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MODELING CAREER as told by the Cod herself

WILLFUL. CHARMING. BLUNT. Early in 1959, I arrived in London by train one afternoon with my few belongings backed in a smart new blue fiberglass suitcase. The capital city, so steeped in history, was well on it’s way to becoming the hugely overcrowded metropolis it is today. The area I was about to move to, Notting Hill, was crammed with recently installed black tenants, mostly arrived by boart from overseas British territories such as Tinidad and other Carribean islands. Terrace upon terrace of tall, elegant, white painted Victorian houses, each with its own impressively grand front door and porch, had been recently subdivided into warrens of small rooms that the landlords were renting out to large immigrant families and hard-up students at inflated prices. My friend Angela and I shared a bed-sot in one of these converted row houses in Palace Gardens Terrace, a large stuccoed room on the second floor with two narrow single beds and a washbasin. There was an open fireplace in which stood a gas fire on a meter and a little electric ring for boiling an egg or warming up uncomplicated things like baked beans, and a pay

phone on the wall in the outside corridor for general use. Our tent for two was four pounds a week. The last bus home was at ten-thirty, and if I spent the evening out or was delayed on the late shift at work, I would be highly nervous returning alone. This was around the time of the notorious Notting Hill race riots, when resentful gangs of blacks and whites lay in wait for each other armed with cutthroat razors and petrol bombs. We, the girls of slender means dreaming of potentially glamorous lives and debonair boyfriends with smart foreign cars, were generally overworked and underpaid. There were also two Cypriot chefs, both with fiery tempers, who thought us all terrible waitresses (which, for the most part, we were). So on occasion they would angrily hurl their chopping knives at us across the kitchen. Despite this, the hours were good and allowed many of us would-be models and aspiring actresses (I think the British film starlet Susannah York was one) time to attend auditions and go-sees. I was soon deeply immersed in my two weeks of evening classes at Cherry Marshall modeling school in Grace, issue 1, p. 3


Grosvenor Street, WI. Down the road in one direction, I 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 Berkely Sqyare in her gold-plated Daimler with zebra-skin upholstery. Within barely a fortnight, I would be taught how to apply makeup, style my own hair, and walk about elegantly in spiky stiletto shoes. In those days it was called deportment, although I don’t think we balanced books on our head to keep ourselves more erect or anything like that. We also learned how to cutesy, 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, how to execute a three-point turn, and how to properly unbutton and strut 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, shaper 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 you bag too, 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, mind 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 house 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 avantgarde, which I was. A model competition ran in British Vogue in 1959, publicized with a picture of a pretty young girl, Nena Von Schlebrugge (later to be Uma Thurman’s mother), and a caption asking, “Could this be you?” Someone at the Stockpot said to me, “Why don’t you try this route?” and so I did. There were four categories for models in their twenties and in their thirties; and a junior category called Young Idea. Because Cherry Marshall had previously arranged for

me to visit a photographer’s studio and pose for a model card, I had a picture of myself in pigtails wearing a big sweater and a straw boater, so I sent that in. A few months later, a letter arrived from Vogue informing me I was on the list of finalists and thus invited to a formal tea party at Vogue House to meet everyone involved in the competition. So off I trotted to Hanover Square, anxious as hell because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m nervous even on the best of days. There was a long table with tea served from giant urns and piles of cucumber sandwiches cut into perfect little triangles. All the finalists were there, as were all the senior editors and Vogue photographers, including Norman Parkinson and an American, Don Honeyman, who, a couple of weeks before the party, had hired me for what I would call my very first fashion job. In this picture, taken with a group of girls standing on top of a vintage car, I was actually wearing clothes. A little later it was announced which of us had won in the various categories. I won the Young Idea section. Our prizes included a photo session with Vogue’s top Grace, issue 1, p. 5

photographers, and we were allowed to keep any piece of clothing we wore in the pictures. I was photographed twice, once wearing a lovely cocktail dress and a second time fishing in rubber waders. Somehow these items never came my way. Suddenly, everyone began asking for me. I was a success! It was truly a Cinderella moment. My mother was over the moon with excitement. I didn’t go back home to visit too often in those days, but whenever I did, she proudly showed me photographs of myself snipped from various magazines. In fact, quite a few were not of me at all but of other similar-looking girls. “That’s not me,” I’d tell her. But she would say, “PH well, it’s a nice photo and I like it anyway,” and pop it back into my file. My editorial rate for magazines and newspapers was two pounds a day, and my advertising rate was five pounds (although I

must say I didn’t get many advertising jobs). As we were often paid by the hour, we had to arrive fully mad up and ready to roll. Funnily enough, though I’d only recently mastered the art of professionally applying cosmetics at Cherry Marshall’s, I was booked for a Vogue shoot by Frank Horvat. This internationally renowned photographer preferred almost no makeup at all for the models in his pictures. If my first lesson in molding was to “expect the unexpected,” this was further confirmed when another photographer, Saul Leiter, booked me. He famously used a long lens and specialized in fashion photographs that felt uncannily like reportage. After dressing in Vogue Studios, I was told to go out into adjacent Hanover Square, where he was waiting for me. After walking around the square several times, I went back into the dressing room, distraught at having somehow missed him, only to be told that Mr. Leiter was very happy with the picture he had taken. I was a “character rather than a pretty model, and I suppose that’s exactly what I look for in the girls I now select to put in American Vogue- the

ones who are quirky-looking. English girls have so much individuality. I can’t stand all the sappy blodes, or athletic girls from too much of a tan. I like freckles. I like girls such as Karen Elson from Manchester, with her amazingly pale face and mass of red hair that reminds me of…well, I can’t think! I think it was the photographer John Cowan who nicknamed me “The Cod.” You know, Jean Shrimpton was known as “The Shrimp,” so therefore…..I thought it was quite charming at the time because usually, only a model as iconic as Shrimpton was given a nickname, although I must say that “shrimp” sounds a lote better than “cod” Cowan worked in a reportage style and is best known for the fashion pictures he took in the sixties of his athletic-looking blond model/girlfriend Jill Kennington doing amazingly risky things like perching on the tip of an iceberg or standing on top of a high statue. I worked with him quite a bit at the beginning, and he photographed me waiting at a bus stop in a bikini or arranged on the cold marble of a fishmonger’s slab. Grace, issue 1, p. 7

Mercedes Padro Typography II Spring 2014 Kansas City Art Institute

Grace Coddington Editorial  
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