing signings and interviews and I've really enjoyed reading/hearing all her thoughts.

  8. I'd say what she has done best is take her very distinctive look and inhabit it fully. Imagine how hard it would be to mimic her! She also has stayed on the conservative side of personal style (for her industry), not pushing into eccentricity to claim attention. Very cool.