Fashion Media Awards: Katie Grand, International Fashion Magazine of the Year, LOVE

by Alexandra Ilyashov

Indie glossy trailblazer and visionary stylist Katie Grand—long the go-to gal for Miuccia and Marc—changed the way a fashion book could look as an editrix for Dazed & Confused, The Face, and POP. But in 2008, her impact on major runways and singular ability to launch a trend won her publishing’s brass ring: her very own Condé title, LOVE. Since then, it’s been the boundary-pushing biannual to watch. BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

LOVE was launched expressly as a Katie Grand project. How did that happen?
I’d been editor at large at POP, fashion director at The Face, and I co-launched Dazed & Confused, so I was kind of on Jonathan Newhouse and Nicholas Coleridge’s radars. I kept bumping into [Jonathan’s wife] Ronnie Newhouse at Dover Street Market. One day, I ran into her by the dressing rooms, and she said to me in passing, “Would you leave POP to go launch a magazine with Condé Nast?”

What was your response?
“Absolutely. In a heartbeat.” Then, I started talking to Nicholas about it. Jonathan said he’s never launched a magazine for an editor, except for me, which is very nice.

What a compliment! How’d things progress from there?
Nicholas has been quite public about the fact that he offered to buy POP, and the publisher, Bauer, said no. When I told Bauer I was leaving to do this with Condé Nast, everyone was whooping and hollering about if Bauer would sell POP if we launched something brand-new for about a week. It was quite obvious the team would come with me, and we’d do something similar to POP. With a twice-yearly magazine, you’re always challenging yourself with the next one. Each issue is like a stand-alone project. We had a £750,000 marketing budget for LOVE. Condé Nast brought us really exciting things—like an office with windows!

Did it feel like you were transitioning to a more corporate setup?
I’ve never had any problem working for big publishing companies; POP was owned by one. But there, we had to do quite a lot of work ourselves, and sometimes it was really challenging. Condé Nast is the best there is at publishing magazines. They have structures that help you do distribution and marketing, things I find very frustrating. There was nothing but relief going to Condé Nast. I finally felt like I was in the place I was born to be.

How did you pick your very first LOVE cover girl?
I’d worked with Beth Ditto on a POP shoot, with Steven Klein, and I just really loved her energy. I was also very fond of her as a person. When you’re surrounded by new things, you rely on your gut instincts and familiarity. It would’ve been easy to put a very A-list, established movie star, like a Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes, on the cover. That didn’t feel like the right precedent to set. It needed to be someone different and out-of-the-box. For me, the answer was always Beth—and always her naked. Beth was happy with that! When Nicholas saw the cover, he said “Oh, God, Katie, are you sure?” I’d never been more sure of anything in my life.

How fast did the inaugural LOVE issue come together?
We finished up POP in October 2008, and we put LOVE out in January 2009. It was quick—about three months.

Were there any near-catastrophe moments in LOVE’s early days?
Not really. Condé Nast is really supportive, and very good at production. It was a bit like being on holiday, actually! [Laughs] There were all these people helping, rather than us doing everything ourselves. When we sent the issue off to print, I remember thinking, “Now we’re going to be judged.” Up until that point, it was all jolly, and I’d felt pretty secure about the issue. But there were big expectations.

Ever worried about not having enough creative freedom at big publishing houses?
It’s never been an issue anywhere that I’ve worked. I’m aware that we have the biggest circulation of all the bi-annuals. You have to know how far to push, and how far to pull back. I like being as mass-market as we can be for something that’s creative.

Let’s discuss your staff.
I’ve worked with our senior editor, Murray Healy, for 15 years—at The Face, POP, and LOVE. He and our publisher, Catherine Russell, have been constants in my career; Catherine was also The Face’s publisher. I also worked with our art director, Matt Roach, at Dazed & Confused. Otherwise, the team is pretty young and new.

Which mod has graced the pages of LOVE the longest?
Cara Delevingne. We shot her for our second issue—before she did anything, really. She’d done some child modeling for Bruce Weber, but we used her very early on.

How did you discover Cara?
Victoria Young, our fashion director at the time, brought Cara’s pictures in. She also said, “…and she’s Nicholas Coleridge’s goddaughter, so let’s shoot her.” Vic shot her with Dan Jackson, and she’s been in every issue since. Now, she’s a megastar.

Any other beauties who’ve been in the mix for awhile?
Edie Campbell’s been a constant. Mario Testino shot her for us in 2010, when she still had long blonde hair, before she’d done that Burberry campaign with Romeo Beckham. Kate Moss has been in most of our issues, too. I keep coming back to those three.

What about photographers?
I tend to like the same photographers, and use them all the time! I’ve worked with Mert & Marcus on every LOVE cover. Toby McFarlan Pond has done every issue of every magazine I’ve ever worked on—I’ve worked with him since 1993. Tim Walker worked on our past six issues. Mert & Marcus have worked with us for a while, too.

Any photogs you’d love to get into LOVE?
Steven Meisel. He’s probably the only photographer I haven’t worked with.

What’s your most memorable cover to date?
Tim Walker shot Karen Elson and Edie with a lion, and it was the most memorable shoot of my career. We were all so terrified! You think having a lion on the shoot is going to be a really good idea…and then when it’s there, it’s completely uncontrollable. The lion went berserk and started stampeding around, knocking things over. Karen was literally hiding in a cupboard, three flights up, because the lion charged toward her. Talk about being taken out of your comfort zone.

Any other standout cover memories?
I really love the Miley Cyrus cover. She was a complete joy to work with—she’s really smart and interesting. She left me with the same feeling as when I met Beth Ditto for the first time. You don’t meet that many celebrities who are that special. Normally, there’s a whole set of rules and problems that you go through before you get to the shoot. All that stuff bores me senseless! Miley was just one of those really easy delights: She’d do anything, and is completely fearless.

What’s the riskiest shoot you’ve done at LOVE?
I’m usually pretty careful. In six years, I’ve only pulled two images before going to print.

Why did you ax those photos?
One was of a guy wetting himself in a pair of pink tracksuit bottoms. I felt uncomfortable with it. I sent it to Nicholas, and he felt very uncomfortable with it. In the last issue, there was a photo with a costume that had echoes of a Nazi uniform. It sat on the wall for a long time. No one else had a problem with it, but I pulled it at the very last minute. It was very, very, very tenuous. It wasn’t worth the fallout if anyone had said anything.

Two nixed images in that many years is a pretty good track record.
There is a strength to the women I put in the magazine. I don’t ever support women looking vulnerable. I’m very sensitive to that.

Why’d you put Kendall Jenner on your latest cover?
The way she’s gone about being a model, and her motives, are really interesting. I’m sure she could’ve picked up a L’Oréal contract quite easily if she’d gone the celebrity route. She’s made quite a strong, brave decision to be judged the same as all the other girls who do editorial. That’s very interesting considering her background. She’s very ambitious. She wants to be judged at face value, for how she looks, rather than for her family.

What’s up with the name LOVE?
Because my first name choice, Bubble, wasn’t available. Then, I wanted to call it Fame, but that wasn’t available. Then, we actually trademarked Starlet, and I panicked about that, saying, “Oh, God, what if we put a guy on the cover? It’s so movie star.” We went through all these names. Then I sat down with the then-art director, Lee Swillingham, and we looked at an old cover of POP, with Courtney Love on the cover, and the word “love” across her chest in big type. I said, “Can you just move the type? Let’s see how the word LOVE looks.” Sometimes you have to really see type on a page to know how you feel about it. We drove Condé Nast’s legal department absolutely insane. They must’ve been thinking, “Oh, God, we’ve got a handful with this one.”

On the frequency front, ever thought about giving us LOVE more than twice a year?
Ooh, that’s a good one! No. Seven years ago, when I was at POP we went to three issues a year, at the request of advertisers. It was really tough, and it wasn’t particularly successful in any way. It’d be really hard to do a magazine with contributors I like, putting out issues more than twice a year.

How about doing just one issue annually?
It never came up. That’d be hard for both advertisers and readers. You can’t have something on the shelves for longer than six months. But at one point, we did talk about doing an annual issue as an extra thing, which would be really fun to do.

You’re renowned for your aesthetic abilities. Are you a wordsmith, too?
When I write, it’s like an iPhone that’s got a glitch. I can write, it’s just not my natural forte. I don’t particularly like doing it. There are people who do it much better than me!

What kind of writing fits LOVE?
I don’t particularly like flowery fashion speak in my magazine; it doesn’t seem appropriate. It doesn’t fit comfortably next to the images. That’s why I’ve worked for so many years with Murray Healey: We have the same reference points. We liked the same magazines growing up.

What is LOVE’s closest competition?
Probably Interview. I don’t think the magazines are similar, per se, but they’re also a cool, interesting commercial magazine. We’ve both got really good circulation numbers, and similar contributors. I absolutely love Fabien [Baron], and Interview’s one of the better magazines out there. I don’t mean bad competition!

Ever consider doing a U.S. edition of LOVE?
We’re such an international title. Our distribution is half in the U.K., and half in the rest of the world. It’s easily available in the U.S. I suppose if someone came to Nicholas and Jonathan about that, maybe they’d think differently, but I think they’re pretty happy. Currently, we’ve got a split cover— Kendall Jenner, Amy Adams, and Christy Turlington—and it’s a very America-friendly issue.

Ha! Tell us more…
Amy looks so brave in the pictures, because she’s not portrayed as a movie star. There isn’t the glamour and gloss of a celebrity portrait sitting. It looks like an art project. Also, David Sims shot Raquel Zimmerman for the recent issue, which I’m really pleased with. I don’t have much bad stuff to say about my time editing LOVE, to be honest.

How do you juggle LOVE with your styling gigs?
It’s tough. This season I did two men’s shows, and I hadn’t done men’s shows in a long time. We were in production on the magazine at the same time. But people are pretty considerate of LOVE’s production schedule. Marc [Jacobs] understands that at particular times of the year I have to do the magazine, and that it’s a really important part of my life. If you say, “Oh, we’re in production,” everyone leaves you alone.

How did you meet Marc?
When I gatecrashed a Louis Vuitton dinner in 2002. Peter Copping was studio design director, and he said, “Oh, come along for a drink.” I went along with Charlotte Stockdale—knowing me, I probably took along five other friends, too. We got quite a frosty reception because it was a proper, sit-down, formal dinner with the team. I was pretty precocious. I didn’t really care that everyone was a bit sniffy that we were there!

Got any unique Marc insights?
He’s such an open book. Every interview he does, my jaw always drops on the floor. He’s quite exceptional in his attitude toward his team; he always thanks the people that make it all happen. He’s very different from other designers, who lead you to believe they alone decide how long the stitch is on a handbag. There are many designers who never thank the team or even talk about the team. He likes to say “we” a lot, which is so nice.

Why do you two have such creative chemistry?
You just meet those people in your life, and you either have a rapport or you don’t. In fashion, the hours are so long. If you’re not having a good time, you should just get out. It’s not worth it in the long run. There have definitely been years where I’ve seen more of Marc than I have my husband.

How did you feel about Marc as a designer before you were pals?
I genuinely love what he does. Before I met Marc, I was a customer. Even way, way back when I didn’t have much money, I’ve always spent all my money on clothes. I would always buy Marc Jacobs! Even in 2001 or 2002 I would buy Vuitton, which was a fortune. You never get a discount at Vuitton.

If you had to play favorites with Marc’s shows, which stand out?
I really loved the Vuitton Spring ’13 show, with the escalators. It was this really amazing art piece. I actually cried at the end of that show, which is the only time that’s ever happened. I also loved Marc’s Spring ’14, show. Everyone was pretty perfect; of course, Sky Ferreira walked the wrong way and Cara followed her, things went wrong, but when all the girls were lined up backstage, it was pretty special.

You’re quite adored in the biz. Why do you think that’s the case?
I choose the right people to work with! My brutal honesty doesn’t suit everyone. That’s a very British thing: Tell it like it is. We’ve got a lot of stuff to get through, let’s just get on with it. Miuccia [Prada] said to me very early on in my career, “I don’t pay you to be polite.” I’m actually employed for what I think, and I always cut to the chase. Some designers like their egos massaged a little more than I will do. Then again, I’ve been wearing Marc’s clothes every day this season, which must be nice for his ego, but it’s very genuine.

Let’s discuss Miuccia.
She’s quite magical. She lights up a room, and she’s really clever. Her taste is absolutely, unfalteringly impeccable. Oh, and she always looks amazing. The surprising thing about Miuccia is, she’s really warm and in some ways quite maternal. We’re quite fond of each other. She and I see each other all the time, in that fashion sense of “all the time.”

What do you get from styling that you don’t get from doing LOVE?
Working with really amazing embroiderers, craftsmen, looking through fabric archives, and helping design a pair of shoes that you really want to wear; that’s all really exciting. Finding a new way to say something that’s been said a million times before.

How early on did you decide you wanted to be a mag editrix?
When I was 17. I first became aware of magazines when I was 13, when I was sick and my dad came home at lunchtime and brought me copies of British Vogue, i-D, and The Face. Soon after, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

What did you get out of going to Central Saint Martins?
I didn’t learn very much at Saint Martins, I have to say. It was good fun socially—though they should tell you on your first day, “Be nice to everyone, because you’re still going to be in the same circle in 20 years’ time.” But it wasn’t a great college for me. It suits some people, and it doesn’t suit others. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I just didn’t really know how to do it, and college wasn’t helping me do it.

What did help you out?
By chance, I met Rankin and Jefferson [Hack] in a bar; they were setting up a magazine. I just thought, “Well, I should start living my life now.” So that was what I did while still at school on and off for another six months.

How did your parents feel about you leaving college?
My dad was fine with it. My mum was disappointed, because it was a risk. She didn’t have the opportunity to get a degree, and she wanted to see me do what she didn’t have the opportunity to do. A few years later, it was all fine. They were quite normal parents. I think they just wanted me to be happy, and to do what I wanted. Of course, it’s a risk when you’re 22 and you say, “I met these kids in a bar, and we’re going to start a magazine.” It all worked out! They’re both really proud of me for that.

How would you sum up your sense of style?
It depends on my weight. Whenever I’m feeling thinner, it’s always Azzedine [Alaïa]. If I’m a bit heavier, it’s jeans and a jacket. I go through stages, like everyone, where sometimes you make more of an effort and sometimes less of an effort. Right now I’m quite into making an effort: Marc, Azzedine, mixed in with quite a lot of Miu Miu.

Apparently, you’re quite the glossy collector.
I’ve got Vogue since ’84. I’ve got a big library at home, and everything is bound. The room is now overflowing; I need to think of a room to put some more shelves in. It’s just for personal pleasure—I’m incapable of throwing stuff away. It’s the same with clothes, shoes, handbags. I have a mountain of stuff. It just is getting bigger. It never gets smaller.

What’s a classic Katie-ism?
“Oh, that’s very jolly.” If I say something is jolly that means it’s a winner.

And if it’s definitely not a winner?
My face is quite good at telling the story without opening my mouth.

PLUS! Marc weighs in…
What do you love most about Katie?
She comes in with a lot of energy! She’s very enthusiastic. It’s very easy to have a dialogue with her. She understands me, we throw things at each other, and it evolves from there. We’ve got similar references, likes, interests. Our sense of humor is the same sometimes—most times, actually. I need to work with people who push and challenge me. We both have these similar whims, and an inclination to go further than we have in the past.

Katie describes herself as very blunt. Why do you dig that?
Who has the patience—or the desire—to work with people who just say, “That’s great?” I’d rather deal with honesty and the discomfort of a challenge than the smooth failing of people just “yes-ing” me all the time. I rely on Katie to respond with her gut reaction. Sometimes there’s friendly disagreement, but it’s good to have someone that instinctively responds. When Katie worked with Prada, Miuccia Prada said to her, “ You’re not here to win a popularity contest.” It isn’t about everybody liking you, although I certainly love Katie!

What has Katie done for the fashion industry with LOVE?
It’s a great extension of her, and her sensibilities: It’s really young, cool, and it doesn’t fit this commercial idea of what a fashion magazine should be. When I look at LOVE, I hear Katie’s funny, adorable laugh. It puts a smile on my face.

If you had to single out a favorite collection you’ve worked on together…
The most crazy and chaotic time for us was when we did the final Vuitton collection and the Victorian collection we did [for the Marc Jacobs line], at the same time. The clothes were so detailed. We both wanted to go so, so far—embroidery on top of embroidery! There was this sense that we just couldn’t do enough. We both are equally challenged when things get insane. We get amused when something is over the top and starts looking like a Muppet.

Those are the kinds of words she and I use. A creature, a Muppet—our references have become sort of crazy, obscure, and weird! Building up to a show, everything gets pushed further. There’s a kind of chaos, anxiety, fear. But there’s always Katie’s giddy laughter in the background.

What’s your fondest off-duty moment with Katie?
When we had the Vuitton show in Shanghai, we had a sort of after-party in a hotel suite. Katie’s always got a killer playlist on her iPod—she often provides music for my fittings. We were jumping on beds, dancing to Katie’s music. We blew the speakers, broke the beds, and caused a hell of a lot of chaos and havoc. Katie and I have this energy; it’s like we’re kids! It’s a very good feeling. I enjoy sharing that with her.

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