An honest memoir.
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In the sciences and technology, success is highly correlated with raw brainpower and a good education. There are thousands of STEM graduates, unknown to the public at large, cleaning up economically, as they should be. That seems largely fair to me. Effort and intellectual acumen are rewarded.
But cross the divide to the world of sales and marketing, where there is no obvious educational correlation with success, and you are in the land of the flim-flam man (and woman). Examples of occupations where reward is unrelated to education, but highly correlated with an ability to lie (‘spin’) and cheat your customer include real estate, stock brokerage, popular broadcasting and car sales. I have yet to understand why an individual’s ability to enter a home into a database to show a prospect the bathroom merits a 6% commission.
And it’s that world which Grace Coddington has been a large part of for 50 years. Coddington is a fine example of the exception that proves the rule in the world of fashion, peopled as it is with mediocre talents and lax scruples which mostly sees the ill educated opportunist succeed to the detriment of true talent.
Long the Creative Director at US Vogue magazine, Coddington is a heart warming reminder that even in this most back-biting of industries – the purveying of clothing and scent – talent does occasionally rise to the top.
In an honest exposition of her life, and without any sense of self-aggrandisement, Coddington relates her life from a start as a beautiful model with a pre-Raphaelite face, to the top of her industry. Her many failed marriages – she definitely needs to avoid the altar – are related with no trace of self-pity as this young woman from a remote Welsh village makes her way from what we now call a ‘supermodel’ to the creative management of the industry’s bible. Along the way she works with the creme de la creme of the world’s greatest photographers many of whom, as I have written time and again here, work in the world of fashion. And what distinguishes photographers from the bunch of talent-deprived hangers-on in this industry is that if you are a quack you will not remain employed for very long.
They are all here, from the early masters like Penn, Beaton and Parkinson, to today’s best, the likes of Testino, Leibovitz and Elgort, via original geniuses like Bailey, Donovan and Bourdin.
There’s no ‘kiss and tell’ here, just a straightforward exposition of Coddington’s experiences with more photographers than most could ever name.
If nothing else, there’s a skilled explanation of why any ambitious person needs to come to the United States, enshrined in an insightful comparison of European and American work ethics. It’s a strong confirmation of the wisdom of my decision to leave England some 35 years ago, making America my home.
Highly recommended, not least for her charming sketches which copiously illustrate this wonderful memoir. When I finished I found I could even forgive her a life long love of cats, those most odious and self-serving of creatures, much as are the mediocrities Coddington has had to suffer during a long and successful career.