Carine Roitfeld (left) from her new book, Irreverent

Carine Roitfeld On Being Carine Roitfeld

For someone concerned her English is less than perfect (it's perfect), Carine Roitfeld sure has plenty to say. I had the pleasure of interviewing French Vogue's former editor-in-chief and fashion's freest spirit for The Independent. The topic was her fantastic new book, Irreverent (Rizzoli), an unconventional biography told mostly through images, 30 years worth, sprinkled throughout with short Q&As given by friends and one giant Q&A given by Purple magazine's Olivier Zahm. Naturally, our conversation began to veer, as conversations with visionaries (she'd say dreamer) often do, as ideas, perceptions, recollections, and other pearls of wisdom tumbled forth with disarming candor and charming nonchalance. Which is of course absolutely fine, because who wouldn't want to know as much as possible about being Carine Roitfeld?

On the book's genesis...
It was not my idea to make the book. Olivier Zahm proposed the book. He asked me if I would like to do a book with him for Rizzoli, and I thought why not? Because I really like Olivier. He had good ideas about the text for the book. He was working on the text and he said I only had to take care of the pictures. I know he is a smart person, he is one of the cleverest people in fashion. I said, "With you I have confidence in the book, but I really don't want to be nostalgic." I told him I don't want it to be like a lifetime achievement. I think when you are doing a book sometimes it looks like a lifetime achievement, like it's the end of your career, and this was not my thought process. The book was supposed to come out a year ago, but because Olivier was always late, and because at that time I was editor-in-chief at French Vogue, I had a lot of work and it was difficult physically to find all the magazines from the past thirty years. As I do not have archives, I had to go in my cave [cellar] and to the very last chest of my wardrobe to find old Face and Arena Homme Plus, and all these magazines from the past 30 years. I was very happy to look at all of them. It's funny because my son just came in my room with the luxe edition of the book and I am very happy with it. It’s exactly what I wanted from the beginning. I think it's very chic and I am very happy with the finished product. It's not too expensive, and hope that people will buy this one.

On being the same person she's always been...
I was a very, very productive person. I did so many stories that I forgot about myself. I could have put together two or three or four books with all the shoots I have done. People would get bored of me, but it would be possible. So I tried to choose my most iconic stories. I work in this way. I try to mix everything from the beginning to now, but it's all consistent. I'm still the same person from thirty years ago. I didn't change so much in my style. Now people know me better than before, because of the blogs. I've become a bit more popular, but I'm still the same moi. And what I was doing thirty years ago for French Elle is very similar to what I was doing for The Face, and after for French Glamour, and for Vogue. I'm still the same person and I'm very happy to see that my work hasn’t changed after all these years. I still see the same person. It’s thirty years of a life, a very beautiful life.

On the virtues of mixing it up...
I always mix personal life and work, because when you love fashion, it is not work. Fashion becomes a passion. So you don't finish Friday and have the weekend off. You have to mix work with your kids, their education, your family and finally everything comes together very easily. I am very happy with the results. I don't regret anything and I am very close to my family, which was always the most important thing for me.

On that naked picture of her...
I'm quite a shy person really. I am not always so confident. It's a bit like actors. Sometimes actors are very shy people, and when they're doing a scene they show a lot of themselves. Sometimes they are naked, or they have to do very violent scenes, things they wouldn’t normally do in their personal lives. I think sometimes to be an editor, like me, is very similar to that. I express myself through photos. I show things that will maybe make you laugh, that I would never be able to do myself. I push myself all the time. I'm a very modest person, and people may be surprised there is a naked picture of me. I'm pudique (modest) so I don't know why I showed this picture.

On being called a Newton girl...
I think I've had this look for many years. It hasn't changed too much. People say it's a Newton look, but I'm not a Newton girl. I would love to be a Newton girl but I'm not as strong as a Newton girl. Although it’s true I always like to mix femininity and something a bit masculine. It's the reason I love skirts with high heels and tights, and no handbag because I love having my hands in my pockets. Maybe it's a French style. But you know, I was raised in Paris, and even when I was a young girl I never pushed the door of Chanel or Dior or Saint Laurent or Balenciaga. I never went into those shops. Still, we all knew very well about these fashion houses, even if we didn't push the door of these beautiful brands ourselves.

On being approachable...
When people meet me, sometimes they are very surprised, because of my high heels, skinny skirts, a lot of black on my eyes, hair in my face. Maybe I look distant, but I'm very, very approachable. I just came back now from the shows. There were so many photographers at the entrance, and so many people asking to take my picture. I answer everyone. Recently I did a big book signing at Colette, which was open to everyone. It was not by invitation only. I signed for two hours and it was very nice to meet all these people I didn’t know, but who knew me. They really knew me, my work, even my person. I was trying to write something special in the book for each one, and always they asked me to do a picture with them. So honestly, I think I'm a very approachable person.

On the effect blogs have on people...
Now with the blogs, I think people think they really know you, and they feel really easy to come and talk with you. Even with someone like Karl Lagerfeld. I spent two days with him in the south of France, in Saint-Tropez. We went out for a drink at the end of the evening, and everyone came over to him. He told me, "I think it's because people see me so many times on TV or in magazines. They know so much about me. They're not afraid to come to me and talk with me because now I'm a part of their lives." So, I think it's good to meet people. Sometimes in fashion, you're just on your own little planet. I think it's great to see all these people who love fashion but who don't have the chance to go to the shows with you.

On her greatest achievement at French Vogue...
I think it was my last October issue, which was the first year of the 90-year anniversary of French Vogue. I was very happy with this issue because we made a special book of 90 pictures of French Vogue since the beginning of its days. I was very happy to be able to work with the best photographers, in an irreverent way. French Vogue was always a photographer's magazine. I think this last issue was an example of everything I tried to do at French Vogue. We mixed old articles with new articles, old pictures with pictures of today. It's like Vogue from the 60s, 70s, 80s. I tried to keep the same mood of French Vogue.

On her predecessors at French Vogue...
I didn't break rules at Vogue, because I think Vogue had always been politically incorrect, but in a very chic way. I didn't start this reputation. I think Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin did that before me, and I think Francine Crescent, the editor-in-chief before me, was a tough cookie. I'm sure she had to fight a lot for all these pictures to go in the magazine. But now all these pictures I see in museums. I just tried to follow the system of French Vogue. I didn't create something, I just tried to keep the tradition alive.

On avoiding images of anoxeria...
In my ten years at French Vogue I never put a girl that was too skinny in my magazine, because I think the readers can be very impressionable and you have to pay attention to what you tell them and put in the magazine. I tell myself my kids are going to read the magazine and I don't want them to feel bad, or feel not happy. I don't want to give bad ideas to the young generation because the reader is quite young. I prefer to use curvy girls like Lara Stone. Okay, we use a lot of sexy pictures, but you know, I don't think sexy is a bad thing. It can be happy, it could be fun, and it could just be a game. And when we were doing sexy pictures in French Vogue, I tried to make it like a game. I don't think the woman in French Vogue was an object. She was always a real woman. Even if there was a lot of bondage around her, I don't think she looks like she's suffering. If she wants to wear high heels and a garter belt, it's because it's what she wants. She's a strong woman.

On never using a cigarette in her photos again...
Smoking is not good, and I dedicated my book to my husband, who has quit smoking. This book is thirty years of fashion, and 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, people were not talking about how bad cigarettes were. It was something very normal. So when you see all the pictures, one after the other, there will be a lot of cigarettes in my book. That is the reason I decided to never use a cigarette again. I think the world has changed and we have to pay more and more attention to everything. I will always be irreverent in my own way, but I will try to use new approaches. I've used a lot of cigarettes, a lot of sexy pictures, a lot of naked girls. I will try to do something totally different now because I don't want to get bored of myself or to bore my readers. So, if I learn something new today, I will use it. I have to reinvent myself.

On her next project...
I don't know yet! I have to think about it. I will try to do another magazine, but not a monthly, something different. I want to see a link between the catwalk and reality. it's difficult for the woman to understand how to wear the clothes she is seeing on the catwalk. Maybe I can find a new way of thinking and a totally different way to express myself. It's very exciting at this moment because it's a new challenge. Ten years is a long time. So I think maybe it's good to try to do something new. I have worked a lot as a special guest for magazines recently, which has been very fun, and working with Barneys. Surely I'll be working in fashion, I don't know exactly how. I hope to have a project to show in one year. I think a lot of good things are going to happen to me. Because so far I have thirty years of a great life and I hope, because I'm a very superstitious person, that it will keep going. And I will keep a beautiful heart and head. I'm still a dreamer, a beautiful dreamer.

On French Vogue's new direction...
I am very happy with what is happening to me today. I am focusing on the future, new challenges and projects. I am not really looking to the past or what others are doing.

On the internet...
The internet can be very tricky and it is important to be careful as the information can often be incorrect and can have significant consequences. A lot of the rumors on the internet are wrong and horrible.

On the toughness of fashion these days...
I think it's one of the tougher moments in fashion. It's such a big business. You know, when I started at French Elle, no one was talking about advertisers. You were totally free to do everything you wanted. And there were not so many designers. It made our lives easier. Today there are so many designers, in London, New York, Milan, and now I'm sure we're going to meet new designers in China and Brazil. So it's a lot of new designers to meet and it's a lot of pressure, because it's a big, big business now. It's difficult for the designer, it's difficult for the magazines, and it’s difficult to be a journalist. We must adapt and change our way of working. There is a fine line we need to respect between advertising and business. I think next year will be a very interesting time in fashion.

On whether or not she would be interested in fashion if she were starting out today...
I think so, because look at the crowd of young kids interested in fashion today. More and more kids love fashion. I think fashion now is open to more and more people. Young people love to work in fashion. You can't imagine how many CVs of interns we saw when I was at French Vogue. For a lot of people, to have an internship at a magazine is a dream world. I think it's a dream because you meet such amazing people. Not only designers but also makeup artists, art directors, photographers—it's a very creative world. We are very lucky to work in this world, so we have to regard its creativity and not make it like a business world.

On the importance of friendship...
You can make some very strong and durable friendships in this business. For example, Helmut Lang, who I have not seen for so many years, sent me a lovely picture for my birthday this year. He didn’t forget. Even though I don't see some people very often, there a lot of friends in fashion after 30 years. I think fashion is all about the team. When you are on a photo shoot, the photographer maybe is the most important person, but you cannot do the picture without the feelings of the hair stylist and the make-up artist and the model. I love working in a team, I am a team player. I don't like to work on my own. And when you can work with friends, it's great. I have made a lot of great friends over the past 30 years. One of my best friends is a make-up artist. I've known him for more than 20 years. I am very faithful with my friends, my perfume, and designers. Sometimes even if the show is not so good, I always try to support them. I'm a faithful person. So this book is not just my book. It's a book shared with many friends. I think when someone like Martin Margiela, who disappears, asks me a question, for me it's the biggest compliment. Azzedine Alaïa is thirty years of friendship, you know? All these people keep near me, and they are part of my book.

On the "muse" label...
I heard some people say when I was working with Tom Ford at Gucci that I was his muse. I think it's a beautiful word but I don't know if it's exactly the reality. Maybe I'm a muse because some designers, they want to become one with the clothes but they can't wear their clothes. Maybe that's how I became the muse of Tom Ford, like the feminine version of him. I would say, "Oh Tom, I would love the skirt shorter, or longer." Or "Tom, this high heel is too high." Or "Tom, can I have a deeper-V décolleté?" Because thinking like a woman, you know exactly what you want to wear. That is the reason to be a muse for designers.

On her favorite collection at Gucci...
I think it was the second time Tom and I worked together, when it was about the white dress, the long white dresses with big openings in the back. I think it was a really beautiful and timeless collection. And because Tom is a great showman, when you're working with him you learn about everything that is important in a show. The clothes, of course, are the most important, but also the music, the lighting, the look of the girls, and the look of the show. With Tom I learned a lot about that. And I remember the amazing music from that show, by the Fugees. You feel goosebumps when you see something that special and when you hear this music. I think everyone remembers that show. It was an amazing show.

On her new passion, ballet...
I love ballet because you can see how beautiful the body is. It's similar to my interest in fashion, except with fashion there are clothes. I think that ballet is very good for the body. It's very similar to yoga, because you have to hold a position. I did a lot of yoga, but now I've stopped yoga and I'm just doing ballet, maybe because I love the music of ballet, the piano. I love piano music, it reminds me of being in the Russian school of ballet, and I love that. I love listening to the piano while I am doing my ballet. If I could choose something besides fashion, I would love to be a ballerina.

On the greatest act of irreverence in her life...
Oh, I did a lot! So many moments were irreverent, but you know it was more for fun and not to shock. I never did it on purpose. I did it just to have fun. So I don't think there was one big irreverent moment. Maybe even just to call myself irreverent is quite irreverent.

Read another version of this interview at The Independent. Big shout-out to Sushuma for his diligent, cheerful transcription.





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Oct 17, 2011 19:05:00

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