Friends since the early Seventies and confidantes ever since, Grace Coddington and Michael Roberts have pipelined their creativity into a new book “GingerNutz: The Jungle Memoir of a Model Orangutan.”
Roberts illustrated and penned the vibrantly colorful story of Coddington’s life from the point of view of a baby orangutan. When a surprise party for Coddington was being hatched a few years back, a friend of Vogue’s creative director at large asked Roberts if he would design the invitations. For some reason, maybe her unmistakable red hair, Roberts drew an orange orangutan. But the general consensus was that Coddington would be highly offended and the idea was dropped.
Suspecting she would not be shocked by his renderings, Roberts sent them to Coddington, who rang him immediately to tell him, “These are fantastic. I love them, they’re enchanting. We should do a book out of them.”
Before a signing for the MW-published book at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Friday night, neither could say for certain when exactly they met in the early Seventies. “The fashion scene in London then was small, small, small, so we’d see each other at lots of different fashion shows, probably in very close proximity. One of us, even though both of us are very shy, must have struck up a conversation. The next second we were talking a lot,” Roberts said. “At one point, I was Grace’s lodger.”
Reflexively picking up where the other left off, Coddington explained, “My marriage broke up and I needed some friendship, and I was nervous sleeping in my house alone. I think Michael spent most of the time sleeping on the sofa. So he came for a few days and stayed for a year. So we really hung out together, went to clubs together, eyed the same people.”
Roberts, Vanity Fair’s former fashion director, added, “It was that very exciting time in London when we were all poor but we were all super glamorous. We lived for glamour.”
Aside from sharing a dry, slightly cynical sense of humor (by Coddington’s assessment), their conviction to see things through comes across loud and clear. The GingerNutz-inspired stuffed animal that rested nearby sported a dress made by Roberts, who studied fashion design for three years. He also created the leafy printed scrim that was used as decor during the book signing. Roberts said, “There are very few people, I think I can safely say, that I have ever met in fashion that even approach her depth of honesty and sincerity towards what she’s doing, and her commitment to doing the best, not cutting corners.”
Coddington, who will be pitching in at British Vogue, said. “Well, you have to keep busy or you’ll keel over and die. But I don’t do more than I have time for. I’d rather do it better than do more,” she said. “If you just go to the office and do the same thing everyday, it’s boring. As soon as I started doing things outside of just fashion shows, I felt that my life really grew. It’s much more interesting. Doing a book is so much fun. Also, you have control over it. To have the ultimate control is amazing.”
Roberts, whose new documentary about Manolo Blahnik premieres Friday, agreed. “Each one informs the others. They’re not a stretch. Going from writing about fashion to drawing fashion to doing collages, to drawing at The New Yorker, to doing a film, which is about fashion — each one informing the other. And each one I learn from.”
Directing “Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards” was a lesson in a lot of things. “There’s no bloody collaboration making a movie. A movie is one person thinking up the idea of the movie, bossing everyone else about doing the movie and getting the movie edited and done as well as one possibly can. There’s all this talk about collaboration – f–k collaboration. There is no collaboration. It’s usually one person arguing with five million other people in suits,” Roberts said. “…The order of the pieces are not the same as they could have been. I’m like Grace I’m very [much a] perfectionist about what goes out with my name on it. We’re not rich people. The thing that we’re left with in the end is our reputation.”
“GingerNutz” was meant to be an antidote to the film, Roberts said. “It’s just awful to realize that the cliché you hear about Hollywood is actually true. You can just never believe that anything can be so crass and then it turns out to be, ‘Oh wow, It’s not just crass, it’s really double crass or triple crass.’ And everyone’s saying it’s really a collaboration. Collaboration is not the idea here. The idea is to turn out something really great.”
Roberts continued, “Grace has a much better way of dealing with people. In a quiet way, she wears them down until eventually they do what she wants them to do. She’s very nice like that.”
Coddington laughed, adding, “I’m known for that. Poor Anna [Wintour].”
All smiles at Friday’s event. Blahnik shared Roberts’ discontent with the film’s final edit. But under different circumstances, Roberts would return to filmmaking. In fact, he and Coddington are planning an animated version of their book “The Catwalk Cats.” And he will spend this winter in his new home in Sicily finishing a screenplay about the photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden.