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Their Secret Weapon

Katie Grand has become a style-setter for Europe's leading fashion houses.

September 30, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer


In an era when stylists are spotlight-grabbing celebrities themselves, Katie Grand is a tastemaker in the truest sense of the word -- a trend-making force who has worked almost totally behind the scenes for the last decade. She started her fashion career dressing the Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue and went on to style the world's top labels. She launched and edits one of the most influential niche fashion magazines, is a muse to some of the most creative designers working today and has now begun to design herself. And all by the time she turned 35.

Grand has consulted on designs for BCBG and Mulberry, the British leathergoods brand that recently named her creative director. She's styled shows for Prada, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton, Proenza Schouler and Giles Deacon, whose spring collection would have been nothing more than pretty frocks if Grand hadn't had the idea to put models in grandma chic, flesh-toned knee highs.

"It needed that edge," Grand says at the designer's East London studio less than 24 hours before the show. She's sitting cross-legged on the floor in a velvet Miu Miu dress and flats, critiquing each dress as it comes up from the atelier downstairs, poring over Polaroids of looks and working out a running order. "A runway show should never be boring. I love those shows where you sit and your jaw's on the floor and you think that's so wrong it's right."

Grand is a no-makeup kind of girl with a gap between her front teeth, an imperfection that suits her approach to fashion -- always slightly askew. She has a full head of curly hair and a penchant for wearing the most outrageous clothes she can get her hands on. One season, she wedged herself into one front row after another in a Vuitton red velvet and ermine coat. Another season, she sported a mechanic's jumpsuit. And then, both styles popped up in collection after collection.

As editor of Pop, the insider fashion magazine, she is at the center of the London style scene. She used to live with Luella Bartley and counts Stella McCartney and Kate Moss as friends. The magazine is her creative laboratory, and she's constantly finding new and interesting ways to present fashion in its pages, thanks in no small part to her access to, well, everyone.

The issue on newsstands now features cover girl Lindsay Lohan, photographed between stints in rehab, fall's chunky knits modeled by sheep, and a 38-page fashion layout of portly pop icon Beth Ditto in runway looks made specially to fit her by Deacon, Marc Jacobs and other designer friends.

What Grand does in the magazine informs everything she does, which explains why Pop, with a circulation of less than 100,000, has such a deep reach in fashion circles. The concept for Deacon's fall runway show, which featured outsize, wooly mammoth knit scarves and dramatic feather headdresses, was hatched early on at milliner Stephen Jones' studio, where Grand was picking a feather hat to shoot for the magazine.

"I had on a really shaggy, Azzedine Alaia Mongolian lamb jacket," she remembers. "I put the hat on back to front with the feathers hanging down over my face, and the shaggy jacket and it just looked right."

"She takes me off on different tangents," Deacon says. "I'll think I have something and then she turns it on its head."

At Vuitton, her work is more last minute, in part because what happens with Marc Jacobs' collection in New York can change the direction of the Vuitton collection he shows in Paris a few weeks later. Fall 2006 was one of Grand's favorites at Vuitton.

"There was the same feel in the air in the Vuitton studio and in Marc's collection," she said. "It was something masculine and tough. Leopard was big in Marc's collection, and I wanted it at Vuitton. Marc said that Stephen Sprouse had done a leopard print for them in the 1990s that they never used. I said, 'Please, can we have it? Please? Please!' "

Her instincts were right: The Sprouse leopard bags and scarves were a hit and have since become collector's' items.

In 2003, Grand was hired to work on Prada's Miu Miu line. But shortly after she arrived at the studio in Milan, her suitcase full of styling aids, or what she calls her "secondhand rubbish," disappeared. Turns out, Miuccia Prada was so intrigued by the treasure chest, she had taken it upstairs for a closer inspection. She hired Grand to work on Prada's main line on the spot.

Grand ticks off her favorite Prada collections not by year or season, but by look. There was the "sex collection" (fall 2002's plastic see-through raincoats, sky high heels); the "Peter and the Wolf collection" (fall 2004's prints of ruins obscured into romantic visions, snowflake crystals on everything); the "tie dye collection" (spring 2004's dip-dyed skirts, raffia belts); and the fall 2003 "lesbian collection" ("That was my favorite with all the 1960s prints and tweed hats").

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