Strutting Their Stuff: Leading Ladies in the Fashion World

Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour © Roadside Attractions
Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour © Roadside Attractions

Grace Coddington grew up about as far from the world of fashion as possible – on an island off of Wales, where her parents ran a small hotel for hikers. But from an early age, Coddington was more interested in party dresses than hiking boots, and eagerly awaited her monthly Vogue magazine (which arrived months after it was on London newsstands.) As a young model, she had her hair snipped by Vidal Sassoon’s scissors and her legs bared by Mary Quant's miniskirts, but it wasn't until she moved out from in front of the cameras, and into the editorial offices of Vogue, that she really made fashion history. Now, as the creative director of the magazine, Coddington dreams up the fanciful and fantastical photo shoots that might feature a cast of the top designers and models transformed into the characters from Alice in Wonderland, or might recreate famous works of art. In her new memoir, “Grace,” Coddington dishes about everything from London in the Swinging Sixties to working with famous photographs Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel to that other fashion sphinx, Anna Wintour. Here’s a list of other memoirs and biographies that peek under the skirt of the world of fashion.

Lilly: Palm Beach, Tropical Glamour, and the Birth of a Fashion Legend by Kathryn Livingston

They are known, simply, as “Lillies,” the unmistakably bright, bold-patterned dresses that stand out in a sea of New York black like a peacock in a pigeon coop, yet are ubiquitous in the wealthy enclaves of Palm Beach. The woman behind the designs is just as colorful as her sartorial creations. Lilly Pulitzer (yes, those Pulitzers) was born to wealth and privilege, yet worked as a nurse’s aide in Appalachian and ran an orange juice stand before entering the world of fashion and creating a mega-selling brand with her dresses. In this biography, Livingston writes about Pulitzer’s unlikely road from debutante to fashion icon, as well as her famous family and the scandals and heartaches she endured along the way.

Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz

She’s photographed everyone from John and Yoko to Kate Moss and Sean “Puffy” Combs, and along the way has become a celebrity in her own right. Annie Leibovitz, the photographer who famously posed a very pregnant, very naked Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair and immersed Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk, writes about her long career in this memoir, and her enduring relationship with the world of fashion, from the couture collections to ad campaigns for Gap. A former contributing photographer for Vogue, Leibovitz describes the tricks and techniques she uses to make her subjects look picture-perfect.

Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

She popularized the little black dress and her trademark perfume remains a best-seller, but behind the brilliant self-promotion, Coco Chanel led a secret life of intrigue she was desperate to keep hidden. In this new biography, Vaughan writes about Chanel’s wartime collaboration with the Nazis, and her passionate affair with a German spy. The same determination and sense of exceptionalism that led to the creation of a fashion empire also made Chanel the perfect Nazi agent, one that not only evaded arrest after the war, but rebuilt her business at the end of her life.

Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by Crystal Renn

Crystal Renn was an average schoolgirl growing up in a small Southern town when a man she refers to as The Scout told her she had the makings of the next Gisele. A modeling contract awaited her, on the condition she lose 70 pounds. Which she did, setting off years of eating disorders, health problems, and deep unhappiness. Once Renn finally said enough, stopped starving herself and started eating how and what she wanted, she grew into one of the most successful plus-size models in the business, with appearances on the cover of international editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and the Oprah Winfrey Show. In her memoir, she describes the fashion-industry-wide pressure to be unhealthily thin, and how she managed to escape the madness.