The phrases cool mom and cool dad get thrown around a lot—particularly lately, it seems, when everyone’s mom and dad harness, to greater or lesser degrees, some kind of cool.
Grace McKagan, though, probably has you beat. Her sister, Mae, is a college student, a model, and a fashion designer. Her dad, Duff McKagan, is the founding bassist of Guns n’ Roses—maybe you’ve heard of them? Even more impressive: When G n’ R began to implode and his rock-and-roll lifestyle began to get the better of him, Duff reinvented himself with martial arts and business school, wrote two best-selling books, and went on to found a wealth management firm to help musicians handle their money; these days, he’s recording brilliant solo records and—after an extended COVID break—will soon be touring the world with G n’ R again.
Grace’s mom, Susan Holmes McKagan, is a supermodel who has walked runways, shot campaigns with, well, almost everyone really, and graced the cover of Vogue and countless other magazines around the world. She wrote her own best seller, thank you very much, and sends part of her proceeds to the MusiCares Foundation to help music people in various kinds of need. Her COVID project? At the urging of her good friends, models Kate Dillon and Tyra Banks—Dillon has a master’s from Harvard; Banks studied management at Harvard Business School—Susan signed on with their alma mater for remote feature writing classes. (Susan’s father was a Fulbright Scholar, her mother an English teacher.)
“I feel like I missed out on so much when I was modeling and traveling all the time,” Susan says from the family’s L.A. home, with Grace sitting next to her, “so I’m making up for lost time. It taught me so much about myself—and I ended up getting an A! I was so proud.”
Grace, then, is simply keeping up the family tradition. She’s been singing and performing for her family since she was three, did musical theater after that, and started a band, the Pink Slips, when she was just 15. Now she’s 23 and—when she’s not studying creative writing in college or modeling—striking out on her own with a new sound and some new singles. (Her next one, “So Hyper,” drops tomorrow.)
When I ask her why her sound has evolved, her answer makes it painfully obvious that the truly strange thing would be if it had stayed the same.
“My music has changed and matured as I have,” Grace says. “I started writing songs without a care in the world because I didn’t have a care in the world—I was just having fun. And as I got older, I think I’ve learned a lot about who I am. I’ve always written with Isaac Carpenter—he’s my best friend and the drummer in Awolnation—and my boyfriend, Blues [Williams], and I have made an amazing team. We’re really in our groove, and we’ve found what works for us right now. As for going solo, I mean, the pandemic kind of helped that along, but the Pink Slips were a particular group of people for a particular time, and it was really just time for me to go my own way.”
Think of some unholy combination of the Kills, Peaches, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Nine Inch Nails, and you’ve got Grace’s influences mostly down. “When I’m writing, I’m not trying to imitate anyone,” she says, “but more thinking of catching a vibe from someone.”
Susan, for her part, isn’t—hasn’t ever been, really—content to rest on her considerable modeling laurels, and has continued working, writing, and modeling as she approaches 50.
“I think both within modeling and as a society, we’re still trying to overcome a lot of fixed ideas about what beauty is,” she says, “and changing our thinking about age is part of that.”
“In the music industry too,” says Grace. “This idea that if you’re over 30 and you’re a woman, you can’t be sexy anymore? Look at Debbie Harry: I think she was 27 before she even had one album out, and she’s still beautiful now at 75. You’re beautiful because of your talent.”
“It’s getting better,” Susan says. “You’re seeing [73-year-old model and Elon Musk’s mother] Mae Musk in CoverGirl ads; people like Lauren Hutton and Isabella Rossellini have long been pushing our standards regarding age. Europe’s still ahead of us—they’ve embraced all kinds of beauty with a little broader brushstroke—but we’ve been making some headway, and I’m still striving to push it further.”
With COVID pretty much grounding everyone for a year, though, it’s somehow reassuring to know that the McKagans are also pretty damn excellent at the old-school family hang: They had karaoke nights; they played Scattergories; the girls have matching dove tattoos. More recently, with everyone vaxxed up, they took their first family trip in a spell to Mexico, and Susan and Grace have picked up where they left off with their shared vintage shopping obsession.
“My style icons are Nancy Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot,” Grace says.
“I love ’60s- and ’70s-era vintage,” Susan says, “but my icon is more Tina Turner and her legs—and her wild, don’t-give-a-fuck hair, which was a total game changer. But at the end of the day, though, I’m a mom: I like anything high-waisted, whether it’s pants or a skirt.”
Grace laughs. “I like black high-top Converse,” she says.
“Our whole family wears those!” Susan says. “Mae, Duff—even Grace’s dog Boots has black high-top Converse toys that he plays with. It’s the universal fashion aesthetic of our household.”