An alarm clock set to 3.50am, a bistro in Paris and a former Vogue editor.
When Stylist’s fashion director Alexandra Fullerton met Carine Roitfeld…
It was her glamorous styling that jolted my teenage self out of late-Nineties grunge and into grown-up glamour setting me on the path to my career as a fashion director. I learned from an early age that when it comes to shoots, the photographers and models are the ones praised for creating an image, but the stylist is the magician – turning the ordinary into the iconic.
Carine Roitfeld has been responsible for some of the boldest fashion images of the past 30 years – Eva Herzigova gnawing on a bone in The Face; a topless and black-wigged model drinking Chanel perfume straight from the bottle; the letter G shaved into Carmen Kass’ pubic hair in a Gucci campaign.
I’m such a fan that even the 3.50am alarm call doesn’t put me off – I’d do anything to meet the woman whose styling has seen me tear out a forest’s worth of photo shoots from magazines and who I’ve admired from across the catwalk at countless shows. After spending a week agonising over my outfit, I set off for our rendezvous which is taking place in an utterly chic gold-leaf encrusted bistro near her apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. We are here to talk about the new film, Mademoiselle C, which tracks the creation of the first issue of CR Fashion Book, the magazine Carine launched after ending her 10-year tenure as editor-in-chief of French Vogue. It’s her September Issue… without the bob.
I’d watched a preview of the film (“documentary,” Carine corrects me) the weekend before our meeting. Usually, watching films about fashion makes me tense. When my nine-to-five is filled with (admittedly non-life threatening but stressful nonetheless) fashion crises, why would I want to relive the agony on screen? But Mademoiselle C is joyous – the cameo of Karl Lagerfeld, which shows him conversing with a toddler and pushing a pram with Carine’s newborn granddaughter Romy is hilarious, and seeing Carine – the star – spending time with her family, as well as in work-mode, brings a warmth to the fashion world that has been lacking in film until now.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
I think it’s only right to try out a little of my GCSE French but only get as far as, “Bonjour, je suis Alex”, when Carine starts off in her native tongue. I catch “Oh, you speak French!” and it’s all I can do to butt in and explain my French is limited to “hello” and “I would like a receipt”. But Carine, clad in a stretchy Azzedine Alaïa top and a divine Nina Ricci pencil skirt split from hip to hem, with a pleated chiffon panel that looks like a slip (it’s as good as it sounds), is warm and welcoming. Her voice is girlishly sweet – surprising for someone famed for her dark, gothic sex appeal – and she thanks me for travelling to Paris in heavily accented English.
Her first comment? She compliments my carefully chosen Current/Elliott denim shirt: “My daughter wears a lot of these and it’s a very good one.” I compose myself – internally screaming, “Carine likes my outfit!” – as we move on to the subject of style and what she admires.
“Maybe this is my French education but underwear is very important for me,” she says. “You have to feel beautiful, someone can open your clothes, so you have to be ready”. Where British etiquette dictates that you should always wear clean knickers in case you’re run over by a bus, Carine’s ethos is far racier: “I always put a slip dress under my looks – if you try something on [in a shop] it’s nicer to be in a slip dress than be naked in front of the mirror. It’s a good trick for a woman.”
Note taken, I wonder if Carine has any Anglophilic tendencies. “What I like is the English fantasy, you take more risks than French women, you are more creative. If you have red hair in France everyone looks at you but in England no-one will notice. So many designers and so many trends come from England. I love Vivienne Westwood. Everything she has created; she’s a genius, even her age, her red hair, the way she dresses. I love to be different.”
Oh, to be different. Diversity is something the fashion world is often accused of not recognising so I ask whether she feels the industry could do more to promote inclusivity. She tells me that she finds the archetypal “blonde model with the ponytail” boring. “I think every woman has something in her look. It could be the hair, it could be the eyes, it could be the décolletage, it could be the hands. [That’s] the reason I use different beauties to tell my stories.”
A FASHIONABLE INSIGHT
A desire to be different is without doubt what set Carine on the path to where she is now. In her role as a stylist at French Elle in the Eighties she met Mario Testino in 1990 and started to shoot alongside him for French Glamour and consulting (and acting as muse) with Tom Ford during his tenure at Gucci and YSL.
Appointed editor of French Vogue in 2001, it was a role she revelled in until December 2010. She reveals she was shocked at the extensive coverage of her exit from the magazine (“even in Thailand it was written”) but since then, the constant stream of new adventures has made her very happy. Even the latest one… “[The film] was not my idea at all!” she laughs. “I did some projects with Fabien [Constant, the director] before, so I knew him and he proposed this documentary. I’m very spontaneous so I said ‘OK’.”
Following the trials and tribulations of producing the first issue of CR Fashion Book, the film Mademoiselle C is six months of unprecedented access – everything from the first editorial meeting to the launch party with fly-on-the-wall access to budget meetings and dinner with Beyoncé.
Was she anxious to see herself on camera? “I thought [of taking] a pill before seeing the film,” she laughs. “Because it was the morning so I could not take vodka. No, I’m joking…”
Aside from the open access to Carine’s life (“You’re going to see me in jeans”), one of the best things about Mademoiselle C is the supporting cast, comprising of Tom Ford, the aforementioned cameo from Karl Lagerfeld and Riccardo Tisci. “No-one loves to be filmed, but they all accepted [it] and I hope they will be happy because they trust me,” she says.
One of my favourite scenes is on set where Carine gets a little… let’s say “heated”: “I’ve had fights with photographers, I fight with the make-up [artists]. I fight but not in a mean way, I fight because... I’m very involved. I want my dream to happen.” But Carine also stresses she involves everyone on set: “I’m surrounded by talented people. I hope they express themselves because it’s not all about my ideas.”
If all this sounds rather measured for someone who’s had such success – we have come to expect The Devil Wears Prada-style dictatorships – Carine appears to have deliberately avoided such a path. Instead, she has spent her years in the business learning lessons about the best ways to behave – she’s analytical and philosophical over the changes the fashion world has seen since she started out 30 years ago. She admits she considers herself quite tough and she’s at her best when her back is against the wall. “Suddenly the ideas come. The best things come out of a crisis.”
She respects the work of fashion bloggers, (“It’s very interesting”) though avoids reading them regularly as they “are not always nice to me”. And what about the blog, I Want To Be A Roitfeld, which documents the minutiae of Carine’s career and life? “You have to adapt to the future but it’s dangerous – everyone knows everything, so it breaks the dream.”
The fashion world’s current hot topic is British journalist Suzy Menkes’ article in The New York Times Magazine on the ever-increasing speed of the fashion industry – the “treadmill” – which concerns Carine, too. In Mademoiselle C she laments the constant desire for the new. “Now it’s not just four collections a year, people expect lots and it’s impossible to be so creative [doing this many collections]. Some people get crazy or sad. It’s very difficult because [they are] artists.”
The accessibility of artists is something else that concerns Carine. “This summer we did a picture of the four of us [Christian, Carine’s long-term partner who she refers to as her husband, and their two grown-up children, Julia and Vladimir]. My daughter said ‘Can I put this picture on Instagram?’ so for once I said OK but it went everywhere. You have to protect yourself and I don’t want to give up my privacy… although this picture was nominated the best Instagram picture of the summer!”
Despite her concerns, Carine lets me Instagram a picture of us after the interview. “You have to love the camera,” she instructs me while draping an elegant arm over my shoulder. “You have to smile – it gives a lift and we could all do with a lift.”
For Carine, the next few weeks will involve a lot of smiling for the camera. The length of fashion month is a concern for her. “We start on 5 September [in New York] and finish on 3 October in Paris. It’s impossible for magazines to go everywhere. It costs a lot of money.”
But London will remain on her schedule. Under the direction of chairman Natalie Massenet, London Fashion Week has become an unmissable stop on the international show circuit and Carine is coming to catch Burberry, Tom Ford, JW Anderson and Christopher Kane.
“JW is my new chouchou” she confesses. “For me [LFW] will always be the best one, the more creative one. I love French culture, I love Monsieur Saint Laurent – he is my biggest idol – but most designers are English. They go to Central Saint Martins and it’s a great school.”
And during Fashion Week, when we see each other across the catwalk? Perhaps this time I will give Carine a wave.
MADEMOISELLE C IS RELEASED IN CINEMAS FROM 20 SEPTEMBER AND AVAILABLE ON DVD AND DOWNLOAD FROM 28 OCTOBER