In his introduction to Katie Baron’s 2012 coffee-table book Stylists: New Fashion Visionaries, the British photographer Nick Knight delivers a stinging glove slap in his pronouncement that stylists “are not only the interpreters but also the originators of fashion.” The CFDA may call that blasphemy, but Knight has a point. Ever since Melanie Ward styled the indelible Corinne Day cover shot of Kate Moss (for the July 1990 issue of The Face) that officially launched the grunge movement, stylists have been at the forefront of global fashion trends. Indeed, when grunge had run its course, Ward decamped to Helmut Lang’s studio, where she laid the groundwork for the next seminal fashion trend: minimalism.
Where stylists really thrive, though, is on the runway; bigger budgets and more toys give them free rein. Take Katie Grand. Before Miuccia Prada hired the young stylist for her groundbreaking fall 2002 show, the Italian designer was known as the purveyor of “frump chic.” By the time Grand had finished her makeover, Prada was being hailed as the sexiest show of Milan Fashion Week. See-through trenches paired with fetish boots, fur coats draped over lingerie, pencil skirts propped up on hooker heels. Ms. Prada may have suggested the louche theme, but Grand brought the vision to life. How did she do it? By being a ruthless editor. It’s more than just pulling the right dresses; it’s about casting the models to wear those dresses, and then deciding how they will wear them. It’s also about making sense of vague instructions. If a designer says “romantic nihilism,” the intuitive stylist instantly thinks, say: corsets under peplum jackets, Marilyn Manson makeup, semi-scowl, teased hair, one hand in pocket, hip jut at the photo pit, throbbing German techno beat. It’s also about using a lot of double-sided tape (to keep shoes on the models’ feet). For further evidence, check out the Marc by Marc Jacobs show, where Katie Grand’s talents were on prominent display.