The inimitable Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue, visited Nashville this weekend to chat with model Karen Elson about her new memoir, Grace, at a sold-out event at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. You probably know Coddington from the film The September Issue (or as Coddington calls it in the opening lines of Grace, “the only reason anyone has ever heard of me.”) where she played the foil to the ice queen Anna Wintour.
It is this general waving-off of her brilliance and her monumental influence on the last half a century of fashion that sets Coddington apart from the rest of the fashion world. The same romantic humor and refreshing, familiar unpretentiousness that is found in Grace is, wonderfully, exactly how Coddington, with her shaved eyebrows and distinguishable head of red Welsh hair, seemed before an audience of Nashville’s most fashionable.
The first time Elson—Coddington’s self-declared doppelganger—introduced Coddington, it was at the 2009 British Fashion Awards, and a wrong step sent Elson “head over heels into the orchestra pit” and left her with a cracked rib. Elson’s sophomore attempt at hosting Coddington left everyone intact as they chatted lightly, trading mutual adoration, reminiscing on modeling, heralding the era of grunge and giggling over Coddington’s doodles of cats.
Although modeling and cats were the topics du jour, readers will be pleased to know that Grace only briefly covers Coddington’s modeling career, devoting more chapters to working with photographers and designers, her favorite Vogue spreads, boyfriends and, of course, cats. She imbues her writing with a sense of laa-dee-da that comes from a life of good-humored charm, and she seems only to lament the passing of time when discussing fashion’s transition into the digital age. A victorious doodle captioned “Eureka! I just opened my first email” makes light even of these monumental changes.
No matter the topic, Coddington’s message is one of perseverance. She commiserated with Elson on the criticism thrust upon models, particularly when Eileen Ford, “the American doyenne of all model agents,” announced that Coddington’s 18-inch waist was “Fat! Fat! Fat!” She became a model anyway, and so much more. It’s this attitude that makes Grace more than just a who’s-who of fashion greats, as she writes:
"For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs. I still weave dreams, finding inspiration wherever I can and looking for romance in the real, not the digital, world.”
Those who turned out for the event were exactly as you’d expect: half of Nashville’s population of redheads, bloggers (some effortlessly styled, others primped to oblivion) and the generally impeccably dressed. When I had my book signed, I told Ms. Coddington I loved her writing. She looked at me like I was crazy. Days don’t get much better.