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.”
Last night I saw Shawn Colvin perform live at Nashville's beautiful Cheekwood Botanical Garden. And I was tickled to get more than just a great live show: On stage, Colvin chatted about her upcoming memoir from HarperCollins, A Few Small Repairs, named for her 1996 album that featured the hit "Sunny Came Home."
She asked the audience what they'd prefer: information about the music she's played—or dirt. Surprisingly, the audience was split in their reactions. (Confession: I hollered for "dirt.")
Colvin gave more information about her book in a March interview with The Birmingham News:
"It’s a combination of stories about my life and stories I’ve told on stage, but they’re not presented in chronological order," Colvin says. "I include some of my musical thoughts, and stories that I find amusing and other people have found amusing—or not amusing." The challenges she faces as a woman, a parent, a musician and "someone who suffers from depression" will be fused into the narrative, Colvin says. Crafting a memoir proved to be quite different from songwriting, she says, and Colvin prepared by reading the work of Mary Karr, the best-selling author of a memoir trilogy, and Open, a frank autobiography by former tennis champ Andre Agassi.
Also on The Book Case: See a recent post on celebrity memoirs.