As famed for her rock-chic looks as for her talents as a fashion seer,
Carine Roitfeld is one of the most influential figures in the business.
So what's next?
BY MELISSA WHITWORTH | 19 AUGUST 2012
Carine Roitfeld Photo: MARIO SORRENTI
Carine Roitfeld conducts our interview wearing a black negligee. Reclining on a black leather sofa at the photography studio at Pier 59 in New York she has just finished a day in front of the camera, rather than behind it, where she usually resides. The shoot was with Mario Sorrenti, who this year took the pictures for the revered nude opus known as the Pirelli calendar, and is photographing Roitfeld in moody black and white for her campaign with Mac cosmetics.
The 57-year-old former editor of Vogue Paris has just become a grandmother - her daughter, Julia, gave birth to a daughter in May. But today there is nothing grandmotherly about her. She is wearing that black silk slip, commissioned by Olatz Schnabel, and a black silk robe by Kiki de Montparnasse. Her smoky eye make-up is smudged just so. The pictures will launch a collection for Mac based on Roitfeld's signature make-up style, which is, she says in fabulously discombobulated English, 'a little bit destroy'. 'I like to put black on my eyes, but I never put it on very well and I think it looks sexy,' she says. 'When you put it on in the morning it looks better by the evening. It is very wrong to sleep in your make-up but when you wake up the next morning, I think it looks very good.'
There's a little black star on her left cheekbone. 'Since I've always wanted a beauty spot like Marilyn Monroe, I added some star stencils that you can fill in with liquid eyeliner. I never had a beauty spot but I think perhaps a star is much more fun.'
She tells me she thought of the actor Ryan Gosling to make her feel sexy during the shoot. She likes to tease. There's a Gallic irony ever present in whatever she says and a sense of theatre, naughtiness. She is undeniably alluring, living proof that a woman - or at least a Parisienne - can be sexy at any age.
The erotic has been the selling point of Roitfeld's career - as a stylist starting out 30 years ago at French Elle, as a consultant for Tom Ford during his Gucci years, and then as the editor of French Vogue for 10 years. 'Pfff', she says to this. 'A lot of people say I am the queen of porno-chic. "Chic" is good, but "porno" is not. I am very happy you use the word "erotic" and not "pornographic". I never treat a woman as an object, and even when we use bondage [Karen Elson, for example, was pictured in the magazine in 2007 tied up with a curtain cord], I don't think the woman seems to suffer; she is never just an object. She is tough, my woman. I always think model and woman is more important than the clothes. Most of the time when I do shoots I think the girl is an actress more than a model.'
But make no mistake, the erotic sensibility is purely for work. 'Only in pictures,' she says firmly. 'People told me I was a nymphomaniac. Maybe I seem crazy because of some picture; maybe it's my art, what I have to express. But I have been with the same person for over 30 years - we never married because I am superstitious - but with the same person for ever. I've never been a nymphomaniac.'
It's true that however hard-edged she may seem in conversation she is more maternal than mosh-pit. She and her partner, Christian Restoin, and their two children have become one of the royal families of international fashion. Restoin is behind the classic shirt label Equipment. Julia, their daughter, is a model, photographer and creative consultant for fashion labels (Tom Ford picked her to be the face of his first perfume, Black Orchid, in 2006). Vladimir, their son, is an art dealer and curator, and fixture on New York's social circuit.
'I look a bit rock'n'roll because of my black eyes, my black clothes, because I am quite skinny', she says . 'But I have always been more of a mummy than an editor. I speak to my children every day. We are a very compact family. For me they are the most important and they know that. I never fly away because of that, always with my feet on earth.'
And now she is a grandmother. 'I am very excited, but to be a grandmum, what is it? For me a grandmum was always a very old woman.' At this point Sorrenti's wife, Mary Frey, arrives at the studio and, as if to prove a point about grandmères, Roitfeld informs her that she thinks Sorrenti 'fell a little bit in love today'. She leans towards me in faux conspiracy. 'I prefer to tell her I try to seduce her husband,' she says, signature eyebrows raised.
Roitfeld was born in Paris to a Russian émigré father and a Parisienne mother, whom Roitfeld describes as the ultimate, chic 'classic Frenchwoman'. One of her first memories of chic is doing her mother's eyeliner. 'It was the mid 1960s, and she was wearing a Pucci dress, and I was helping her put on her black eyeliner in a straight line,' she says. 'To be symmetrical can be difficult, so she asked me to do it.'
She began modelling aged 18, but quickly turned to freelance fashion styling. In the 1990s the sexy, glossy advertising images she created with Mario Testino for Tom Ford's Gucci label (famously, she ignored Ford's phone calls for some time before eventually agreeing to work with him) not only helped to define - or redefine - the formerly ailing Italian house but was instrumental in launching the idea of the fashion label as global superbrand. In the last decade, with the proliferation of blogs and minute-by-minute news from fashion shows and parties, interest in the editrice has grown.
And Roitfeld's distinctive personal style and her outspoken nature have turned her into something of a celebrity. Cue another 'pff'. 'All kinds of girls and boys, they love fashion,' she says. 'People are very curious and they want to know everything. So before it was the supermodels or the photographers, and now it is the "super-editor". Anna [Wintour of American Vogue] became a super-editor. Me, I have a strong character and a strong personality, but 10 years ago - before the blogs - nobody knew me.'
One of the storylines in The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef about her time as an assistant to Wintour, which became a blockbusting film - concerned a French editor plotting to take over the American magazine. There were rumours that this was more than just a Hollywood storyline and Roitfeld was next in line at American Vogue.
'It was invented,' Roitfeld says of the supposed rivalry with Anna Wintour. And of Wintour herself: 'She's tough but she's very honest. I like that. When my kids came to New York she invited them to dinner and as a mum those are things you don't forget. She is not my best friend, we never talk on the phone every day, but she is someone I respect, and the older you get in this business the fewer people you respect.'
Roitfeld's time at French Vogue was filled with controversy - on the page at least. It was her desire to keep alive the spirit of the 1970s and 1980s, when photographers with erotic sensibilities such as Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton made their names at the magazine. She says that became harder. 'Now it's so censured, it's very difficult, and you can do less now than you would be able to do 20 or 30 years ago,' she says. 'Sometimes they [her critics] were right. Of course now we discover that cigarette is very bad or of course anorexia is very bad. But I think you have less and less freedom and it is very sad because it is fashion. Fashion is supposed to be light and not try too hard.'
One story, inspired by Roitfeld's own paranoia about public lavatories, featured a model peeing in a car park. 'When I was going in nightclubs there were cameras in the toilets looking to see if you were taking drugs, so I said, "OK, I will never go to pee in the toilet in a nightclub." I will always prefer to go to pee behind a car. We took a picture like this.' It's not something one can imagine Anna Wintour or Alexandra Shulman, her British counterpart, admitting to. 'It was reality for me,' says Roitfeld. 'It is important to have a sense of humour and always with a certain chic. Even if the girl is peeing behind a car, she is doing it with a chic attitude.' But of course.
Things got more serious when, after the release of the December 2010 issue of French Vogue, which was guest-edited by Tom Ford, the magazine was accused of promoting paedophilia. The issue featured an image of a 10-year-old model, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, in high heels and lipstick, posing on a tiger skin, with the headline: 'Quel maquillage a quelle age?' ('What make-up at what age?') This, it is alleged, was Roitfeld's undoing. On 17 December 2010 she announced her resignation. As rumours swirled that Condé Nast had tired of her outré sensibilities Roitfeld gave an interview to the German newspaper Der Spiegel . 'Now it's all about money, results and big business,' she said, adding, 'Ten years is a long time - and especially 10 years in a gilded cage. They were wonderful years, but sooner or later birds want their freedom again.'
Today she is more prosaic. 'It's true, you are not free to do the project like we are doing today [with Mac]. You are not free to work with Karl Lagerfeld and the advertising. You are not free to help a designer. So now I can open all the perspective in front of me. I change job so I have a lot of possibility.'
Her new projects in the freelance world are plentiful, and have included guest-editing an issue of V Magazine. Her book Irreverent, a visual history of her work since the early 1990s, was published by Rizzoli last October. She has also collaborated on a book with Lagerfeld, chronicling the history of the iconic Chanel jacket. She has styled the latest two seasons of advertising campaigns for Chanel. 'Lagerfeld always calls me Mme Roitfeld, never Carine. It's funny, he's like a rock star now. You go on the street with him, it's like being with J-Lo,' she says. Then there is the collection for Mac. 'Can you imagine, I am doing beauty shots, and I am a grandma? It's the new trendy thing,' she says.
The other new trendy thing is that this month Roitfeld returns to magazine publishing, with her own independent publication, the biannual CR Fashion Book. 'When I started 30 years ago at French Elle, we never do the shoot thinking if Jean Paul Gaultier was advertising or not. We were totally free,' she says. 'But now I understand it is a business and you have to pay attention to the people who put money in your magazine. But there has to be a limit or otherwise you are not a journalist anymore. But this magazine is going to be totally different than what I was doing before, with a new dream team.'
Later she says, 'It is a lot of pressure that I put on myself. I could live very quietly, do advertising to earn money.' But she is determined to do things her way. 'The last Joan of Arc of fashion - it will be me.'
The first feature length doc on the iconic Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei.
Producer/Director: Alison Klayman
Show your support, and follow the latest on Ai Weiwei at:
“Every artist has a duty to fight for truth, for freedom, especially of expression”
The battle for him is a constant, despite various attempts by the Chinese government to silence him. The last of which was a real kidnapping. In April 2011, he was picked up by police and held for 81 days in a unknown place. When released, he received a formal caution against making public activity for at least one year. The documentary ends with the artist-hooligan-champion of human-rights lawyer for the voiceless-ironic-actor while singing a song to his followers worldwide. On Twitter, Ai WeiWei has found a second life, that is the way to make open calls and make digital art so completely suited to his artistic life project, where the borders of one overlapping the other, constantly.
the making of
H I N A
CAILLIE MOASEN ~ EMERE BOPP DUPONT ~ HINATEA BOOSIE ~JENNY TETUANUI
Coming Thursday 3 November
an amateur video by Jayden Heron Black
including Rautea Howan
The Hinano Calendar Shoot, a hymn to the Vahine, has become a much anticipated and unmissable feature for anyone in love with Polynesia... and with Hinano too! For 2012, the calendar’s concept and artistic sense were a creation by photographer John Stember and advertising agency Pub Conseil.
For 2012, the calendar was a collaboration between advertising agency Pub Conseil and photographer John Stember. The latter, an English artist who has been living in Tahiti for several years, worked on many fashion shoots for internationally renowned magazines; he is the author of “Te Hine Manea”, a book of artistic photography.
Cadre Noir by Helmut Newton, 1980 | Source: Osborne Samuel
NEW YORK, United States — I once began a fashion meeting at French Vogue in Paris with a question to the rest of the team: “Why do we take pictures of clothes?” Everyone just gave me that look and said “Debra!” I know it probably seemed crazy for a fashion editor to say this, but sometimes we need to ask ourselves the question and I think now is a great time to revisit this topic.
Franceline Prat, an editor at French Vogue and a mentor to so many of us, always reminds me that the most important work she did for the magazine was less often inspired by the clothes themselves than by the great stories that she and many of the forces in fashion’s creative ecosystem pulled directly from their own life experiences.
As Franceline said herself, “always remember the great characters you meet in your life, they will inspire you later on and you never know when.” Our own life stories will always be, for fashion, the strongest and most powerful reference of them all.
An example she often cited was the shoot she did with Helmut Newton, inspired by a young lieutenant belonging to the Cadre Noir de Saumor, the elite French mounted cavalry which was stationed not far from where she grew up as a young belle of Nice society. The lieutenant had loved her from afar.
Many years later, trying to think of an idea that would please the very difficult Mr. Newton, she remembered the Cadre Noir and the young lieutenant, the beautiful black horses and the magnificent black uniforms, which were a particular fetish of the photographer. So, 20 years later she called up her young lieutenant (then a colonel!) and said, “Do you remember me? I want to come and do some photographs with you!” Luckily for the history of fashion photography, he agreed.
But today, fashion creatives just don’t seem to be pulling from these kinds of personal stories, neither at the shows nor in the pages of magazines. Collections are hailed for having great “pieces,” but if this becomes the focus, it leaves the rest of fashion’s creative ecosystem starving and unbalanced.
Magazines, like great absurdist theater, whether operatic or minimalist, tell only vague stories, made from carefully art directed still images that leave a lot of blanks for the reader to fill in. Who didn’t want to run off to Greece after seeing Bob Richardson’s romantically gorgeous editorial in French Vogue, a tear running down the girl’s tanned face as she ends her summer romance in the final spread of the editorial? This is what makes storytelling so important. It allows us to fool ourselves into believing that if we purchase the following list of items, or wear our hair a certain way, we too would be jetting off to Greece in no time. And if we just head over to Bergdorf’s, we too can have that life.
Why did this all start to change? Maybe it was because of the rise of celebrity in fashion. Or the focus on “behind the scenes.” Or the practice of referencing upon referencing. Maybe it was the focus publishers put on cross-marketing film and record releases. Or perhaps it was the their relationships with merchants, because, the truth is, for the most part, we now take pictures of clothing in order to optimize merchandising.
It was not so long ago that fashion enjoyed a rich period of more personal storytelling, starring creative forces like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto, Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang — and boy did they put on a show! All of these designers found tremendous inspiration in their own life stories. Then the teams that make up the rest of the ecosystem — from hair and makeup artists to shoemakers, jewelers, set designers and music producers — all contributed to the “mise en scene.” There seemed to be a balance then, between the vagueness that allowed us to dream and the more informational “where can I get that?’ aspect of it all.
While watching The September Issue, the documentary about the making of American Vogue’s September 2007 issue, at first I was honestly perplexed by Grace Coddington’s insistence that Galliano’s costume drama collection was her focus for the season. With all due respect to Mr. Galliano (for whom I do have a great deal of respect), it hardly seemed appropriate that in 2007, he would be the key reference point for the creative director of American Vogue considering the radical change we have seen in the way designers, editors, and photographers work today.
But upon further reflection, it made sense. Ms. Coddington comes from the era of fashion storytelling, which was like a beautiful dance between the couturiers, the models, the art directors, the editors and the photographers. They all lived and waltzed through the same world, where Monsieur Saint Laurent fell in love with The Ballet Russes; where Anna Wintour became enamoured with Mark Morris; where Diana Vreeland herself turned the whole of Vogue into a work of theatre both on the magazine’s pages and in its offices. Ms. Coddington was just going back to what she knew was the best way to tell a fashion story.
Luckily, we do have some great fashion storytellers today. So let’s give credit where credit is due. The Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte bring their hard style ballet costumes to Chelsea art galleries. Scott Sternberg refers to himself, not as a designer, but rather as someone who “makes content.” Thom Browne disrobes flying nuns to reveal exquisite clothing which launches a thousand new ideas on how to present clothing, not just in his theatre, but also how to present them in-store, how to present them in the context of a magazine, and, of course, how to present and use the pieces in the theatre of life, as Daphne Guinness, Anna Piaggi and Anna Dello Russo are more than happy to do. It’s much needed oxygen for the industry.
Debra Scherer has worked at American Vogue, French Vogue and Italian Vogue, where she is currently a contributing editor.
She is co-founder of The Little Squares.
NEW YORK, United States — From Jean-Paul Gaultier at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux Arts to Husein Chalayan at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, this has been a year of high-profile fashion exhibitions. The grand daddy of all these shows is theAlexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Last week, I finally managed to catch the exhibit in its final days.
In total, 661,509 people passed through the exhibition, making Savage Beauty the most visited fashion exhibition in the museum’s history, putting it in the same league as the Treasures of Tutankhamun (1978) and Mona Lisa (1963). So high was the demand that the Met extended the exhibition’s run by week and stayed open until midnight on the final two days, releasing a statement explaining that this was the first time that the museum had ever kept its galleries open so late to accomodate the “extraordinary response”
But despite this “unprecedented interest” in Mr. McQueen’s body of work, museum officials said that Savage Beauty will not travel to any other museums because it is composed almost entirely of loan. What a shame.
By all accounts, the Met and its curator, Andrew Bolton, did a formidable job of bringing Mr. McQueen’s body of work into a tightly and expertly curated fashion experience, immersing visitors deep into McQueen’s world. Those of us lucky enough to have attended any of his fashion shows could see the same kind of high-quality production value, creative integrity and aesthetic sophistication in this wonderful, inspiring exhibition.
As I walked into the room entitled “The Cabinet of Curiosities,” packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other people, I overheard a little girl asking her mother, “Mommy, why do the hats have animal horns?” Her mother answered softly and authoritatively, “Because he was a very special, talented man who made fashion into theatre. He was no ordinary fashion designer.”
Listening to this exchange brought home the real impact of this exhibition. Unlike so many of the television shows and media that claim to show the ‘reality’ of fashion, Savage Beauty managed to get underneath the glossy surface and make fashion understandable, interesting and inspiring to a mass audience.
For this reason, I hope the Met will reconsider its position on taking Savage Beauty on the road. Surely those who loaned their McQueen items to the exhibition — most notably Daphne Guinness and Alexander McQueen, the company — have seen the powerful impact of the exhibition. Surely there can be no better tribute to this great designer than having hundreds of thousands of ordinary people enjoy Mr. McQueen’s work and see it up close.
But emotional reasons aside, there is a clear business rationale for touring the show as well. It turns out that the exhibit has been a great marketing machine for McQueen. According to a release sent out by the Met yesterday, “popular McQueen merchandise in the Met Shops, including armadillo shoe ornaments, crystal skull paperweights, and tartan purses, sold out several times and were repeatedly reordered.”