“There is something about looking at an image with a light source behind it which makes it so much better than something printed”
Katie Grand hasn’t had far to come this evening: the Industrie office is a stone’s throw from the Hackney Road photographic studio where she has spent the day working on a shoot. In fact, you could map out the landmarks of her prolific magazine career in this part of East London. We’re not far from Old Street, home to Dazed & Confused, which she co-founded, and Love, her latest title, whose fourth issue will be under way by the time you read this, is a bit further up the road into Clerkenwell. Pop, which she launched in 2001, was also conceived in that neighbourhood: it was put together in a cupboard at the back of the offices of The Face, where she served as fashion director at the time. She has styled for numerous other fashion heavyweights too, of course – Japanese and Italian Vogues, Visionaire, Arena Homme Plus, Harper’s Bazaar – although magazines are only part of the story. There are also the string of ad campaigns and collections that she works on – most notably her longstanding relationship with Louis Vuitton – which have confirmed her as one of the most influential, hardworking and respected powerhouses in fashion.
Photographed by: Willy Vanderperre
Written by : Jens Grede
In a previous interview, you said that as an adolescent all you wanted was to be cool.
What kind of crowd were you part of? At that time, did you take your inspiration from the other kids at school that you wanted to fit in with, or were you more influenced by something outside of
‘My best friend, Jo Parker, was super-cool. In 1984, she had cropped bleach-blonde hair. We were both interested in fashion from a young age and stopped hanging out with our school friends quite early on. We were only 13 but we looked older, so we started hanging out with much older kids. We used to put on these 1950s dresses or cycling shorts and puffball skirts we’d made ourselves and go out to bars or ice-skating – that was where we’d meet all these people with similar interests. At that time, cinema was really stylised and films like Betty Blue were a massive influence.’
Would you say you were part of a youth culture, a specific group of people who listened and indentified with a specific genre of music?
‘I suppose so. You learnt early on that if someone came round to your house and you played Talking Heads, Grace Jones or Big Audio Dynamite – those were the big bands at the time – it would be a big thing.’
You cite The Face as one catalyst for your interest in fashion and magazines. When you were younger and living in Birmingham, The Face provided you with information you couldn’t find anywhere else. As a media title, The Face became redundant as the information they offered became what we now find on blogs and news sites.
‘People said that at the time, but towards the end I think The Face made the wrong decisions. When we started Dazed, we were out every night living that lifestyle. We would stay up all night – at one point we didn’t even go into work because the magazine was being done from my kitchen! It is hard to do a magazine, which is very much about youth culture unless you are living that lifestyle. By that point, the staff at The Face had just got too old – Neil Stevenson [its final editor] must have been in his thirties and the magazine really should have been edited by someone like [i-D editor] Ben Reardon when he was in his early twenties. In many ways, when I was there I was already far too experienced. I was 27 or 28, I had done Dazed for seven years, which had been difficult as we had no money and had to work really hard to find new photographers and funding. I could have done that job with my eyes shut. I knew how to do that stuff, I didn’t have to live it any more. Of course, I did some nice stories and I met Mert and Marcus, Sølve [Sundsbø] and Liz [Collins] – they all really grew with The Face. But were their images the sort that the magazine should have been producing at that time? I don’t know. They were kind of sophisticated and aspirational pictures.’
By the end of The Face, it felt like the front of the book was speaking a very different language to the back of the book, that the news stories and journalistic pieces had lost their direction.
‘They weren’t the right people. When I was working there, the editor on the front section had been there for ten years. I remember suggesting to put The Strokes on the cover when they first came out around 1997-8 and Ashley [Heath, then the editorial director] saying it wasn’t the right time. It was frustrating because it was so obvious they were going to be huge – “Last Night” was the best record I had heard in five years. The staff had become too old and a bit too stuffy, they just couldn’t perceive what a young person would get enthusiastic about. It’s a shame what happened. I can still recall the day before the announcement [of The Face’s closure] was made: it was four o’clock in the afternoon, I was pulled into the managing director’s office and they still hadn’t decided what they were going to do. They really closed it on a whim. I think it was around the same time that [The Face’s owners] Emap had lost a lot of money in America so they were very conscious of capital. It was sad – The Face was such a great brand and in many ways that red banner is the best logo ever.’
Do you think that print as a medium became too slow for what The Face wanted to achieve?
‘If you compare it now then yes, obviously. There’s something quite strange about editing a title like Love, which is only out twice a year, but it means you can be precious with your magazine and then do interesting projects with blogs and websites and other things outside of print.’
The Face could have lived on as an online brand. Magazines provide the reader with a unique edited experience but most blogs tend to repeat information, so you end up seeing the same news or images over and over again. The internet is quick but doesn’t provide the reader with a distinctive experience, which is why magazines still play a decisive role and why The Face could have existed online and assumed that role. What do you imagine you would be reading if you were 15 in Birmingham today?
‘I don’t know. It’s difficult with me because I’m such a hoarder – I’ve got a whole library of magazines at home – but I can’t see that I’d own much that is paper.’
Do you think that magazines, in particular bigger brands such as Vogue, still have a sense of authority? Is there still a place for authority? It feels like we’ve lost the sense of authority and guidance which magazines once provided.
‘Authority is knowledge. If someone goes onto the Fashion Spot and writes that a certain magazine is dreadful, that’s different from Cathy Horyn saying it is dreadful because there is an authoritative, experienced voice behind the latter point of view. I don’t know what I think about the whole idea of blog culture yet. The internet is very much like snow blindness: there is so much information available but after a certain point I just can’t look at it any more. There is no real kind of beauty.’