Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review | Grace - A Memoir

Let's be honest. I had no clue who Grace Coddington was until the wonderful and incisive documentary, The September Issue, where she refers to her anonymity when she says, the only time she was recognised she'd actually been mistaken for Vivienne Westwood; quite funny really.

I am a huge fan of the fashion critic Robin Givhan and a hoarder many fashion coffee table books. But being an Investment Banker and not in any way part of the business of fashion, magazines become an escape, a barometer of what's in but rarely anything more. Most of us prefer to remain avid window shoppers and my fashion was always my own. That also meant meant I rarely ever got my fashion right. Even today when I write about fashion for Harper's Bazaar or SilverKris, I rarely question the  model's attire or which celebrity is wearing what. It is about the cut, the style and how watching and wearing it makes me feel. And for most part, I am in the majority and this is why it is quite remarkable that Grace Coddington has now become a household name in fashion.

For those of us who don't know the fashion magazine business very well, Grace Coddington is the person who puts together those large spreads of photographs in US Vogue. In most magazines, these spreads are badly photographed and do nothing for the clothes. But Grace's almost always tell a story. Her shoots are beautiful, cooky perhaps but always artful and mindful of the clothes. When I look at her work, the Alice in Wonderland shoot for instance, or the one from Birds-an all time favorite, I find myself wondering, "Oh my god, SHE did that!" I really should have paid attention to the fine writing on the outside corner.

The September Issue however changed everything. Grace was never meant to be the star but somehow she became Wintour's foil. Every story needs an anchor and their relationship took the spot light. Suddenly we took notice of this wonderful woman who seemed to be at odds with everything we correlated the fashion industry with. She was humble, hardworking and, forgive the cliche', quite beautiful on the inside.

Now to the book. Sigh. Sadly while Grace might be a wonderful stylist, and a great visual story teller, she is not great weaver of words. Her book begins with her childhood in Wales, moves on to her twenties as a model and then finally ends with how she came upon her current job at Vogue. She discusses her infamous relationship with Anna Wintour, gives us a few opinions on models and talks about her relationships. All the while I feel nothing. It's not that she holds anything back, it's just that she never commits. The pace of the narration never changes and it feels like a running commentary, like the disclaimer at the end of a mutual fund ad. In summary it says the following: I was a good looking model, I should have been greater, Manolo Blanik, Twiggy stole my eyebrow style, Yves Saint Laurent was god, I have fabulous taste, I had a few low moments, these are my favorite photographers and why, these are my favorite make up artists and why, I am going to drop a few of my favorite names and tell you a few things about fashion. Oh and by the by, I love cats.

It's lot of information but it's never very juicy. Don't get me wrong, the book is a wonderful journey through the world of fashion,  but it felt very much like a peek into an elite closeted club. While Yves Saint Laurent was ever present, Valentino seems no where in the picture. I personally thing it's impossible to discuss 21st century fashion without Alexander McQueen or fashion patrons without Daphne Guinness.  I felt slighted I suppose. Towards the end I felt like she had ignored designers and hadn't grown. At least she mentioned Comme Des Garcons. But I suppose that's why its a memoir. But I had looked forward to a good romp in the fashion world and was left dissatisfied. Name dropping is not enough, you need to delve. She never lets us in. There's no point writing a memoir if you're afraid what bridges you might burn.

Verdict: She's no Joan Didion but it's a decent read for fashion lovers and writers alike.

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