The Reading List: Grace, A Memoir

grace a memoir cover

So, here it is, ‘it’ being the long-awaited memoir of secretive and enigmatic American Vogue Creative Director, Grace Coddington. As the Gretchen Wiener of the fashion world (“That’s why her hair is so big – it’s full of SECRETS”), anything Coddington has to say was always going to be consumed eagerly by several generations of fashion lovers.  The release was timely – my Instagram feed has been flooded with snaps of the now universally recognisable orange cover, all Christmas presents, all displayed with the proud excitement usually reserved for a first bike or Barbie (or in my case, drum, which I broke not ten minutes later).

grace a memoir cafe

Grace, A Memoir is a reassuringly large, thick tome of a book.  However, flicking through to the first page, one realises that the type is quite big – two to three times as large as a standard paperback biography (yes, I measured) and very generously spaced.  If the book was in standard type, it would have been much smaller.  Yet, the type is presented in such a way that it’s the perfect size in relation to the rest of the book.  It’s a very fashion way of arranging things.  This may be because Grace, a Memoir isn’t really a very good autobiography.  It is however, a very enjoyable memoir of the fashion industry.

A memoir is a subsection of a traditional autobiography.  Instead of tracing a person’s life, the memoir traces the development of a person’s personality.  From ancient times up until the start of the twentieth century, a memoir traced a person’s career.  One would come away from a Victorian memoir knowing very little about what the author thought or felt, what motivated them or what their hopes and fears were.  In this respect, Grace is a very old-fashioned memoir.

Coddington refuses to talk in great detail about her personal life.  We know she had love affairs, marriages, divorces, heartbreak.  We get the bare bones and none of the meat, as such.  Few pages are devoted to the tragic death of her sister and Coddington’s subsequent adoption of her nephew, Tristan.  However, there is a whole chapter devoted to her cats.  Fun fact: Grace Coddington has a cat psychic.  This is a jarring and slightly out-of-place interlude in a book that is mostly about the stellar career of arguably the world best living fashion stylist.

grace coddington sketchCoddington freely admits that she does not read – and it shows even with the help of a co-writer.  The prose clips along at a fair pace, but traumatic events just pop out of nowhere, masked as anecdotes, and disappear again with a segue into the new floor plan of the British Vogue offices.

However, she knows the power of the image.  The book is liberally peppered with pen and ink drawings, all charming and gently humorous.  Even for the average creative memoir, there are a lot of photos to pore over and examine – and they are truly beautiful as well as beautifully presented.

grace a memoir spreads

One comes away from reading Grace knowing only a little more about the writer, but imbued with a better sense of the fashion industry as well as Grace Coddington’s love of it.  If you don’t expect scandal, personal epiphanies or sparkling prose, it makes a lovely (and essential) addition to any fashion bookshelf.  If you do expect such things, this is not be the book for you.

Grace, a Memoir is published by Chatto & Windus.  It is out now and available in all good bookstores.

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