Katie Grand: She's Popping Out


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The new title that Katie, now 33, was brought in to oversee as editor in chief became Pop, launched a year later. "I don't think Emap really knew what it was going to be. I'm not sure that I did either. I just wanted it to be really jolly. And pink—I was obsessed with it being pink. Which I think it kind of is." The very pink fold-out cover famously featured various friends of Katie's, designers Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Luella Bartley and model Liberty Ross among them, poledancing in a dodgy-looking nightspot. "Yes, I suppose the first one was very clique-y. But it's definitely very jolly. I remember when it came back from the printers, I thought it was the best thing ever."

The closest that first issue came to celebrity was a small article featuring Tony Hart, the retired presenter of a kids' art series on TV in the Seventies. It's a very different situation now, nine issues later, with Madonna, Kylie, Liz Hurley, Demi Moore, Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham and Christina Ricci all having appeared on the cover, and the British press crediting the magazine's front page with the power to revive high-profile careers. "I don't think it was until issue four, the one with Madonna on the cover, that we really worked out what the magazine was about. But now I get nervous when it comes back from the printers, because so much expectation has built up about it. Everyone's got their 'Ooh, it's not as good as issue six' or whatever."

If the magazine's profile has increased, so has Katie's. Successfully restyling such universally recognizable faces has led the British press to dub her "the maverick princess of cool." A year ago, the London Evening Standard even claimed that "What Katie does—and Katie says—is as influential as it gets," which might have sounded like overstatement. However, it was borne out in August of this year, when an off-the-cuff remark in an interview in the US made front-page news back in London. "That was very weird. It all started when someone rang up from New York Magazine and said, 'What were you feeling for next season?' And as they'd been interviewing lots of proper magazine editors who were probably talking about, I don't know, leopard print or short skirts or a longer length, I thought it'd be funny to say Sixties Coronation Street [a British soap that's been running for 40-odd years]. Which was kind of true, actually, because I'd been watching old clips of Elsie Tanner [principal character from the original cast and man-eater to boot] on TV that weekend." It quickly grew into an obsession. In fact, Katie rallied her assistants to scour the Internet for tapes of Sixties Corrie featuring Elsie.

A New York correspondent for a British daily read the piece and 'Elsie Tanner chic' quickly became big news in Britain. "I was very surprised how that blew up. It was obviously a very slow news week." Nevertheless, there's a small piece explaining Elsie Tanner's relevance to the immediate future of fashion in the latest issue of Pop.

There's one question in particular—"What happens on a fashion shoot?"—which sends Katie into a fit of snickering, probably because it's such a dumb question. Of course, I know what happens on a fundamental level, but I'm interested in how she does it. I suppose I want to know about the magic—why one shot in a story just works when another similar one doesn't. Although I don't actually use the word 'magic,' of course, as she hates anything carrying so much as a whiff of pretension (she won't even watch films with English subtitles).

"Well," she starts, hesitantly, concerned about saying anything that might sound "wanky," as she puts it, "lots of stylists work from the clothes, and then have an idea about the shoot. Whereas I think of a reference—photography, artů"

Or Elsie Tanner?

"Yes! Or Miss Marple! [The septuagenarian sleuth's dress sense was an influence Katie brought to the putting together of Miu Miu's autumn/winter 2004 collection.] Yeah, I'd probably start with a character, and then work out what the clothes are." Katie's assistant will call in the clothes, from which she'll make her selection, adding some of her own vintage items from home. "And then you turn up at the studio, your assistant turns up with all the trunks, and you sit around and drink tea for about five hours. If you don't get anything shot before two o'clock, it's never a problem. In fact, I wouldn't expect to get anything shot before lunch on the third day."

The best bit of the process, she says, is looking at the first set of Polaroid tests and discovering that the ideas are working. The worst is the very first bit, when the models try on the clothes before their hair and make-up are done, so that the photographer, hair stylist and make-up artist can see what the shoot's going to be about. "Everyone stands around and has an opinion about the clothes, which is really difficult. I feel like I'm being scrutinized and get really defensive." But it's vital for the other creatives on the shoot, giving them their cues. "And good fashion photographers are so experienced, if they can't get inspired about the clothes then they find it really difficult to photograph."

There's a similar stage of stomach-churning exposure when she's acting as a consultant for the shows—currently for Louis Vuitton menswear, Prada and Miu Miu. "You'll have the whole design team there, and the creative director and the director of the whole company, all there watching you perform as you show your ideas. It's a bit like being Tommy Cooper!' [For the non-Brits, Tommy Cooper was a very famous, slightly eccentric stand-up comedian and magician who, tragically, suffered a fatal heart attack on stage during a live televised show, upon which the audience laughed politely, thinking it was part of the act.]

Consulting for fashion houses seems a curiously nebulous, shadowy business for anyone not directly involved. Katie has no official title at either of the houses for whom she currently works, and some that she's worked for previously she's not allowed to talk about in interviews, a common restriction for freelance consultants. So what exactly does she do?

Her input for the runway shows for both the Prada and Louis Vuitton houses differs according to the character of the houses themselves, Katie says. "At Vuitton it's very organized. You have the clothes six days before the show, and your job is a matter of putting them together and working with Marc [Jacobs] and their design team to make sure they like how it's put together." The process at Prada, on the other hand, she finds far harder to describe. "Mrs. (Miuccia) Prada works in a particularly unique way where the show evolves very late in the day. You're probably not working with actual garments until the night before the show, because she really believes that fashion is about what's happening now rather than yesterday. And that's very exciting to be around. She likes working out what the look is, and then the clothes evolve from that. She works on absolutely every part of the process, and all you're there to do, really, is facilitate what she wants.'

So what is it that Katie brings to Prada and Vuitton, and that makes her own work so shiny and glamorous, and yet so substantial at the same time? Is it a certain sensibility, a trademark aesthetic?

"Umů," she says, taking her time with this one. "Oh God, I don't know how this is going to sound. Without sounding wanky, um, I really understand fashion and the history of fashion and craftsmanship, and appreciate the amazing things people have done with clothes. And there are certainly a lot of stylists out there who don't really know much aboutů much, really." Another pause. "But I did design and fashion at school, and read magazines for years, and bought clothes for years, and I suppose there's a proper fashion history education there that not everyone has. I suppose it helps when you're a client and you're trying to explain, I don't know, a dress from 1917. I know what that means, and I'm not sure that everyone else does."

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