Whenever I am having an exceptionally bad day, I watch The September Issue, a documentary about the making of Vogue’s September 2008 issue. Grace Coddington is wonderful, engaged in a constant battle between artistry and the bureaucracy of publishing. I have long been a fan and admirer of Coddington’s work as a stylist and editor, and I am extremely excited to read her new memoir. Below, Vogue gives us a sneak peek at Coddington’s soon-to-be-released book:
Swinging London, chic Paris, sizzling St.-Tropez. . . . When Vogue Creative Director Grace Coddington left Wales at eighteen for a modeling career, it was just the beginning of her epic life in fashion.
I was soon deeply immersed in my two weeks of evening classes at the Cherry Marshall modeling school in London’s Grosvenor Street. In one direction, Ban the Bomb demonstrations were being orchestrated at nearby Speakers’ Corner in Marble Arch by earnest Cut Nuclear Defence members in horn-rimmed glasses and duffle coats. In another, Lady Docker, the richest woman in the land, would swan around Berkeley Square in her gold-plated Daimler with zebra-skin upholstery. Within barely a fortnight, I would be taught how to apply my makeup, style my own hair, and walk about elegantly in spiky stiletto shoes. We also learned how to curtsy, which was useful if you were a debutante but not exactly something needed if you were not. Finally, we learned how to walk the runway, execute a three-point turn, and properly unbutton and shrug off a coat while at the same time gliding along and smiling, smiling, smiling. This was something I was never much good at. My coordination and synchronization have always been a problem. And yet somehow, at the end of my fortnight, I was signed up and placed on the agency’s books.
Unlike now, when everything is done for them, a model back then had to apply her own eyeliner, shape her brows, and put on her lipstick. She also had to set and style her own hair, back-comb it and fold it into a neat chignon, or make the ends curl outward in the look of the time, the “flick-up.” Makeup artists and hairdressers who specialized in photo shoots were completely nonexistent. Each model was expected to own a model bag, and what she put into it was terribly important. There was no such thing as a stylist, either, so the better your accessories, which you carried in your bag, the more jobs you were likely to get.
My bag was huge, about the size of one of those big nylon holdalls with wheels that you haul onto planes these days, except, of course, mine didn’t have wheels and I had to drag it everywhere. In it I put all my makeup, wigs and hairpieces, hairpins and hair lacquer, gloves of all lengths, fine stockings in beige and black, safety pins, a sewing kit, false eyelashes, false nails, nail varnish, an A to Z of London, a large bottle of aspirin, pennies for the phone, a book, some kind of knitting or a tapestry to while away the tedious hours of waiting, an apple, a sandwich in case there was no time for lunch, and maybe even a cheap bottle of wine if the shoot went on into the night. I carried stiletto pumps, pairs of which were likely to be beige or black (you could always tell the poorer models by their badly scuffed shoes). And I had a huge selection of costume jewelry. I always included a push-up bra, which helped me look a little more busty, and heated hair rollers. You had these if you were madly up-to-date and avant-garde, which I was.
But however well equipped you might be, as with most situations in life, friends with influence are much more useful than face powder and rouge.
A man called Tinker Patterson was often a customer at the Stockpot, the bistro where I worked as a waitress; he was tall and very good-looking, with a pale complexion, sandy hair, and freckles. He was a London painter as well as an in-demand part-time model, and although he already had a girlfriend, he was to become my very first affair.
Tinker invited me to spend the weekend in his delightful little rose-covered cottage in Kent. I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of getting out of town for a few days. We drove there on a Friday evening, chugging through the countryside in his little Austin 7, a compact British car from the 1930s that had become popular again in the economy-conscious 1950s and contained so little legroom, it would make a Mini seem spacious. When we arrived, he cooked a beautiful candlelit dinner for two, after which I was shown up to what I thought was the guest bedroom.
I undressed, put on my nightie, pulled down the top sheet, and there, neatly laid out on the pillow like one of those little chocolate mints you find in boutique hotels nowadays, was a condom. “What is this?” I wondered. I really hadn’t a clue. Moments later, to my surprise, I was joined by Tinker carrying a steaming cup of cocoa and looking adorable in his stripy cotton pajamas. But his air was not that of someone about to read me a bedtime story.