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September 1 2014

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Carine Roitfeld Opens the Book

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Carine Roitfeld

If Carine Roitfeld has proven anything in her three decades in the fashion game, it’s that she’s a master of reinvention—of both herself and others. All one needs to do is look at her latest CR Fashion Book cover—which features reality-TV-star-turned-quasi-fashion-world fascination Kim Kardashian showing off a gilded grill—to see that. The editor, stylist, and consultant, who left her decade-long post as editor in chief of Paris Vogue in 2011 only to launch her abovementioned biannual publication to much fanfare in New York a year later, is the subject of Fabien Constant’s new documentary, Mademoiselle C. The film, which debuted in New York last night, chronicles the making of the inaugural issue of Roitfeld’s magazine and offers an intimate look into the life of the editor. “I was very surprised when I saw the film for the first time,” Roitfeld told us, donning a youthful Céline crop top and Miu Miu denim skirt. “I didn’t imagine it would be so personal. You see everything—my family, my kids, my husband, my apartment, my [dance] lessons, and this was very difficult.” We have to say, though, it was refreshing to see the editor—who’s famed for working with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford to Bruce Weber and Mario Testino—behave so candidly in front of the camera. Style.com caught up with Roitfeld prior to the film’s premiere to talk life after Vogue, Nicolas Ghesquière, the future of fashion, and what it means to be sexy.

Before I turned on my recorder, you were talking about how much you admire Coco Chanel. Why is that?
She came back to work at almost 70 years old, and she came back as a success, and America was the first country to welcome her. France didn’t. They always say, you’re never a king or a queen in your own country.

Is that why you came to New York to launch CR Fashion Book? Do you feel like the Americans made you a “queen”?
I think America was very nice with me, because the day I finished Paris Vogue, I immediately got a phone call from America. Once you’re in New York, you jump. Paris is mostly retired people—I love it, and it’s a beautiful city, but it’s quite slow. In New York, you can do anything—you can shoot on Sundays, you can shoot at night, you can get a pink dog, everything you want is possible. It’s like Jay-Z’s song about the Big Apple—you never stop.

Do you miss being the editor in chief of Paris Vogue?
No. I still like the title. I think it’s a magical title, and there was a Vogue before me, there will be a Vogue after me. I have no regrets. Ten years is quite long. Otherwise, you stay forever, and you settle into office life, and I don’t like office life. It’s difficult to do things on your own, but I think it’s very exciting, and everyone says, oh, you look younger than before, and it’s just because I’m learning more.

Do you think that Emmanuelle Alt is taking Paris Vogue in the right direction?
I will not look at it. It’s her thing. It’s totally different. I don’t want to compare and I don’t want to judge. I’m over this now, you know? I do my own thing, and it takes me enough time, enough energy, I’m not here to criticize. I don’t care. I have so many projects—I’ve become a cover girl and a grandma at the same time. I have so many exciting things in my life. I don’t need to look back.

Before you launched CR Fashion Book, there were rumors that you weren’t on the best of terms with Nicolas Ghesquière. What’s your relationship like with him now?
This is the bullshit of politics in fashion. I’ve never had a problem with Nicolas. I just sent him a text and said, “I miss you!” I’ve known him since the very beginning. I think he’s the most talented person in fashion. He’s very, very smart. I’m sure he’s coming back, and I hope it’s very soon, because we miss him. And I think he’s going to surprise everyone. There are not so many big talents today, and he’s one of them.

Inevitably, Mademoiselle C is going to be compared to The September Issue, and you to Anna Wintour. How do you feel about being compared to her?
I was compared to Anna for many years. But I worked with her. I was working for her, and I think she’s a very tough woman, but she’s very honest. She’s a hard worker, and she and Grace [Coddington] have a lot of passion. And you feel passion in Mademoiselle C, too. Totally different, though. Vogue is the biggest magazine in the world; they have a lot of money. For our first issue, we had four people doing the magazine, but we have the same passion.

In the film, you talk about how fashion can transform you into someone else. Are you always the same woman we see sitting front-row in a fitted skirt and high heels?
I’m totally the same person. It’s been my look for thirty years. I always wear a tight skirt and high heels and my hair in my face. I think maybe my skirt’s gotten a bit longer, but that is all that has changed. However, when you’re going to work with Bruce Weber in the countryside with baby animals [as I did in the film], you can’t wear high heels. You’ll look stupid. So people are going to see me in jeans and flat shoes. Maybe some people will be disappointed because they’ll think, She’s like a normal girl, working hard. But that is me, too.

How do you think that fashion week—or month, rather—has changed since you began as a freelance stylist thirty years ago?
It’s become global. In the beginning, I was only going to French shows, and I’d just take the Metro. I never traveled to Milan or New York. Now you have to go to too many places, and there are journalists coming from all around the planet. There are so many magazines, and maybe that’s a bit sad, because you have to invite all the editors in chief and all the important people, so there is no space to invite students of fashion. When I started, I was a student, and people let me in because I loved fashion. Now there is no space for students. This is very said, because students bring enthusiasm to the shows, and without them, it’s not so exciting. I always try to use my power [laughs] to bring one or two with me, because they bring a good vibe—they’re not blasé. Fashion shows used to be more crazy. Now they’ve become a bit too serious.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how fashion week, and the fashion cycle, is broken. Do you think this is the case?
It’s very difficult for designers today. How can someone produce so many shows? Now the minimum is four a year. And you forget that most of the designers are artistes. Fashion is not recognized as an art, but for me, it’s an art. Some designers don’t have the shoulders to support all the stress. Look what happened to people like [Alexander] McQueen or John [Galliano] or Mr. Saint Laurent before. If you’re not Karl Lagerfeld or Riccardo Tisci or Tom Ford with big shoulders, you’re going to feel this pressure. Designers are becoming less creative than they would like to be, and imagine how many shows stylists like us have to see in a season. It’s insane! After a month, you become a bit too tired. But sometimes you see just one good show—like Comme des Garçons, which is my favorite show because it’s not handbags, it’s just creativity—and you’re happy. So I still love fashion, I think.

You mentioned students earlier, and many industry professionals feel there is a lack of young talent coming out of Paris. Do you think that’s true?
I think it’s true. Before, the schools in France were very important. And now, they’ve lost a bit of that dream. Now people prefer to go to London or to Antwerp, but there are still great young designers [around the world], and if you’re not a member of a big group, it’s hard to make it. So I’m trying to help them and put them in my magazine. You know, I keep my old friends, and get older with them, but push young. It’s good to be surrounded by kids, because they keep you young. After thirty years, I have all my tricks. I’m a good stylist, but what I can do is I can help them. And in return, they give me energy.

When you launched porno chic with Tom Ford and Mario Testino twenty years ago, it was shocking and provocative. But now, there’s sex everywhere. What does it mean to be sexy today?
When we did it for the Gucci campaign, it was very new because no one was pushing fashion and sex together. And for the first time, we put men and women on the same level. But it’s very difficult to [maintain] this in a chic way. There’s a fine border that you cannot cross, and today, sometimes I think people don’t know how to keep it in line. The word sexy has changed. Twenty or thirty years ago, when you went to the beach topless in Saint-Tropez, it was sexy. Today it’s just beefy. Before, sexy was to show a lot. Now it’s sexy to try not to show too much. You dream about what she has on underneath. You can be provocative without showing anything.

What do you think we need to do to push fashion forward, and what do you feel you’re contributing with CR Fashion Book?
I’m a dreamer. Fashion is about dreaming. Fashion is a huge business, too, but at the end of the day, we get to make beautiful images and beautiful clothes, and if you believe in it, anything’s possible. That’s the way I’m doing my own story. I just want to make my magazine the best I can, and to keep my reader dreaming.

Photo: Tommy Ton

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