Carine Roitfeld reveals the fashion lessons that have helped her create her signature style

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Alexandra Fullerton
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If chic was a person it would be legendary stylist Carine Roitfeld. At the launch of her new collection for Uniqlo, she reveals her most important fashion lessons

Ten years ago, before this magazine was even a twinkle in our eye, the term ‘stylist’ barely registered in the national lexicon, unless you were a hairdresser. Or perhaps an Italian fashion designer (‘stilista’ is the direct translation in Italian). From the outside, looking at glossy magazines, it seemed as if models and photographers were the pivotal players. But behind the scenes it was often the stylist who would call the shots of a shoot’s aesthetic.

And the most respected of them all? Carine Roitfeld, the stylist who has long since become a star in her own right. Described by Tom Ford as his ‘ideal woman’ and a regular collaborator with Karl Lagerfeld, the former editor of French Vogue, current editor-in-chief of the eponymous CR Fashion Book and global fashion director for Harper’s Bazaar has been responsible for some of fashion’s most striking images over the past 20 years. Think Carmen Kass with a G for Gucci shaved in her pubic hair. Eva Herzigova biting on a bone in The Face. A topless model drinking Chanel perfume through a straw. Revolutionary is too mild a term to describe Roitfeld’s impact on the fashion industry.

As well as her compelling career highs, Roitfeld has been hailed as a fashion icon for her immaculate personal style and transformed her look into a full-blown brand. Her trademark outfit of pencil skirt, slinky silk blouse, elegant heels and a dash of leopard print has been emulated by many, not least her industry peers, and is now translated into her third collaboration with high street giant Uniqlo, which further cements the notion that Carine is the stylist’s stylist. Her obsession with wearing chic classic pieces that transcend the trends, yet crucially never look boring, being what makes her so timeless.

As such, I’m desperate to get the scoop on exactly how Carine gets dressed every day. So it’s not ideal that I’ve come straight off a delayed flight and crawled through two hours of New York traffic to meet fashion’s first lady at the opulent, gilt-trimmed St Regis hotel uptown – where Roitfeld always stays – in a suite behind black, glossy double doors. Of course I’d planned my outfit weeks in advance but half of it is still in my suitcase, creased to high heaven, so I meet the world’s chicest grandmother wearing Vetements jeans, a grey hoodie and flats (although they are Jimmy Choo, and Roitfeld wants to know where they are from).

I feel shabby and somewhat stale from my journey, especially sitting next to Roitfeld, who is resplendent in a tweed biker jacket and wide leg trousers – her own designs for Uniqlo – and a pair of brown platform sandals (side note: she’s wearing them with a dark sock, and it works). Yet despite her immaculate appearance and formidable reputation, Carine is warm and welcoming, offering me a coffee and laughing as I ask for cup of tea like a caricature of an Englishwoman. But she still exudes a steely strength – evidenced by that CV–and as we sit down to discuss her collection she takes charge of our conversation. “I’m not a designer and I don’t want to be a designer,” she explains, as she sets out her must-wear manifesto. “I’m coming between the designer and the consumer. It’s because of my experience as a consumer, as a woman who wears a lot of clothes, that I can say, ‘We need this’.” And we need her impeccable style knowledge: here are Roitfeld’s golden rules for classic dressing...

Rule #1: you can never have too many black skirts

“I buy endless black skirts. I have 20 versions of the same skirt and each one is almost the same as the ones I have already. Most of the time, I’m dressed the same. I did a lot of crazy things before [though we can’t find any photographic evidence of her looking anything other than chic] but when I became a grandma I had to look like one.”

Rule #2: skip trends and you’ll never get wardrobe fatigue

“This collection is basically the simple wardrobe I’ve had for 20 years, which I re-adapt all the time. I did not invent anything. There’s a fitted knee-length skirt with a jacket, leopard print, florals, a leather jacket like the one I’ve had for 15 years and still wearing. Nothing is very trendy, so you can keep wearing it forever. There’s nothing you’ll get bored of. I don’t like waste. Uniqlo’s design director, Naoki Takizawa, compiled a selection of my street style pictures, and the collection was born.”

Rule #3: your style signature is all about how you mix items

“I saw someone wearing the brown tweed coat from this collection, and I said “Oh I love your coat!” I didn’t recognise my coat. Because when it suits you perfectly, it belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to the brand. You see the person first and the coat second. Making clothes your own is especially important on the high street: your style is entirely in the way you mix pieces together.”

Rule #4: avoid catwalk copies

“I meet all these big designers who belong to this exclusive world – Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Riccardo Tisci – all these people that are going to look at my clothes. So I don’t want them to think that I am copying them. I want them to think this collection is chic. So I’d never recommend wearing anything that’s a copy of what you see on the runway. You’re going to see imitations everywhere: everyone is going to have the same blouse with the same print, so of course you get bored with them.”

Rule #5: alter, alter, alter

“To make high street clothes look more expensive, I spend my time doing alterations to tailor clothes so they fit. I have to change everything, I’m never happy. It’s too long, it’s too short, it’s too wide, it’s too tight...”

Rule #6: know your silhouette

“My style is very simple but very specific. Everything is about proportion and silhouette. I’ve spent many years buying clothes and so much time on alterations because they never fit the way I want them to. I know what sort of neckline works for me. Crew necks are too high – I want it a bit lower, but too low is too much. And I don’t like it too short as I don’t want to show my stomach. But the length can’t be too long. When you understand your body shape, you know how to dress.”

Rule #7: mix the very feminine with the very masculine

“I don’t think the wool biker jacket [which Roitfeld is wearing] would be nice with a big heavy sweater. It looks too normal. I like something more feminine, I prefer to wear this with silk. I like shiny with matte. I like sport with sophistication.”

Rule #8: borrow your boyfriend’s coats

“Certainly a biker jacket, of course a trench and a tweed coat. The tweed coat is very English. The riding coat is too. There’s a lot of English references in this collection. It’s an homage to England.”

Rule #9: comfort will save every wardrobe crisis

“I’m not immune from opening my wardrobe and wailing, “Oh my God! I have nothing to wear today.” It’s happened to everyone. And you put all of the clothes out on the floor, then finally go back to the thing that you know is going to suit you. It’s always the same sweaters, the same coat that makes you beautiful, especially when you’re very tired and you feel horrible, you need something that makes you feel comfortable.”

Rule #10: never take expensive fashion risks

“If you often find yourself buying things you never wear, don’t take risks. If you want to have fun with fashion, to have a fling with a trend, it’s OK. Sometimes you buy something expensive and you regret it, which is the worst. You don’t know what to do, so you try to sell it online for half the price. It’s happened to everyone, no? I make errors, everyone makes errors. But it’s OK. You can survive.”

Rule #11: nylon and tweed will save you from the chill

“When it’s cold, wear a nylon jacket underneath something tweed. It cuts the wind. I don’t like big heavy things, so this is very small but it keeps you warm and chic in the winter.”

Rule #12: dress for dinner in the morning

“Wear the same outfit from work to dinner; you don’t have to change, you know. Most of the time, I wear skirts. You have to wear a skirt with the same attitude as you do jeans. And most of the time I don’t carry a bag. So we found a solution: pockets everywhere. But I admit, fashion people have a different approach to dressing. In the world of fashion, faux fur is completely normal. My collection is very classic compared to what you see on the runway but for a lot of people this is really surreal, like a cocktail outfit. We live in a special world and we’re very lucky.”

Lesson over, we play dress up. Roitfeld pulls a fake fur bomber over her tweed jacket, eyes herself in the mirror and plays with the fastenings – up, down, flipping the collar – before deciding to shrug it off her shoulders and declare, “This is the look.” It’s how she wears it to that night’s dinner at downtown fashion scene stalwart Indochine. I manage to change out of my plane clothes before joining Lily Donaldson, Pat Cleveland and Jonathan Saunders at the bar and although tiredness is threatening to engulf me (I’ve been up for 24 hours) the fact Roitfeld’s signature style is one step closer to being attainable keeps me awake. That and the pomegranate margaritas. I’m reminded of Roitfeld’s words in our interview: “We live in a special world and we’re very lucky.” True; and now everyone can dress for that world.

Uniqlo x Carine Roitfeld is available to buy from

Photography: Rex Features