Katie Grand: She's Popping Out

She helms the British style ship known simply as Pop magazine—among styling for oodles of other titles and consulting for the Prada, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton shows each season—but Katie Grand keeps her feet planted firmly on the ground. Unaffected and easy-going, she sits down (on the floor, no less) with MURRAY HEALY and opens up about the things that drive her, from silly English soaps to a serious aversion to anything "wanky."

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Interviewing someone is weird enough at the best of times—firing questions at a famous stranger with the kind of abandon usually only enjoyed by cops or psychoanalysts—but when that someone isn't a stranger at all, it feels even weirder, as I'm about to find out. I've been working with Katie Grand on Pop, her twice-yearly fashion magazine, for the past four years, but now my task is to interview her. Off the top of my head, there are all sorts of office trivia I could write about, such as her catch phrases—things she likes are "fun," "jolly" and "marvellous," while things she doesn't like are "dreary." She enjoys a long swim every morning. She's just had the walls of her North London home decorated with William Morris wallpaper. She's discovered the world's greatest moth-buster, which helps keep away unwanted visitors from her vast collection of vintage designer clothes, pieces from which she often wears to the office—an early Westwood jacket with embroidered lapels, say, or a billowing black 80's Comme dress, or a smart Chanel suit jacket with faded jeans. But to get the kind of information one would expect from an interview—where she was born, why she loves fashion so much and how she became (in the words of The Daily Telegraph, a terribly respectable British newspaper not given to hyperbole) "one of the most powerful stylists in the world"—requires a tête-à-tête.

Finding time to sit down with Katie isn't easy. Ironically, after spending the last six weeks chained to our desks finishing off the latest issue of Pop, she's now impossible to pin down, endlessly zipping between jobs and capital cities. Eventually she finds a gap between helping to prepare Giles Deacon's show for London Fashion Week and styling the cover of Arena Homme +, so we sit cross-legged on the floor of the empty office where The Face (RIP) used to be based. She's always brimming with energy and ideas, and this almost child-like alertness and curiosity shows on her face. I begin firing off questions which make her laugh at first, because they're not the kind of things one asks a friend.

Katie was born in Leeds, which I didn't know, and grew up in Birmingham—which I did, because when I first knew her she would occasionally slip into the local accent for comic effect—where she discovered fashion at the age of twelve. "I was really nerdy. And then, kind of overnight, I can clearly remember thinking, 'I just want to be cool.' Around that time, my dad's girlfriend moved up from London and I thought she was terribly chic. She always used to wear Warehouse, which had just opened and was really good, because Jeff Banks was still in charge. So there are photos of me aged twelve wearing waist-high tight red jeans with a puffed-sleeved blue sweater and awful hair, and then aged thirteen in an ankle-length black gathered skirt, white shirt tucked in, braces (suspenders), a black tie, black lace tights, navy blue stilettos and a black beret with a veil. So it was quite quick! And I really got into going to London and going to the Great Gear Market and all that kind of thing."

Academically she was a bright spark, excelling at math, history and English—but not at art, which was unfortunate, because "around fifteen I decided that I wanted to do something in art or fashion." So while studying for her O-levels (exams) she took night classes at the local college to get her design skills up to speed: "sculpture, life drawing, jewellery making, even pottery, because I really wasn't very good." It was only during her foundation course at Birmingham's Bournville College of Art that her design skills blossomed. "I was student of the year and got 96 percent!" So getting into St Martins, London's formidably prestigious design school, didn't prove a major hurdle, although once there she found it hard to settle on a single subject on her degree course. "I tried design, marketing, journalism, knitwear…and ended up doing print, which I still find weird."

It was while she was studying there that she became involved with the recently launched style mag Dazed & Confused, after getting drunk with co-founder Rankin at the opening night of his exhibition Hello Sexy And Welcome in 1993. She helped assemble issue two (as in physically putting the pages together and folding them), and by issue three she had already overturned the magazine's no-fashion policy and started styling shoots.
She remained at Dazed for the remainder of the 90s, where her work was essential in establishing the magazine's fashion credentials. "Brilliant" is how she remembers those days. "Whatever you wanted to do, you just did it. No one could tell you what to do—although you had to argue for what you believed in." But a potent combination of self-consciously talented and artistically ambitious staff, creative freedom and monthly deadlines rarely made for a harmonious working atmosphere. "I ended up going out with Rankin, which was kind of a nightmare, and after we split up it was really difficult working together because we're both quite bullish. And I never had much of a relationship with Jefferson (Hack, the editor). But working with those two was hilarious—every other day would be a screaming row, with stuff being thrown round the office—really juvenile. It wasn't entirely different from being at St Martins, in fact."

It didn't help when Katie started styling shoots for The Face, the style title for whose throne Dazed appeared to be vying—even promoting itself as The Face Of The Nineties—and its biannual menswear stablemate Arena Homme +. When the owners of The Face and Homme + sold them to the publishing conglomerate Emap, Katie was invited to take on an official position within the new set-up, becoming fashion director of The Face and editor-in-chief of an as-yet unnamed new title. "The new directors were looking at launching a twice-yearly version of The Face in the same way that Homme + had sprung from Arena." She put off the painful job of breaking the news of her new job to the Dazed team until moments before her first Face cover shoot—a portait of the model Guinevere looking hoity-toity in a leather collar and a holding white cat—hit the newsstands in August 1999. "Well, it was a really, really hard thing to do." (cont'd)

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