Charlotte Stockdale has spent time throughout her trajectory at some of the most frequently referenced publications in the world, including Dazed & Confused, The Face, POP during the Katie Grand years, and i-D, as well as mass audience magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Her brand associations have been equally impressive, and her absolute disregard for any idea being impossible has lead to a number of stories endowed with unique perspective. Her impressive wit and a smile-that-just-won’t-quit are only two of the many things for which people adore her. Since her recent appointment as the fashion director of Garage magazine, she’s wasted no time bringing that same adventurous spirit into its pages and social media projects, the latest of which was a fun and festive few days during the Paris collections, where she and the wonderful other half of Chaos Fashion, Katie Lyall, rounded up some of their favorite faces and personalities for a series of Garage go-sees photographed inside the custom painted, pink Garage magazine / Chaos Fashion truck, all around Paris. Their excitement is contagious and their intolerance for anything banal makes for a brilliant blend. Tea, anyone?
Christopher Michael: Let’s start with your love for fashion…
Charlotte Stockdale: I started working in fashion because it was something I loved, but the fashion I love is a much more expressive form of fashion, rather than a journalistic form of fashion. I like to be free. I have many facets. I don’t have a kind of one look thing, and I’ve always been very much interested in film.
CM: Is that why you’re so excited about the arrival of online platforms and moving image?
CS: The online thing is huge. Taking fashion out into a much vaster arena than the kind of brilliant fashion photographers doing film is just a whole, very different, new thing.
CM: That’s so nice to hear, because I think so many of the fashion editors coming from the print world have a little bit of a disconnect with online. Even if they want to appreciate it, they don’t necessarily know how to interact with it the same way they do with print. Although, that’s been changing quite quickly with some.
CS: I don’t think that you will succeed very easily if you’re starting from “OK, let’s do a Victorian story.” It’s a completely different thing. You have to start from the whole narrative. I think in it. I see it. I can see the shots. I know what it is I want to see. It’s hard to explain, because we haven’t really done a lot of it yet, but I think you have to think on the scale of a film, not on the scale of a fashion video. That is a very different concept, truly. It has to be storyboarded and scripted. I’d worked on preparing several movies with Rupert Wyatt, back in 1993-1996, and he got an incredible casting. He went and knocked on Roman Polanski’s door, and got him to agree to be in it. I got many of the ten top designers to agree to work with us, and you look back and think, “How did we pull that off?” Yet everyone said yes to making something for this movie. Everybody. Three times we were so close to filming, and three times the money pulled out at the last minute. When I started at Dazed & Confused, I was already working on a potential full length feature, so it’s kind of always been a part of my trajectory.
CM: How does that affect your taste, in terms of what you want to be commissioning for online platforms with whom you work moving forward?
CS: I’m about anything goes. There is no limit. There is no formula. There is no anything. We did that wink video for i-D, and there was really no narrative there. That was a brilliant, simple idea. Each one was storyboarded. There was a thing they had to do. It had its narrative, which was the cover line, to express through what they did: the hair, the makeup, the lighting. It’s a brave new world. No frontiers.
CM: Does that double the work of the role of a fashion director today, now being responsible for both the print and digital platforms?
CS: Absolutely. For me, the online is as important, and very much holds the same weight as the print now.
CM: I really appreciate that. Like I said, I think people want to grasp the value of digital platforms, but I think many struggle with it. It seems they don’t necessarily know how, because they still very much come from the school of print. It’s so refreshing to see your passion and grasp of that new territory.
CS: It started with Katie Lyall. We’ve worked together 11 years. When I was having the babies, and my mother passed away, and all of that, she very much carried our company, and me, and she was the one who got me going on digital. Kevin Kollenda came to us, and said that he really wanted to speak together about that. Katie had also already been all over it.
CM: Tell me more about Chaos Fashion.
CS: Chaos fashion is us. It’s our brand. It has lots and lots and lots of ambition. We kind of do everything together. Katie [Lyall] does brilliant casting and hair and makeup and research, and we kind of style together. We put everything up on a wall, and go through the entire editing process together. One wall is a complete casting wall, and the other wall is the styling wall. That’s where we have our whole editorial process powwow.
CM: So your process, in terms of styling, isn’t so much about having an overall concept about a story and bringing in the girl, and making that idea unfold on the girl. For you, it’s very much about particular looks that are created before the shoot even happens? In a way, it sounds sort of pre-styled.
CS: It’s both. We overprep. I know that there will be ten pieces that I really want, and it’s those extra twenty bits that you pull that can change the entire story completely from where you thought you were going.
Katie Lyall: Sometimes it starts with a concept, rather than fashion, and you sort of find that place where the two come together. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s why you need the wall.
CM: Which goes back to what you guys were saying about being imaginative, rather than journalistic.
CS & KL: Exactly.
CM: Do you prefer being rooted in a particular home, such as i-D, then, or Garage, now, over being an outside contributor to numerous magazines?
CS: Yes, definitely. Having ideas is never our problem. We have lots of ideas. Focusing and doing them is probably the harder part. Being with one regular thing is much, much better.
CM: It’s always an interesting question, because people quite passionately prefer one or the other.
CS: I was a floater for nearly twenty years, which I loved. I enjoyed the freedom and the travel. I was happy. I was always freelance at Vogue, but I never had a desk at that office or anything. Even at i-D, I had a half desk, but I never really went, because the world isn’t like that anymore.
KL: Also, we travel so much. It’s nice to have our space when we go back to London, because we have our clients and the other things we need to focus on. I think it keeps you more creative and fresh.
CM: I think that’s why many people tend to prefer that world of freelance, because of everything you are saying. In many cases, there is that obligatory attendance at the office, which many creative people tend to feel hindered by.
CS: Yeah, you do. I have to say, if i-D had been little closer to where I lived, I would have spent a little more time in the office. But it was on the opposite side of town for me, and, with kids, and their school, and trying to balance it all, it wasn’t really ideal.
CM: Understandably so! While we are on the subject of working at a magazine, let’s talk about the wonderful world of politics that seem especially prevalent in the UK.
CS: To me, there shouldn’t be parameters between publications the way there used to be. The politics of not using a photographer that another magazine is using, to me, is so small-minded. The world is so bloody big, and also, the magazines tend to have very different readerships. That’s why I love Lucy Yeomans, because everyone was so on her about Porter, and she opened up The Edit, and headed straight for Carine Roitfeld, straight for Emmanuelle Alt: “I love women. I want to celebrate women. I think all of these women are brilliant. None of them make me feel insecure, because I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to worry that there should be any kind of conflict. Let’s all just be happy, uncomplicated people.” It sounds a bit naïve, but it’s actually not at all. It’s just supremely confident.
CM: I think that, right now, it sounds a little bit exceptional to have that point of view. But, due to the industry being oversaturated, the key to creating relevant work that will become timeless or be remembered in this overproduction of images is really what you’re talking about. You can’t work with such a limiting set of rules.
CS: There are no rules in the world of the internet just yet. Fashion people think in a very old fashioned way still. Much of the time, they don’t think they can go and take control. Not take control, but go to a brand and say, “This is what we want to do. Let us do it for you,” as opposed to, “You give us what you’ve already done, and we’ll support it,” which is great for the brands, but then they are spending all of this money on things that perhaps don’t have a reach to everyone. Because you can’t. The world is too big. If you are a high luxury brand, and you do want to hit those kids, it just doesn’t make sense to have your very beautiful campaign shot by the very, very rarest photographer with the rarest model with the rarest hair and makeup.
KL: Also, the reason you want to be in that magazine, as a brand, is the editorial point of view that they impose on their content. So, to come in and want to put in your very opposite look just doesn’t make any sense, really. You pay to be involved in something cool, and, instead, you end up sticking out like a sore thumb.
CS: Yes, exactly — instead of letting yourself become a part of it. Often, my only answer is, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I don’t like no. Don’t come to me and say, “No, you can’t do it.” Come to me and say, “That way is not working.” [laughs]
KL: I do, every now and then.
CS: Yeah. I know that, when you do, it’s really, truly impossible, but that’s really rare. The other thing of “what’s cool” — that’s a dead end street and one that many people walk down.
CM: What do you mean?
CS: I think that if you’re already worried about what other people are going to think about it, you are already so vastly limited.
CM: That goes back to the point of needing to risk having a point of view in the industry today, because the moment you’re so terribly wrapped up in strategy based on this global machine it’s all become, you lose your way.
CS: What does “cool” mean? What’s cool to one is not cool to another. Is “cool” cool? Can cool be fun? Can cool be down? Up? Sideways? What is actually cool? Cool, at the end of the day, is something that makes other people want to be it. [laughs] Which is really funny, because, obviously, every single person that you show a fashion image is going to have a different reaction. I remember bringing some friends to a Victoria’s Secret show, and, after the show, I asked which of the girls they fancied, and they really liked the ones that came in the middle: “You know, the ones that danced!” I realized they were talking about the dancers, and none of the models. To them, the sexiest girls were not even these incredibly gorgeous supermodels, they were the dancers with the “real bodies.”
CM: Sexy is even more subjective than cool.
CS: Absolutely. There are times when straight, normal blokes have talked about sexy fashion or underwear to me over the past years, and they’ve said, “They are just too slim.” The hair is this sort of sexy kind of bed hair and you have these guys asking, “What’s wrong with their hair?” It’s quite hilarious.
CM: What is your preference, as far as girls?
CS: Personality is absolutely number one. We get attracted to faces, but the best is when you meet someone after you’ve spent months with their card up on your wall, loving their look and you find yourself thinking, “Oh, my God, you have a personality! I’ve actually just fallen even more in love with you.”
CM: I love that you went in that direction, rather than saying that now they’ve come in, they are actually so terribly boring. [laughs]
KL: Which has happened, too!
CS: It does, but not so often, actually. They are just young kids, and they get taken out of their little shell.
CM: The redundant conversation of the high speed turnover of girls is really the culprit behind that glowing inexperience. So few girls are ever even given the chance to figure out their angle or…
CS: …or even that she has an angle! I didn’t know I had an angle until Mario Testino told me I had to smile slightly for the paparazzi and turn slightly. [laughs] As a model? I had absolutely no idea. Then these girls get a little bit arrogant, and the next thing they know, nobody wants them in the shows and they are gone. It’s really tragic and awful, and we are all a part of the machine. But, at the same time, if I hadn’t been that tragic, tortured, pretty unhappy model, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, then, I guess it’s a question of what you do with the opportunities that are given to you. What sort of strength you have. Whether you can work out what you want in your life and either take or reject those opportunities.
CM: That is what’s magical about being in New York. Sure, it’s the most competitive city in the world, but that level of competition is met, if not triumphed, by the amount of opportunity. You just need to decide how you view that.
CS: That’s why we really enjoyed doing that selfie “Style Yourself” shoot for i-D magazine — you had the chance to engage the girls on a whole different level. Despite their being top girls, it took them awhile to figure it out. It was a bit like being let out of jail: “Can I really walk down the road? Can I really choose what I’d like to wear?” It was so sweet and they were so lovely.
CM: What’s nice about that is that it goes back to when the girls had collaborative roles in the shoot, and could say what didn’t look good on them.
CS: That used to make me annoyed, and I just kept thinking back to when I was a model and, actually, if someone is happy in what they are wearing, they are going to be such a better model. Obviously, a really good model can put on something that looks like a dog’s bottom and make it look good, but there are different types of models. There are ones who want to know and be a part of a story, and then there are ones that want to know and they are going to make it work come Hell or high water — and then there are ones that just stand there, and don’t own it, and they probably won’t go very far.
CM: That, again, goes back to that whole age thing, and how long these kids are being put through the school of the industry.
KL: There is such a huge change now, with these girls being able to control their voices. They have Instagram and all of these social media outlets. They have their own personalities. The clothes they wear now matter. Their own style is recognized. Their expression of themselves is important to them now. It’s really nice. They realize that people give a shit now, because of their followers.
CM: How did the move to Garage come up?
CS: As I started at i-D, Garage launched. The same season. I remember seeing the first issue and thinking, “Oh, my God, this is so bloody cool.” Dasha Zhukova had asked me to go to the opening party, but I wasn’t able to make it, because we were on a job, and when I saw that first issue, I loved it and it just seemed to get better and better. I’ve been watching it since she first started it. Then, Terry Jones was leaving i-D, and it was the summertime, and Dasha called me when I was just getting back from Greece in August, and said, “Can we have tea?” She was talking about where fashion was going in the magazine, and whether I had any kind of advice, and I talked to her about it and she just, off hand, said, “I know you’re really happy at i-D and I know you would never be interested in moving over,” to which I responded, “I’ve had a fantastic time at i-D and I love it, but, I have to say, I love your magazine a lot. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I find that I am interested in moving over.” I went and looked at the magazine and sat down with my team and my husband, and we thought, “Yeah, why not? I think it’s a good idea.” I also find Dasha very, very inspiring. We met again to have a proper conversation after having a think about it, and what would be involved and such. Katie Lyall and I went and had a great conversation, and ended up meeting again in New York where we had 500 ideas and it was then that I just thought, “This is very much my cup of tea. I really appreciate that she has no boundaries on what’s possible.”
CM: Which is always a luxury, for a creative to have someone at the helm of the magazine who’s so open that way. How will it work with you being able to contribute to other magazines?
CS: I am open and free to do what I want to do, with the exception of anything that might clash with it, but I don’t think there really is.
CM: You’re pretty much doing the bulk of this first issue yourself, yeah?
CS: I did three stories. Katie Lyall did one. Katie Grand, Robbie Spencer and Melissa Simpemba did one. Nick Knight, Nadav Kander, Alice Hawkins, Tyrone Lebon, Ben Toms and Phil Poynter [shot fashion for the issue].
CM: Obviously, you were already a huge fan of the magazine, as many other people were. What was the reasoning behind Dasha’s choice to bring you on?
CS: I guess she wanted someone to bounce off, and to be out there with her at the shows. We discovered a rather extraordinary similarity in our approach, taste and love of things in fashion, and all of the things you see in the new issue, we’ve done together.
CM: With such a specific realm within which this magazine exists, what sort of changes were you intent on making going into this new adventure?
CS: I wanted to bring a little bit more fashion to it. The ideas are brilliant. The layouts and art direction are brilliant. Katie Grand and Robbie Spencer — I love their styling a lot. I was so thrilled when they both said yes and actually did it. [laughs]
CM: Is it common that people say yes and don’t do it?
CS: Yeah, it can be hard, depending what time of year you are commissioning. We started at the end of October, early November, and needed people to shoot on quite a tight turnaround time.
CM: Obviously, there is already a lot of excitement from people about working with you on this new project. Will there be a theme to each issue? Or is it just sort of a cohesive edit throughout the issue?
CS: There have been themes, but we decided not to do a theme with this one and see where it went. Somehow, you always get something that kind of creeps through.
CM: People have been talking a lot about cracking down on shooting for publications that cost them money out of pocket. How does it work with Garage?
CS: There are small budgets, and, if you are able, you add to it yourself. Where you have the choice, I would say, “Do it.” This industry is not a regulated industry. It just can’t be — not where there is creativity, for all Health and Safety are trying. If I’m passionate about something, I’m open to putting what money I can into it, and every available hour. When Phil Poynter and I did a school girls portrait story in 1998 for Dazed & Confused, we ended up shooting about 200 models, in the end, and it cost us so much money. I remember thinking I wanted to do this. I couldn’t give a shit, even though we all had to work like dogs to make the money back. In the end, it was the story that caught the attention of Kate Betts at Harper’s Bazaar. I don’t know if this is true — I can’t remember who told me, so it might be untrue — but, apparently she said to my agent at the time that if someone had the energy to put that story together, they are worth meeting. I think it’s an investment. If I had gone, “Hmmm, no. I’m not going to spend money on this.” If you can earn a little bit, in our case, on catalogs and stuff like that, I would highly recommend to put money into a project you deeply believe in. Everything is a risk. The shoot may be crap, but if you don’t take risks in this life, then you can’t expect to win anything.
CM: So true. What role do you see Garage playing in the landscape of magazines?
CS: I think it’s the place where you can do something unexpected, which is what drew me in. She’s breaking the rules. [laughs] This is the beauty to me, as an art-driven fashion magazine. It’s about a lifestyle — there to pique one’s interest and just make you laugh. Think, or simply enjoy the visuals and information. It’s our point of view.
CM: It’s definitely a luxury publication. I think the parameters are far more broad than most magazines. Do the rules about shooting credits still apply?
CS: They do apply, but we are lucky, in that our advertisers are all people that we believe in and that is something we very much want to continue. Our partnerships are all with mutual respect, so that we can maintain integrity.