MAKE-UP ARTISTS, hairstylists, casting directors and even DJs – they’re all forces behind a fashion show, responsible for building the image of a brand each season while also creating the spectacle that ultimately contributes to a label’s bottom line. These behind-the-scenes players have specific roles that can be easily understood even by industry outsiders who have little knowledge of what goes into the making of a collection.
Another key member of this creative bunch, the one who plays the most pivotal role in shaping the designer’s vision and creating the looks that walk down the runway and will be photographed by magazines around the world, is the stylist.
Although the public is probably more familiar with the so-called “celebrity stylists” – LA-based fashion mavens such as Rachel Zoe who almost act like red-carpet versions of personal shoppers, dressing stars such as Anne Hathaway and Cameron Diaz – the real trendsetters, those who are behind editorial and advertising shoots for the top glossies and brands, are a handful of people who may not be household names but exert a huge influence on the fashion world and are image-makers on par with the most respected photographers.
Vivienne Westwood, the controversial doyenne of British fashion, in a recent interview with The New York Times, attributed the sorry state of the industry to the power that stylists have come to wield: “They weren’t important once. The general public didn’t even know about them. They were paid very badly and worked for two weeks getting a shoot together and got a quarter of what the hair person got. Fashion has become so whatever. I don’t think there are any stones left to unturn.”
Whether or not you agree with her, one thing is certain: stylists are no longer an underpaid underclass in the hierarchy of fashion. Between their editorial work, consulting gigs and collaborations with high-end and high-street brands, they can command huge fees just to pass judgement on a collection before it’s unveiled on the sleek runways of Milan or Paris.
Katie Grand, the British stylist and editor-in-chief of Love, may shun the spotlight and avoid courting street-style photographers, but her keen eye for what’s new, her incredible fashion sense and her ability to mix references from the street with couture have made her the most in-demand player in the field.
Grand started out in the early ’90s in the rough-and-tumble world of indie magazines, working on Dazed & Confused with founder and then-boyfriend photographer Rankin before moving to that other beacon of indie ‘zines, The Face. She didn’t wait long to put the visual skills that she learned working for such influential titles at the service of brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton – in London circles it has become common to refer to her as “Katie-Grand-a-minute”, in reference to the hefty consulting fees she charges her clients.
Although Grand was trained at Central Saint Martins, she had never till last year designed something under her own name. It was a meeting with Tod’s Group founder and CEO Diego Della Valle that made her try her hand at creating an accessories line in collaboration with Hogan. The collection was unveiled last year in Milan and injected some youthful and fun energy into the Italian label that is the sporty-chic counterpart to Tod’s.
As the gap-toothed and energetic Grand makes hectic preparations for her autumn/winter 2013 presentation – her second for the house – in a historic Milan palazzo, you can feel her adrenalin as she prepares the models for the event and outfits them in zebra-printed accessories from the collection.
Betraying none of the jitters that one might feel trying to follow up a first big success – “It’s the sequel, like Die Hard 2,” she deadpans when asked about it – Grand is just as you would expect her to be: bubbly, energetic and unguarded, yet extremely disciplined and driven.
Unlike her work for other designers, who have the final say on what ends up in stores despite her input and opinions, Grand says that with Hogan she’s a “complete control freak” and acts like an editor, having the last word on the end product.
“I think they were surprised at how involved I was with edge painting or stuffing or pockets inside bags…you know, the nitty-gritty. I was doing the corrections myself with someone who works at the factory. I adapt my magazine head on this because at the end of the day it’s my name, so if I don’t like how the handle feels on a bag or if I don’t like how the chains come out or if I don’t think the pink gold is pink enough, I’m really stroppy and make sure that it’s changed.”
So far, Grand has rarely been proven wrong. When she launched Love with a naked Beth Ditto on the cover, it caused an industry uproar. “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life, and I knew from the minute they said, ‘We are going to launch this magazine.’ It was always Beth on the cover and it was always her naked,” Grand says about one of her most controversial moves.
“It was straightforward to me. I couldn’t understand why anyone was questioning it. And you look at all that stuff online, where people were saying how ugly she looked in it. I just thought, ‘She’s amazing, she’s brilliant, she’s talented, she’s secure about how she looks.’”
No matter how successful she is, Grand is clearly having fun doing what she does, such as the shoots she styled for the fanzine-like magazines made for Hogan: “There’s nothing like being on the shoot and it’s all going well and you’re getting great pictures – you’ve got Cara Delevingne in front of you, and she’s looking gorgeous. That makes me really happy.”
But what about the much-heralded rise of stylists as superstars, those celebrity-seeking editors who have become almost caricatures of themselves, online memes with reputations based more on their daily outfits than their actual output? Grand is not part of that select group, but she “It’s shoes and bags that you want girls to buy that make them feel good…it’s a no-brainer” isn’t condescending towards the circus
that fashion week has become. “If people ask me for a press picture, I tend to prefer the pictures of me actually doing some work. I think there are plenty of stylists for whom how they look and how they’re photographed – that’s quite a big part of their job. I really respect them for this maintenance of image. I love Anna Dello Russo. That’s how she likes to work, but it’s not particularly how I like to work. I don’t like to have my picture taken. It doesn’t make me feel comfortable. That’s why when I was kind of working out how the whole Hogan thing should be, I said, ‘I really want to hide behind my good-looking friends.’ It was about the girls I work over and over with. It was a big step for me to actually put my name on a shoe. I was super nervous about it so I was like, ‘Let’s get my friends involved so at least they’ll have to be nice to my face.’ [Laughs] No, but it’s true! I can’t think of anything worse than…it’s very easy to be judgemental.”
Although it’s hard to believe, Grand says that not that much has changed from her early days, when she was putting out “monthly fanzines”. “The only thing that’s different with my working life now from 1995 is that I have a safety net, but I still work pretty much with the same team I had at The Face. We still roll around the floor sometimes.”
She’s the opposite of the monochromeclad jaded fashion editor with killer heels and an intimidating gaze, proving wrong all those naysayers who mourn the good old days when having fun wasn’t part of the job. “I mean, I’m not reinventing the wheel; it’s not rocket science. It’s shoes and bags that you want girls to buy that make them feel good…it’s a no-brainer. It’s not meant to be intellectual. I’m not competing with Miuccia or Marc. It’s a different thing, you know. She’s a cute girl who’s having a good time,” she says of the Hogan girl – but she could be describing herself.