Grace Coddington and her boss Anna Wintour (right).

Grace Coddington and her boss Anna Wintour (right). Photo: Getty Images

MEMOIR
Grace Coddington
Random, $39.95

Expectations soar at the sight of this memoir. At last, some genuine insight into Anna Wintour, the American Vogue supremo on whom The Devil Wears Prada book and movie was based and who, to everyone's horror, is said to be President Obama's favourite as ambassador to Britain.

But, alas, Grace Coddington's chapter on her boss reveals only gooey observations about her children and calmness of spirit. No tantrums. No icy this, no scorching that. It doesn't make her less of a force in fashion, of course, but she comes over as boring. As for TDWP, Coddington rubbishes the writer, once a Vogue staffer, for being ''disgracefully disloyal''.

<p></p>

Ironic, then, that the author's own claim to fame comes courtesy of a 2009 documentary, The September Issue (Vogue's biggie, 990 pages), where she stars in a warts-and-all display of ''difficult behaviour'', for which fans anoint her celebrity status.

''Is it true people recognise you wherever you go?'' asks Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, at one point. And, yes, at 71 (today's 51), Coddington is mobbed ''just like Paris Hilton'', she admits (quite liking it).

Her story is extraordinary. Tall, skinny, never pretty - more ''character'' - a teenage snapshot of her won Vogue's Young Idea contest in 1959, and she was off. In the '60s, she modelled for all the designers that mattered (Yves St Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Dior), ditto hairdressers (muse for Vidal Sassoon's Five Point Cut) and photographers (Norman Parkinson, David Bailey, Helmut Newton).

As British Vogue's fashion editor, Calvin Klein's creative director, then finally American Vogue's creative editor, she became ''the jewel in the crown'', as Wintour dubs her smash-hit stylist today.

Coddington admits she cannot write, calling on Vogue pal Michael Roberts to nudge it all into ''her voice'' - and it shows. Reading it is like listening to a juvenile prattling about the minutiae of life, scrambling from one name-dropping anecdote to another. Awful, yet mesmerising in a what-comes-next kind of way, she covers umpteen affairs, two short marriages and a 30-year partnership with hairdresser Didier Malige.

But she doesn't expand, and there's the rub. Roman Polanski drives her to his home, pushes her out of the car, she runs off - and that's it. She has a ''near-miss'' sexual encounter with Mick Jagger - full stop. A car crash resulting in a sliced-off eyelid is dismissed with a shrug. Later, when fans overturn her Mini and she miscarries, it's as if it didn't matter - so what? Yet she gives a whole chapter to her cats.

So what's appealing about this book? Stunningly tactile with its Hermes-orange wrapper matching her flame-coloured frizzy hair (dyed every two weeks and permed, she confesses), it covers '60 fashion onward and her talent for styling Vogue with fantastical layouts. ''But you must still see the dress'', she admonishes snappers going too far, then soft-talks designer Tom Ford into acting White Rabbit falling down a hole in an Alice in Wonderland shoot. And she invents the red carpet, for which we can either bless or berate her.

The pages are littered with her whimsical sketches and pictures of her evolving over the decades. She wears no make-up, has no eyebrows (they didn't regrow after model agent Eileen Ford ripped them out in 1959) and with hennaed hair framing her high Queen Elizabeth I forehead, she presents what she proudly calls her ''Renaissance'' look.

The best bit, though, is a bunch of those fantasy fashion spreads. Fashionistas (a word she hates) will drool over them.