‘If you can’t see the clothes, it’s not a fashion photograph.’
Superstylists a generation apart, Grace Coddington and Lotta Volkova meet to trade their secrets, stories and strategies for conjuring up the perfect picture.
By Alix Browne
Illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
Conspirator, agitator, muse, collaborator, and, yes, not least, the person responsible for putting the clothes on the model, the stylist has over the years come to assume one of the most powerful positions in the kingdom of fashion. You will find one behind most great designers, while photographers lean on them even as they resist their influence. There are former stylists at the heads of more than a few major fashion publications (hello, Edward Enninful and Emmanuelle Alt), and then there is Grace Coddington, who was working with photographers to produce exciting, groundbreaking fashion shoots long before stylists were even called stylists.
During her long career, Coddington has been an eyewitness to, and key player, in the golden age of print magazines, witnessing stylists move from anonymity to centre stage – her own fame launched by her initially reluctant role in R.J. Cutler’s 2009 documentary The September Issue – helping them go from uncredited workers to marquee names. Names that have reached more recent fashion ubiquity, such as Lotta Volkova, the Vladivostock-born, Central Saint Martins-educated, Paris-based in-house stylist for Demna Gvasalia at both Vetements and Balenciaga. After working for her own label – now on permanent hiatus – and getting her first styling break with photographer Ellen von Unwerth, Volkova met Demna and Gosha Rubchinskiy, with whom she has created a collaboration that goes beyond simply styling and reaches into design, photography, casting and modelling, in the process, further stretching the definition of what a stylist can be. And in a world where digital media have been transforming the way fashion is presented, perceived and consumed, Volkova has shown how powerful Instagram can be in taking a stylist’s vision from the personal to the public.
System brought together these two formidable fashion forces at Coddington’s office in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. Despite being generations apart, the pair turned out to have many things in common, starting with a love of storytelling and a disdain for being told what to do. They also, rather endearingly, appeared to be somewhat in awe of the other’s work.
Discover the full interview in System No. 11. Click to buy.