“I know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but I can’t help myself. I feel it here,” she says, gesturing toward her stomach.
After more than 35 years in fashion, Roitfeld is still a stickler for small details — and a woman who also sees the big picture. Since stepping down as editor in chief of French Vogue in 2010 after a decade at the helm, the stylist has never been busier, and seen her career blossom to the point where she is becoming an industry unto herself: Carine Inc.
“It’s very difficult to give me a title. I don’t know exactly what I am because I’m not really just a stylist; I’m not really just an editor in chief; I’m not just doing advertising. I’m doing so many projects,” she muses.
Indeed, Roitfeld is at work on her third signature collection for Japanese fashion giant Uniqlo and is zeroing in on a distribution partner for her first fragrance — a range of seven scents she hopes to launch in September 2017, during Paris Fashion Week, of course.
Requests for other collaborations are starting to come in. And while Roitfeld insists she is not a designer, she confesses she has ideas for eyewear and for jewelry, to name but two categories.
“I have a lot to say in fashion. I didn’t say the last word. I have yet to make my best show,” she says, the latter declaration closely echoing what her mentor, Karl Lagerfeld, often says. “Every time I make a new issue, I think I can do better.”
Roitfeld’s collaboration with Uniqlo, which reached stores in October, marked a tipping point for the 61-year-old fashionista.
“Thank you, Uniqlo. People think that I’m bankable now,” says Roitfeld, holding court on a red velvet banquette at L’Esplanade, a chic café on Place des Invalides not far from her flat. “It’s opened a lot of doors for me. Before, even two years ago, people thought, ‘Oh, maybe she is a good stylist. She knows how to do a specific magazine, but she is not talking to a wide public.'”
The Japanese fashion giant helped change that, with her current spring collection distributed in 15 countries: Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and Belgium.
“I am not surprised that Carine has become a brand. I am just surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” says Tom Ford, another key mentor who has collaborated with the stylist for almost two decades, most notably during his steamiest days at the creative helm of Gucci. “She is avant-garde and always pushes boundaries, but she still has a very commercial understanding and universal appeal.”
Ford gives Roitfeld’s high-street project an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“Carine managed successfully to convey her energy, sexuality and style in every piece,” he says. “She is so confident and has such a beautiful way of moving and owning whatever she wears that anything that she puts on looks great and becomes immediately covetable.
“She has always had incredible style,” Ford continues. “But, more than that, Carine has a certain independence that sets her apart from other stylists and editors.”
Naoki Takizawa, design director at Uniqlo, who did the heavy lifting on the Roitfeld label, concurs.
“As an editor, Carine has constantly communicated new aesthetics with the world’s leading fashion creators,” he says. “I think that her greatest contribution is that she has shown women the essentials of expressing themselves through clothing and enhancing their femininity and beauty.”
Ford is not surprised that Uniqlo went for an editor who styles campaigns for such major brands as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Max Mara. “The division between high street and luxury is more blurred than ever,” he says. “And every piece from her Uniqlo collection could easily be seen on the pages of CR or any high-end fashion magazine, as well as on young, fashionable girls around the world.”
Roitfeld made a name for herself at French Vogue by producing provocative, sexy and playful layouts, exalting styles tinged with rebellion yet always resolutely Parisian. Along the way, she helped fan the careers of models including Lara Stone and Natalia Vodianova — and became a media star herself with her trim legs, smoky eyes and floppy hair, foreshadowing the photo-blogging frenzy engulfing showgoers.
“She has a style, and not so many do. There are a lot of stylists with no style. She is easy to identify — like me,” says Lagerfeld, who calls on Roitfeld for most of his Chanel campaigns, along with editorials for magazines including V. “Her biggest gift is when you work with her, you have a feeling you’re more gifted than if you work with average people. She has a gift to make people gifted.”
The ponytailed designer says Roitfeld is an original who brings a magical touch to a fashion shoot.
“She’s somebody you can’t compare to anybody else. She’s always fun, always impeccable. She’s great to have around. She always plays seductive and funny with everybody — but in the third degree,” Lagerfeld says. “She brings something that glues the whole thing together. The way of working, the way of putting the clothes on.”
The Parisian is completely self-taught. As a teenager, she started modeling, eventually landing a job as a writer at French Elle. “I started at the bottom of the bottom of the bottom,” she recalls. When her bosses asked to do pictures to go with her articles, she had found her calling, and would go on to collaborate with marquee photographers including Mario Testino, and — most famously — Ford during his Gucci days and during his stint at Yves Saint Laurent.
Throughout, Roitfeld earned a reputation for provocative imagery that she carried into her French Vogue career, putting a bearded cross-dresser, Andre J., on the cover, size XXL models in her calendars, and showing the breasts and penis of transgender model Lea T — “in an artistic way,” she notes — long before Caitlyn Jenner fronted Vanity Fair.
“I don’t do it on purpose,” she insists. “I just have a different way of looking at things. I don’t try to be provocative. It’s instinctive. I’m very open-minded.”
Roitfeld credits the 2013 documentary, “Mademoiselle C,” for ramping up her global profile — and for showing that fashion is not only about flashbulbs and black town cars. “Finally, we are very hardworking people,” she says.
Harper’s Bazaar also catapulted her stature. As global fashion director of the Hearst Magazines title since 2012, she shoots a 16-page story four times a year that appears in 32 countries, reaching a print audience of 14 million people.
“I’m choosing everything: the photographers, clothing, layout, models — everything! And after, each country has to publish it, whether they like it or not,” she says. “And they have to put my name on the cover, so I hope they know who Carine Roitfeld is after this.”
While she doesn’t take credit for the idea of simultaneously publishing one shoot in titles around the world, she has learned that it brings her a lot of power. “When you go to a brand, and you photograph their coat, it’s a lot to know that 14 million people are going to see it at the same time,” she says.
On the flip side, Roitfeld brings Harper’s Bazaar access to models and the clothes of prickly designers like Azzedine Alaïa, who lends to few titles.
Like Lagerfeld, Roitfeld is a fan of printed magazines, and CR Fashion Book, despite a circulation of only 70,000, has grown into a four-pound whopper, also incorporating a 48-page volume devoted to 20 hot models — a precursor to an annual calendar. Finding the current package too heavy to lug around, Roitfeld says she hopes to spin off the men’s magazine as a separate title by issue three or four, and increase the frequency of the main book to four times a year. “I really like to do fashion shoots, and six months is too long between two issues, I think,” she says.
Launched in 2012 as a single magazine comprising 340 pages, CR has swelled to around 500 pages. Roitfeld notes she refuses “a lot of advertisers — all the ones that copy the designers. I don’t want them. I want like a private club. I think it’s very chic and snob, in a way. But this is the reason LVMH and Giorgio Armani are big supporters, because for them it’s a true luxury magazine.”
The fashion world was shocked when Roitfeld parted ways with French Vogue, which she insists was by mutual agreement and not because of any specific, offending fashion shoot or explosive event. “It was a divorce finally, and a divorce is not easy,” she says.
“It wasn’t the nicest thing in the world, but look, she survived pretty well,” Lagerfeld says about the French Vogue episode.
Yet Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, is often the first person Roitfeld thanks when she receives an award. “I’m very grateful to all the people that gave me a chance, and he gave me the opportunity to become an editor in chief. This I will never forget. And Tom Ford was the first person to give me a chance to be a consultant. So I’m very grateful to all these people that helped me in my career,” she says. “A lot of people in fashion have a short memory. I don’t. I’m a Virgo and I have a very good memory — for the good and the bad.”
She is up front that Condé Nast, parent of French Vogue, continues to prohibit her from using photographers with whom she collaborated when at the helm of the title, including the likes of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Steven Klein, Mario Sorrenti and Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. “Can you imagine, after five years, it’s still the same?”
Not that she’s bitter about it.
“In a way, it makes me important,” she says. “The door is still open. I have no enemies. In any case, this pushed me to find new photographers and it’s a good thing because the photographers introduce you to new makeup artists and new models, so it keeps you young and fresh. Most of my photographers are under 30.”
She notes proudly that Michael Avedon, whom she first hired when he was 18, recently landed a Bulgari campaign. Others in her stable include Bjorn Iooss, Sebastian Faena, Felix Cooper and Alex Olson.
She’s adamant that independent magazines are essential for fashion. “I think we are still fearless and we create ideas and we try to give ideas to the reader, not just a total look,” she says. “I hope I make people discover fashion with different eyes.”
Yet she’s also up front that pressures are considerable on big, commercial titles. “I’m sure that a lot of magazines are going to disappear because there are too many magazines, even mine,” she says, showing her self-deprecating streak. “But I think when you’re doing something a bit more like a coffee-table book, maybe it will stay.”
Roitfeld notes she has embraced the Internet and social media, but is slightly wary of platforms such as Instagram. “I don’t think people realize the difference between a good picture and just a picture,” she says. “And what is more sad is when you go to a fashion show and nobody claps because everyone is filming. Something is missing now.”
Roitfeld boasts 665,000 followers on Instagram. “Compared with Gigi Hadid, it’s nothing,” she says, once again revealing her self-deprecating nature.
She is torn about the platform, and fears that advertising will ultimately overwhelm and taint it. In fact, she’s contemplating stopping once she gets to one million followers. Her favorite account is Brett Gorvy’s, who writes about art.
She also laments how celebrities now dominate fashion magazines, as they control what they wear and how they look. “I don’t like that. I prefer when you have freedom with a model and with a photographer — total creativity,” she says. “Everyone may want to see the dress of Jennifer Lawrence or the dress of Alicia Vikander. Me? I still like to see them on a model in a magazine.”
While still one of the most photographed editors outside of shows in New York, Milan and Paris, a new crop of attention-seeking bloggers, who preen in outlandish outfits outside show venues, have upstaged her.
“It’s true I’m not the most exciting person to photograph. It’s better to shoot someone with a crazy look,” she says. “At my age, to dress in a crazy way would be a bit pathetic, no?”
That said, Roitfeld notes she is “very impressed” by people like blogger Anna Dello Russo, who changes for practically every fashion show, dressed in the most outlandish runway styles. “I think it’s good for fashion and she’s a good supporter of fashion. She’s very brave. It makes me smile,” she says. “I like to see people dress in a crazy way because I’m a fashion editor and it gives me ideas.”
By contrast, Roitfeld insists her wardrobe is not as huge as people think, having recently weeded out her closets. “People are very surprised when they come in my apartment. If you have too many clothes, I think it takes too much time in the morning to decide what you’re going to wear. It’s not my first preoccupation. It’s always a black skirt, different pants…always a bit crazy with the shoes.”
While cognizant that fashion is for young people, Roitfeld is proud of her maternal streak, and having become a grandmother when her daughter, Julia Restoin Roitfeld, gave birth to Romy four years ago.
Recently the tot told her, “Oh Grandma, you’re all in black, even your glasses. Oh it’s so cool, grandma.”
How does she describe cool? You’d be surprised.
“Using the last new model or the next future big designer or photographer is not a recipe to be cool,” she says. “It’s an attitude, and not thinking about it. It’s like being chic. You do not learn it — it’s a gift.”
While Roitfeld once styled Ford’s Gucci and Saint Laurent shows, she has eased up on that work, only paying flying visits to the studios of Givenchy — and Max Mara, where she has placed one of her former assistants. “I don’t have time for that anymore,” she says.
To wit: Roitfeld has learned to delegate work to a tight crew of collaborators, many of them former assistants. “It’s like a school: the Carine Roitfeld school. They’re like mini-me’s. I have some tricks, good or bad. I have my ways of thinking about fashion. The mood of my magazine is very special because it’s one voice.”
Roitfeld’s most pressing project is finding a distribution partner for her perfumes. She worked with noses at Givaudan, Firmenich and International Flavors & Fragrances; developed the bottle with Saint-Gobain; and is lining up retail partners for the launch. She chose to do seven scents because it’s her lucky number, and they’re all more or less unisex. “They’re ambiguous, like my fashion,” she purrs.
Roitfeld admits she entered the fragrance business in an unorthodox way, as most personalities or brands first secure a partner, and then start developing the concept and scent. “It’s totally wrong. It’s not what people do usually,” she says.
The stylist sees the perfume as something that could be her most enduring legacy. “A perfume is the last accessory in fashion. You dress, you put on your accessories, and the last touch is a perfume,” she says.
Her informal focus group includes Christopher Kane, who got a whiff of one of Roitfeld’s scents when she came to congratulate her after his fall show in London last month.
The day after, he sent her a text: “Your perfume is still on my coat. I want it.”