Katie Grand on why the #MeToo movement has changed everything, including herself
“After all the Weinstein stuff came out, it was only a matter of time before people focused on the fashion industry,” says Katie Grand.
The editor-in-chief of LOVE magazine is talking about the allegations of sexual harassment made against photographers Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, with doubtless more names to come, and why she decided to devote the latest issue of her fashion tome to giving models a platform to speak out, in an attempt to bring about changes in the industry that now seem long overdue. “It’s not just the straightforward abuse that models have been enduring for years but also the power balance inherent in the structure that places models, like actresses, so low down the food chain,” she says.
We are in her Clerkenwell office, with the page spreads of the new issue of the magazine on the wall like a scene from The Devil Wears Prada. Except that Grand, in her Simone Rocha black silk dress, all flounces and ruffles, over a long sleeved T-shirt, feet in Balenciaga pink satin slippers, make-up free, black hair askew, is no Miranda Priestley. Poached by Condé Nast in 2009 to launch the ad-heavy, glossy, biannual doorstopper, she is undoubtedly one of the best-connected, most powerful figures in the fashion world, and an experienced stylist and creative director, who continues to work for fashion houses such as Prada, Marc Jacobs and Schiaparelli. She also has a reputation for being brash and intimidating.
The new issue features a stellar cast: model and actress Lauren Hutton, now in her 70s, is quizzed by the likes of Kate Moss and Elle Fanning. Naomi Campbell models Grand’s own wedding dress — a snakeskin number by Azzedine Alaïa in homage to the designer who died in November. Eva Herzigova talks about feeling coerced and shoots that she didn’t enjoy, including one with Helmut Newton. “It’s tough, because you might go with it. And then you feel regretful or uneasy,” she writes.
The really topical interviews are with Edie Campbell (who is on the cover) and Cameron Russell. After the stories about Richardson’s alleged sexual harassment of models broke last October, Campbell had posted “he wasn’t the only one” on Instagram, which Grand reposted. “Then boys started tagging each other on my Instagram and I felt very uncomfortable with it. I’d just had norovirus and was feeling tired and vulnerable, so I deleted it,” she says.
But after Russell started an Instagram hashtag, #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse, inviting models to share their stories anonymously, the floodgates opened. Campbell published an open letter in Women’s Wear Daily, saying tolerating abuse had to stop and that everyone from the agents to the casting directors should share the blame. “Don’t stay silent. Your inaction is complicity,” she wrote, and that she hoped she had “judged the mood correctly.” Indeed she had. Vanessa Friedman and two other reporters from The New York Times began an investigation that ultimately resulted in last month’s story of male models going on the record about being allegedly abused by Weber and Testino, claims they have denied.
Workaholic Grand, now 45, has probably been on more shoots than most of us have had hot dinners. “I’ve never seen anything straightforwardly untoward. What I have witnessed a lot more of is [the model being told] “oh, we’re going to shoot till four in the morning, we’re going to put you in a water tank and tie you up, so you can’t swim. You don’t mind, do you?” she cites by way of example.
In her role as a stylist, does she accept a degree of responsibility too? “Photographers generally don’t listen,” she replies, after a pause. “You can say all you want, [or say] ‘you can’t do that’ but if you’ve got 30 people standing there all saying, ‘it’s 10 o’clock, I’ve got a party to go to, and you say ‘oh, come on take your clothes off and get in the water tank’, the girl’s going to agree, unless she’s pretty strong.” Does that ever happen? “Lara Stone would tell you to f*ck off. She did: on a shoot with photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.” Notwithstanding, she adds: “They were some of the most iconic images we’ve ever produced.”
So there’s the rub. Put a beautiful model in front of a big cheese photographer or designer and the chances are, concedes Grand, that they will be surrounded by “so many ‘yes’ people who are so scared that they won’t even question a creative ask.” Campbell compared them to the “artist-genius” allowed to behave in any way he sees fit. There’s a hint of regret in Grand’s voice as she describes how she would “usually be the first one with my car keys, hasty to leave, saying ‘OK, we’ve got the pictures, when there were stories of people sitting drinking till 2am. So I started thinking, should I have told everybody to go home? It was my shoot. Especially at the end of last year; it was the first time I’d ever really scrutinised things.”
What about LOVE’s Advent offering, an annual series of short, titillating and frankly near-pornographic YouTube videos published daily throughout December on the magazine’s website? This year’s selection was billed with the hashtag #staystrong, yet it’s hard to see what is so empowering for women about watching Phil Poynter’s films of models making love to the camera: Emily Ratajkowski in lacy lingerie, writhing on a table as she slips strands of spaghetti in and out of her mouth and down her breasts, Stella Maxwell in a lacy thong, appearing to mount and pump up and down on a bicycle. “Love Advent was shot for fun, with full collaboration of all the models involved. They were involved in the creative and what they wanted to do and we had 170 million views,” responds Grand. Would she do it differently now? “Yes, so much has changed since we shot this in September, we will continue to collaborate closely with the girls on any films we shoot for Love — Advent or otherwise.”
Nor does she have any qualms about who she will or won’t work with again, since she had never worked with Weber, and only twice with Testino and Richardson. “We weren’t friends, although I can imagine if they were closer to me, I’d feel differently. I feel like innocent until proven guilty.” She also suggests that male models may well have suffered even more than their female counterparts because of shame and homophobia. “It’s the 16-, 17- and 18-year-old boys who have been in terrible situations and are not equipped to deal with it. The ones I spoke to say, did I encourage it? Was it my fault? Girls grow up quicker and don’t think about sex in the same way.”
The industry appears to be listening. Last Wednesday, Condé Nast announced the introduction of a new code of conduct. The code covers everything from banning alcohol on shoots to nudity and sexually provocative poses being agreed in advance. It’s not legally binding but follows the introduction in September of the Kering and LVMH charter, which covers other aspects of models’ physical and mental well-being.
It’s a big change from the culture in the late Eighties that allowed Amber Valletta to be sent on her own at 15 on a shoot to Tokyo. “Jaime [King], Amber and Cindy [Crawford] were all talking about their crazy times with such normality, they were like ‘I can’t believe we did that’.”
Another welcome change for Grand is Edward Enninful’s appointment as editor of British Vogue. “Not that Alex [Shulman] wasn’t a great editor, but when you do something for such a long time it becomes only one person’s point of view. No one should stay at the same magazine for 25 years. It was stale and didn’t feel like a magazine I was interested in, despite its good sales.”
She concedes that she can be an exacting and difficult editor at times. “I’m trying to be nicer,” she says, laughing. “And I didn’t shout on this issue.” She also admits she has been frightened of Naomi Campbell “from time to time”, of Tom Ford — “he’s powerful, scary and clever” — and of Edie Campbell (“she can make you feel stupid”).
Perhaps by confronting certain aspects of her own behaviour Grand will be seen to be judging the mood correctly too. “There came a point when I just thought, I’m the editor of a magazine and I’ve got a responsibility to face this.”
LOVE 19 Spring/Summer 2018: Celebrating the women and girls of 2018 is out today, thelovemagazine.co.uk