Some people spend their whole lives not finding the thing that they are best at, that will bring them satisfaction and success. Others know exactly what they want to achieve, but never come close to it. And then there are those people who seem born to do what they do, whom you can’t imagine doing anything else, and who have the drive, determination and talent to achieve their ambitions. They’re those rare, self-invented characters who bend the world to their will or, better yet, create a new world to their own specifications.
Katie Grand is a fashion enthusiast and the most influential British designer of the past 30 years. (You could possibly delete the word “British” from this sentence.) At various times, she was instrumental behind the scenes of fashion and luxury houses such as Prada, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Mark Jacobs.
For my money, Grand is also the most talented fashion magazine editor of our generation. (Full disclosure: She and I are friends, but I was a devotee long before I met her.) She seems to be plugged into the times like Neo in the Matrix. Not mixing up my 90s cinematic metaphors, but it feels like the result of a sixth sense to me, rather than a skill that can be taught, or even understood. Fame, fashion, art, style, attitude, ideas, the spirit of the present – all these things that make up what we call culture: Katie Grand feels them and is able to translate them into images fixed and animated. She is a conduit, as well as someone who pours her imagination directly onto the page, the screen, the podium.
And whenever the culture changes or takes a new direction, it already seems to be there, perfectly positioned. She is, as Miuccia Prada says in Grand’s new book, a force of nature.
Grand made a name for herself in the early 90s as the fashion director of the then upstart independent magazine, Dizzy and confused, where she forms a formidable triumvirate with the magazine’s founders, publisher Jefferson Hack and photographer Rankin. It was an extraordinary blossoming moment in fashion and fashion photography in London, and Grand arrived alongside a bevy of photographers – David Sims, Solve Sundsbo, Juergen Teller, Liz Collins, and many others – who , together would redefine the iconography of fashion and celebrity portraiture, making it both more raw and real, and at the same time, conversely, experimental and avant-garde. (It would be quicker and easier to list the main photographers she has not worked with over the years than those she has worked with. Her frequent collaborators include Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Alasdair McLellan, Tim Walker …and now I see that I started and if I don’t stop, I’ll never finish.)
After DizzyGrand moved briefly to The face, then still the quintessential British style magazine. It is moving up a gear with the launch of the pioneering half-year, Popular, the first magazine she created and edited herself. By this point, it was abundantly clear to the rest of us who worked in glossy magazines that we were routinely and vastly overwhelmed. The scoops were endless. Popular at that time was an electrifying, utterly distinctive publication, and it lays claim to being the most influential fashion magazine launch in recent memory. (Most of the others you’ve heard of are older than your grandparents. And a lot of them look that way, too.) If you walk into a decent newsagent and are impressed by the remarkable fruitfulness of the independent fashion magazine sector – heaps of them! — at a time when we are so often assured that print is dying — false! — then you felt the influence of Katie Grand. She helped launch an alternative industry, outside of established publishing houses, while working within them.
In 2008, Grand was poached by Conde Nast, publisher of vogue, to create and edit another new magazine of its own design. (I can’t think of any other example of a stylist being approached by a major publisher and asked to come up with her own title, which they will publish.) The result was To like. Funny, sexy, irreverent, cool, it confirmed Grand’s pre-eminence, adding an unerring mastery of social media and video to his accomplishments – and there are those of us who still mourn, every December, the passing of the love advent calendar.
In 2020, Grand twisted again. Today, she runs her own creative agency and a new magazine, Perfect: a heavyweight hardback edited by others but very much a Katie Grand production, in that it seems to capture between its covers the mood of the moment. She styles several fashion shows, as well as reports and fashion shoots for O and vanity lounge, among others. And, finally, she published her first book. For those of us who love fashion photography, who are interested in clothing, music, movies, society and celebrities, the publication of “Tears & Tearsheeets” is a big deal.
In typically iconoclastic style, rather than a glossy cat-killer filled with over-retouched reproductions of past glories, complete with menting commentary from weighty cultural critics (leave that stuff to me), Grand’s book is a paperback , uncoated and refreshing. in contention. While it’s certainly a beautiful object, it evokes the immediacy of samizdat and the cut-and-paste feel of a fanzine, or even an album.
Tearsheets, in magazine publishing jargon, are pages taken from magazines. (“Tears,” in case you were wondering, are tears that, along with blood and toil and sweat, are what go into writing these pages, though I’ve never heard Katie (Grand complaining about her plight. Instead, she seems to revel in chaos, late nights and early mornings, missed deadlines, panicked phone calls, and bloated budgets.)
Published by the excellent IDEA Books, “Tears and Tearsheets” features some of the most memorable images from Grand’s spectacular career, from his very early days until now, with photos of Cindy Crawford and Iman, by Inez & Vinoodh , the problem of O which, at the time of writing, has only recently gone on sale.
One can imagine the teenage Grand – a person with whom, to her credit, the adult Grand remained in close contact – approvingly scrolling through her pages, in her bedroom in Birmingham, then pulling out her scissors for a slicing session, before Blu – Hang your favorite pictures on your wall. She’d be spoiled for choice: as well as insanely shiny covers of Liz Hurley, Madonna, Kate Moss and David Beckham (she also dresses menswear, on occasion, just to show us how it’s done) there are here dozens of dazzling images, a selection of which is reproduced here.
But what is, you might reasonably ask, the stylist’s role in making them? Some stylists, perhaps most of them, are people looking for an interesting outfit, calling out clothes for a fashion photoshoot or arranging items into “looks” for a fashion show. “Choosers”, my late colleague Adrian Gill used to call this kind of stylist. He didn’t mean it kindly.
Grand is as much a creative director, if not a designer in her own right, as someone selecting clothes from a rail. Her job is not to put on a skirt with boots. She can do it, of course she can. But that’s not even half the story. Grand imagines the ideas, she has the opinions. She guides the look and feel and the staging of the images: location, lighting, hairstyle, make-up, casting. (He’s a casting genius, as so many models and stars, from Kate Moss to Cara Delevigne, Nicole Kidman to Kim Kardashian, Beth Ditto to Lauren Hutton, Marc Jacobs to Miss Piggy, can confirm.) C She is first and foremost a collaborator. . Because for all the brand designer and photographer reverence above the title, fashion, like magazines, is a team game.
Her last name might suggest a forbidding character, but in my experience, while she certainly knows her own mind, Grand doesn’t care about her own importance. The photographs in his book are vivid, vital, witty, sometimes confrontational, but never precious or po-faced. There is no grandeur, no grandiosity. Words like “visionary” and “icon” get way too much fashion airtime. “Storyteller” too. (Yuck.) Let’s say she’s an unusually daring image maker, and someone who doesn’t repeat herself. If we retain something from “Tears & Tearsheets”, it’s the remarkable variety of images, styles, looks, subjects. Black White; man Woman; lean, shapely; gay, straight; powerful, vulnerable; every shade in between. But above all, for me, pleasure. She makes it look like fun.
The cover of the book is a striking recent photo, by Harley Weir, of supermodel Bella Hadid in pink lace-up leather pants, her hair brushed back, her eyes closed, lost in a moment of reverie, even ecstasy. The final image, with typical insouciance, is that of two beautiful faces with moving eyes: on the right, Gigi Hadid, Bella’s sister; left, Red, Large Hungarian Vizsla, photographed by Solve Sundsbo.
Except for credits and acknowledgements, and quotes from other fashion luminaries inside the covers, there are no words. In fact, this is my contribution, unsolicited and, as always, too late to publish. An alternative title. Katie Grand: No words.
Tears & Tearsheets by Katie Grand is available to buy now from IDEA Books at Dover Street Market and ideanow.online