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Full Interview: William Banks-Blaney & Grace Woodward

For Notion’s Fashion Issue, we shot the gorgeous stylist Grace Woodward in vintage couture from her great friend William Banks-Blaney’s vintage emporium, WilliamVintage. In between the Courrèges dress and the Hardy Amies coat, we managed to nab a few words with the both of them about their love of vintage couture. And here is the full interview as promised in Notion 53.

Notion: So how did you two meet?

Grace Woodward: Well, it was actually through X Factor. There was a whole load of weird coincidences because Anita (who is William’s agent) knows everybody in the entertainment industry. So she actually got in touch with me, and it just so happens that William had opened his store a week previously on the street that I used to live on, and the first thing I thought was “How did I not know about this!?”, because it was just around the corner. But obviously, X Factor was eight days a week, so I hadn’t been pottering around like I usually would be to go and see it. I think because I put Rebecca [Ferguson, contestant] in Ossie Clark, that that’s what prompted the whole thing. The jewellery had been out, and some people just didn’t ‘get’ Rebecca and Ossie Clark; but Will really got it, and I was really, really pleased about that because he then touched base with me… and actually I have to say, you might think that for the X-Factor people would be throwing clothes at you but…
William Banks-Blaney: No, they don’t, and I couldn’t get over that!
GW: No, exactly! I think it’s because it was Rebecca, and with some people, you really struggle to get things. It was just really serendipitous. So then I went to see Will, and I have this thing with a handful of people that I’ve met in my life where I instantly go, “I love this person, I want them in my life forever”.  And that’s how I felt about Will,after spending just 30 seconds in the shop – which was like a dream come true! After I’d stopped hyperventilating and thinking “where do I start!?” and Will had given me a brown paper bag to sort of, calm down a bit… but at that point I saw the most fantastic, exciting stuff; there were just the most exquisite Dior pieces – and the way Will lays them out is not like anybody else does. I know pretty much all the vintage shops I go to inside-out – I know the ones to go to if I want to have a rummage for stuff and so on – but this is not your usual thing. It’s not the normal experience.

N: In a good way, right…?

GW:Oh very much so, in a great way. You know, I was speaking to my aunt – she lives in Beverly Hills –about vintage in LA, and she said, “Oh no, people aren’t really into the whole ‘vintage’ thing, they’re into the new  ‘hot stuff’”. And you sort of think that, well actually, there’s a lot of women out there, in fact there’s a lot of students out there who like vintage, so there’s that kind of, ‘if you’ve got two and a half grand to buy a dress, would you go for a vintage Dior?’, where actually, some women don’t understand vintage Dior. But I think this is what I think Will is bringing to the vintage market – a real difference, in the fact that they are like, pieces of history, and the condition is immaculate. There’s nothing like, “oh they’re a bit stinky”, or, “if I take this home and fix it a little bit it’ll be okay”, because they are actually exquisite.

N: What do you think it is that people don’t really understand about vintage? What triggers their initial ‘turn-off’ about it?

WBB: I think people are scared of it, I really do. I think there’s this whole idea of, “I’m not a thin 20-something”, and it’s a frightening thing, because I think they’ve labelled it as something incredibly chic. They think it takes somebody like Grace who can look at a dress that I have that’s 30, 50, 60 or even 80 years old, and go “Oh my god, that’s completely perfect, I can wear that down the street tomorrow”, or “I can use this for a TV appearance”, and then make it absolutely relevant and modern. And I think it’s that incorporation that people get scared about. Perhaps because their experiences before that haven’t been friendly.

GW: I also think that because there are a lot of vintage scenes, and there are people who are renowned for wearing vintage – you know people like Dita Von Teese – people think that they have to do a full-on look, with the hair, make-up…
WBB: Yes, exactly.
G:…and I think that’s what scares people off; they think they need to all of a sudden become somebody else. I think what a lot of women don’t realise is that the things that the likes of Marc Jacobs and Dolce and Gabbana are turning out are actually copied from vintage pieces. They just don’t know that, because they don’t know enough about the designer or the industry.

N: How did you both approach the shoot today? Did you talk about it before?

GW: Yes absolutely. Will’s stock changes all the time, so it’s a matter of me finding the time to go in which is always a risky business actually, because I know that my bank account is bound to suffer! But we started with a few ideas of some key pieces that were in at the time; we started with a Balenciaga jacket and couture Chanel skirt. But then we just felt it was just too stiff… but you know it was more based around finding something to fit the mood that we were in. So we went through quite a lot of stuff in two big “trying on” sessions. And he’s got things coming in and out of the shop all the time, so it was just about timing to find the right pieces.
WBB: One of the things I love the most when Grace comes in is that, I can have things in which are £150 from the ‘60s in New York or haute couture of the finest, rarest, level, and the enthusiasm we have for everything is the same. With the colour, the pattern, the frivolity of the piece, its longevity, it’s all the same. So there are times, particularly nowadays, when at 11 o’ clock at night, we’d both be knackered, but there’s just this impromptu hour and a half of trying things on!
GW: The god is in the details with a lot of these things, and the thing is that we both get very excited about a small detail that most people would have overlooked. And I think that, because of having a photographic eye that I have, I tend see a detail that in a photograph would look incredible; it would make the whole photograph. And it’s those things that I find really exciting about going into Will’s place because there are not racks and racks of “vintage” dresses. Because actually quite a lot of people are selling vintage now, that’s genuinely really cheap stuff from the ‘80s for like £260, and I think, are you kidding me?
WBB:That’s also the thing – yes, I have very, very expensive dresses. But generally speaking, it’s not that important that I’ve got £10,000 dresses or something, because at the end of the day everybody wants to have a sense of value in what they buy irrespective of the size of their wallet, and that can get forgotten. One of the great things about Grace is that, not only does she immediately get why something is amazing, but she has a very editorial, cinematic perspective to clothing. It’s lovely when I’m looking round because she’s kind of one of my inner voices, and I can think, “Oh my god that’s so fantastic”, because I sometimes see it through her eyes, and it’s this extra layering of creativity that I love, which will actually make me buy some pieces. For example, last night, I bought something from a dealer in the States; it was this completely bonkers piece, and I would never have dreamed of, or looked at something like that if it wasn’t for her. It’s the kind of thing that I know she’ll go completely bonkers over when it comes in – it’s this floor length, puddle-trained, apricot chiffon, colourful… nonsense! But it’s absolutely beautiful.
GW: Also, there’s this dress that I wore to Will’s wedding which most people… well,Elle [Macpherson, Grace’s co-judge on Britain’s Next Top Model] dresses kind of rock ‘n’ roll in a lot of high-fashion stuff, and she’ll sort of, look at me funny. And when I wore this – it was a Pierre Cardin, ’68 I think, floor-length…
WBB: With a massive trapeze cut!
GW: Yeah, and almost with a train-cut back. It looks really medieval, and it’s yellow, orange, hazel-y. But it’s really bright and so, Elle took one look at me in it, and she looked utterly shocked. Because it’s such an iconic dress; the sort of thing you’d see shot by Barry Lategan against a whitewash Spanish town wall, with Penelope Tree in it. It’s that kind of piece.I go through all the images from British Vogue and stuff like that in my head, and I think that’s where it fits in for me – when you know the period it’s come from, and you know how special and incredible, and inspiring a piece is.
WBB: And that’s just it, because I have different minds when I buy, and that dress is an example of how I thought, “Right, this is late ‘60s, early ‘70s, very iconic, luminous, it’s gorgeous.” It’s enormous, but it’s sassy and beautiful.

N: What about your key approach to styling, how does that work? Do you have rules?

GW: Well it depends on context, I mean I do, and have done, all sorts of different styling. So I think that according to taste you develop a look and a style. And my style has always been more colourful, more fantasy, with a sort of historical front rather than just street-style. Because, you know, I want to make women look like women, and that’s the great thing about vintage clothes – especially couture – because they are made to enhance a woman’s body. So you very rarely find a woman not being really feminine in my work. But I mean, I think there are rules in styling, but it depends on the situation.

N: How did you approach styling for the X Factor?

GW: Well, with any musical act, any popstar, you have to look at the person, listen to their music, and then you have to go, “How do I make this person look a thousand times more amazing than they already do?”, but still use the essence of who they are, so they’re not a million miles away from who they are. It’s especially important with X Factor, because these guys have never done it before, and they don’t understand the concept of styling.Styling, for me, is giving somebody an alter-ego – if you look at La Roux, Florence, Gaga, or Beyoncé, any of those guys, their styling, their stage-presence is an alter-ego for who they really are. Ellie is La Roux, Beyoncé is Sasha Fierce, and so that’s what I try to create for my clients; they’re not necessarily bearing their soul out there, and I think everybody needs a bit of protection. You know how you get up in the morning, you put clothes on – it’s like your armour with which to face the world. You’re putting on clothes so that you help people make decisions about what sort of person you are.
WBB: Absolutely – like camouflage.

N: Have you got somebody that you’d really like to work with that perhaps you’ve never worked with before?

GW: People ask me this all the time. The interesting thing is that the people that I love the most, they don’t need a stylist. They are people who are naturally stylish; people like Bjork are incredible.
WBB: I agree.
GW: I think, ‘Well what could I actually do there? What kind of changes would I make?” it’s putting them in an environment where it’s not necessarily about styling, it’s about creating an image, and that’s what I am really – an image maker.
WBB: And going back to what you said about Bjork, she also reflects you I think, because of her mix of styles and personas with her style.
GW: I don’t tend to style “popstars” in terms of Cheryl, and those kinds of girls, because they want to make themselves look ‘beautiful’, and what I’m more interested in is the narrative, so when people look at the images their taken on a journey as well. It’s more about the objectification of whatever a woman is wearing. It’s not “here’s flesh, here’s the sexy dress”, but somebody goes “okay, she’s wearing something that embodies her persona”. That’s the stuff that interests me.

N: You’ve got quite a strong editorial stance on things; in terms of the way the media reflects women, do you think that they can sometimes have a bad effect – like the size zero debate?

GW: I think, like with anything, there’s never one thing that leads to something. I think that celebrities have a lot to answer for these days, and I think publishing hand in hand with that has a lot to answer for. Most celebrities spend their careers looking after their bodies or being on a diet because that’s what they make money out of. However, they don’t then tell the young girls who read these magazines what lengths they go to to do this. So they might look like that, but you not necessarily can; so I think there’s a joint responsibility there. People lay into fashion, editorial and catwalk; well, there’s a reason why catwalk models are six foot tall (generally) and skinny – because clothes look good on that. You do not want to see somebody like me who’s a size 8 and 5’’6 on a catwalk; it’s just the fantasy of selling clothes. And you don’t want to see reality, because actually nobody wants to see reality – you want to be taken out of it.I don’t, however, think young girls should be reading Vogue magazine, but­ they do. I saw “Supernanny” the other day, and there was a thirteen year old girl who was basically verging on an eating disorder, feeling very depressed by reading these magazines. So Supernanny took her to a photo studio, showed her about retouching images and things like that but I thought, “What’s wrong with the girl’s mother!?” Why didn’t her mother say, “Look, this is a bad idea. Stop reading the magazines” or just have a good talk with her. But in the end all she said was, “We definitely need to spend more time together.” So you can’t just say fashion magazines are to blame for size zero.
WBB: It’s a whole culture thing.
GW:Yeah! It’s a culture thing. And I also think eating disorders stem from personal issues with people, usually a psychological issue that’s down to control. Now there are a lot of celebrities out there who control what they eat, but that’s nothing to do with aneating disorder; that’s more down to them trying to have control in their lives.

-Seb Law



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