THE FRENCH TOUCH
CARINE ROITFELD CHARTS A STARK, FASHION-DRIVEN DIRECTION FOR FRENCH VOGUE
Byline: Miles Socha
PARIS — Finding Carine Roitfeld after hours at French Vogue headquarters here is no easy feat, especially since her office is still under construction.
But logic would dictate that a woman who has spent 20 years as a freelance fashion stylist would always be at home in fashion’s trenches, which in the magazine world means some dingy closet looking at fabulous clothes.
And voila, here she is, seeming right at home surrounded by bulging racks and a few fashion-obsessed colleagues.
Yet as she settled down for an interview in a colleague’s vacant desk, she confessed she’s looking forward to closing the door of her office and reflecting on her new responsibilities as editor in chief of one of the most storied titles in the business. “This is going to be very new for me,” she said. “In this job you need to think: to sit and think and to think deeply.”
Roitfeld doesn’t officially assume the top slot at French Vogue until April 2, when she will have completed her styling obligations to Tom Ford, with whom she has collaborated for six years. But she’s already formulated some important new directions, promising a more fashion — and image — driven magazine that is both more French and international at the same time.
As she hinted in January, when she landed the job, Roitfeld intends to make the magazine more coherent, with fashion pictures and articles “going in one direction” and “talking to the same woman.” This she plans to achieve by assigning a unifying theme for each issue. February was called the black-and-white issue; March is devoted to couture; while April will be devoted to the idea of “provocateurs.”
“I’m coming from fashion, so fashion is very important,” she said. “I will try to push the image all the time. Even if there is a very little picture in the magazine, it has to be good. Even the horoscope has to be good.”
And in the fashion layouts, expect to get a good sense of every outfit: not just a collar, a sleeve or a blurred but beautiful picture.
“It’s a fashion magazine, so people need to see the fashion,” she said. “I don’t want to be one of those magazines that is branche and only about the image. I love clothes, so I really want to show the clothes.”
Expect a similar philosophy to be applied to covers. While Roitfeld did not rule out celebrities on the cover, she said she’s trying to avoid a formula that would subvert the principle of using the best possible fashion image.
“I don’t like the idea of doing a cover try,” she said. “I love when the cover comes from a (fashion) story. For me, the cover is a magic moment and when you see the fashion story, you know which one it is.”
Roitfeld said French Vogue will continue to work with such photographers as Mario Testino, Nathaniel Goldberg and Terry Richardson, whose work appeared in the February and March issues. But she also has ambitions to feature the work of art photographers and “new ones no one has ever never heard of.”
Roitfeld also said French Vogue will take chances with photography and each issue should contain at least one questionable image, like the “white eye” picture by Testino from February, the first under Roitfeld’s purview as creative director. Dressed in a Gucci T-shirt and leather corset, the model has her eyes rolled up so you can only see the whites.
“A lot of people were shocked, but maybe one day people will not forget about this picture,” she mused. “I would love to have in each magazine at least one picture that could conceivably be in a museum.”
In the interview, Roitfeld took pains not to make judgments on the prior direction of the magazine. As reported, Roitfeld succeeded Joan Juliet Buck, who held the editor in chief title for six years and was credited with giving the magazine a strong intellectual slant. Roitfeld acknowledged that she and Buck had different views on fashion — and perhaps it’s a question of nationality.
Roitfeld said accentuating the French character of the magazine will be a crucial goal. “Before, the magazine was a mix of English and American, which is fine, but I want to push the French taste,” she said. “Now almost everyone at the magazine is French or partly French. And they all live in Paris. It gives a different spirit and I think it’s important. Paris is a special city and we all feel it. Our eyes are used to seeing beauty everywhere. Maybe it gives us special eyes.
“The French reader is very specific,” she explained. “She’s very interested in fashion but she’s a clever woman. She appreciates art, she appreciates cooking. She has a lot of interests and a strong identity.”
Just like Roitfeld herself. Anointed in the press as an icon of modern fashion, she has a reputation for being lethally chic in an offhand, effortless way.
“I let my mind open to everything, even a horrible outfit you see at an airport,” she said. “In fact, I think bad things often give you more ideas than good things. Someone who is well dressed gives you fewer ideas than someone who has done something wrong. Fashion mistakes are interesting. I hate rules like no white shoes after Labor Day or no black bras under sheer blouses.”
But if there’s one rule Roitfeld plans to ascribe to it’s neutrality. Given her long collaboration with Ford, Roitfeld said she’s highly sensitive to concerns about her objectivity.
“People at the beginning will say I’ll only use Gucci and YSL,” she said. “But I want to be very neutral and I have to be. No one can prevent me from having good friends in fashion. But I have to be very professional and very neutral and think about the magazine.”
Roitfeld points out that she’s done advertising work for many designers besides Ford, from Calvin Klein and Missoni to Sonia Rykiel. And she said she’s always taken an eclectic, multibrand approach to her own wardrobe.
“I never wore a total look from one designer,” she said, looking down at an outfit that’s a chic jumble of Chanel, Balenciaga and Helmut Lang. “I will keep mixing in the magazine, just as I do for myself. I never belong to anybody.”