OK, CARINE ROITFELD, former editor-in-chief of French Vogue, iconic stylist and “best-dressed woman in the world”, let’s get you working.
I seriously need someone to tell me what’s in and what’s out. Ready? Let’s go... Military? “In. Always. Classic.” Animal prints? “I no like for myself, but will go on for ever, I think.” Gladiator sandals? “I like, but must have heel.” Uggs. “I don’t like. This boot is lazy and is huggly.” Crocs? “They are ‘orrible!” But so comfy, non? “Non. All the nurses wear, and I think is ‘orrible, ‘orrible.” Camel toe? “When the jeans are pulled too high? Is not very chic, I think.” Pashmina? “Always out.” Fur? “Out.” Waiting lists for £5,000 handbags? “To wait for something because it has a label on it? It’s ridiculous. I don’t like.” Jeggings? “I don’t like.” I’m with you there. You’re either jeans or you’re leggings. Make your mind up. No one likes a ditherer.
So what does she think of my outfit today? “You are trying today?” she asks. I am, I confess. “I think you are comfortable in this but it is not what I would wear,” she says. I protest. I say the shoes are new. She appraises the shoes, which are plain black suede pumps with ballet laces, and rather swish, or so I had thought. She says, “I think you should wear heel. You don’t have to wear Wonderbra, but when you wear heels you are very woman, very feminine, and everything you are doing is totally different. You are not the same person.” I don’t quite know how to tell her that the transformative power of fashion does not and has never worked for me; that I just don’t have it, whatever “it” is.
On December 17 last year Carine Roitfeld resigned after 10 years at French Vogue. She left the magazine at the end of January and her post was taken over by Emmanuelle Alt, Roitfeld’s former fashion director.
But how you do follow French Vogue? What does an editor-in-chief do next?
This month it was announced she will work with Karl Lagerfeld on his Chanel A/W 2012 campaign. Featuring Danish model, Freja Beha Erichsen, the shoot was photographed in Paris by Lagerfeld, and styled by Roitfeld.
It marks the second big step for Roitfeld post-Vogue — she is also guest editor on luxury New York shopping Mecca, Barneys’ autumn advertising campaign.
We meet before her Vogue departure in Paris, at her wondrous apartment overlooking Place des Invalides. It is the sort of home you see in magazines and that always makes you gasp, “But who gets to live like this? Who? Who?” And then, “Where is all the clutter?” It is all spectacular architectural features — colossal fireplaces, fantastic mouldings — and very little else beyond a couple of classic Knoll sofas and a massive vase of lilies. It is pure, white and entirely non-biographical.
“Carine,” I ask, “where is your stuff?” “Stuff?” she queries. You know, the pile of post that’s been accumulating since God knows when. The fruit bowl with the topless pens in it, and the late tax return. “I have a lot of places to hide things,” she says. “People always say to me, ‘You must have such a big wardrobe,’ but I do not. I do not keep things. Maybe some vintage dresses because I can give to my daughter, but has to be very special. I feel happy minimal. It makes my mind more clear.”
As to what she is wearing today, sorry, I forgot to ask. Only toying with you. I’ve been to journalism school, you know. She is wearing a peachy Hermès shirt, a sandy-coloured Balenciaga miniskirt and new-season Gianvito Rossi boots. They are grey suede, high-heeled, peep-toed and thigh-high, with ribboned laces. Astonishing. I count the eyelets: 70 per boot. “They must take for ever to lace up,” I say. She says, “No. Two minutes. They stretch. Like the sock.” I ask if she ever has days when she can’t be bothered and just mooches about in old trackies and the big T-shirt she also sleeps in. She says that’s never her style. “I may wear the leggings on Saturday, or flat boots, but I always make an effort because I am running a fashion magazine, so it is like a uniform, non? Also, it make me feel strong. If I am lazy, then I do not feel strong.”
I sit on one of the creamy leather Knolls, knowing I look hopeless. I have only three rules when it comes to clothes: they must be roomy, they must not itch and they must be relatively inexpensive. “You wouldn’t be amazed how little it costs to look this rubbish,” as Dolly Parton never said, but might have in my instance. I did fret about what to wear today and after discounting new-season Burberry Prorsum — don’t own it, never will, couldn’t afford it, wouldn’t recognise it if it bopped me on the nose — I opted instead for something I had decided, was quietly sophisticated: a (borrowed) black linen Agnès B dress, with the new shoes, which were £29.99 but, what the heck, it’s not as if you meet a fashion icon every day.
However, I know it is all wrong from the moment I sit down: the dress rides up and my knees emerge like the twin pates of two bald, wrinkled old men. I keep tugging at the hem in an attempt to cover them, but the little buggers keep popping back out. Carine, I plead, where would someone like myself start? “I would buy a pair of high-quality heels,” she says. Carine, I say, get over the shoes. Move on, love. She persists. “I would say Gianvito Rossi shoes. It look very chic with a simple, black H&M coat. I would go that direction.” I don’t know, I say. I could wear all that and still look rubbish. I tell her the Irish writer Patrick Kinmonth once said, “Chic is nothing, but it is the right nothing.” After a moment’s thought, she concedes I may have a point; there may be no hope. “Chic is not a look,” she says, “it’s an attitude. It’s actually impossible to learn to be chic.” I must look sad because she then adds, quickly, “But you can learn to make no mistake.”
She has been described as “the tastemaker’s tastemaker”, “the ultimate style-setter” and “the most watched woman on the front row”. All designers appear to worship her. “She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s perfect,” says Tom Ford. “She has an eye and she has a vision,” says Karl Lagerfeld. ‘She’s great,” says Marc Jacobs. And she is great. She smiles. She is friendly. She is way out of my league but kindly. When she asked, “Are you trying today?” she did so with true concern rather than a sneer. (Is that worse? I don’t know.) And she is fabulous to look at. She is 56 and terrifically sexy, with huge, smoky eyes, those famed Oliver Stone-style eyebrows and the sort of legs that go up to her armpits.
“When you are a woman,” she says, “you have to know what you have good, non? And you have to take advantage. I have two good things. I have good legs and I have good eyes.” She also has lovely smooth skin. Botox? She insists not. She says she has a special kind of treatment that means she is massaged from inside her mouth. “The only thing I’m doing for my face is this inside massage. They put on gloves like the dentist and massage inside because all your stress is in your jaws.” It sounds gruesome, I say. “It is very hurt,” she says, “but is my beauty secret.”
She offers me Evian or Perrier, then retrieves both from one of those fridges you wouldn’t know was a fridge. Do you ever cook, Carine? “No,” she says. “I don’t like to cook. I did for my kids but I don’t like to do it. My husband is cooking.”
I ask her if she ever gets — gulp — bored of fashion. Do you ever think, “I can’t look at another bloody skirt today”. She says no, she is still excited by it all. “I still love fashion. I love to go to fashion shows. I’m an image-maker. That is what I like. I like to think, ‘How do I show this skirt?’”
Is there, I continue, a new black I should know about? “Black,” she says, “is the new black.” Phew, I say. That’s easy enough at least. “But if you want to be trendy this season you must wear with navy shoes and navy handbag and lacy tights and a shucker.” A shucker? “Oui, a shucker. A black velvet shucker.” She points to her neck and makes a garrotting motion. I think she means choker, which is a shame, as I’d imagined myself in a shucker and, you know what? For once, I looked hot.
In her charming accent “r” sometimes becomes “w”, so that “really” is “willy”. When I tell her I was terrified of meeting her, she says: “Willy? You think I will be bitch?” I say I have seen The Devil Wears Prada. She says, “Willy? You like? I saw on a plane. I think it is not very interesting.” She did, though, enjoy The September Issue, the fly-on-the-wall documentary about Anna Wintour and American Vogue. “Anna is very strong to accept to be filmed,” she says. “Is very tough, I think.” I say I was struck by two things. First, Anna’s bob and, second, by how bored she looks all the time. She’s got the top job in fashion and yet I’ve seen street cleaners who look as if they’re having more fun. “She is not bored,” she says. “I worked for her for many years at American Vogue before I went to French Vogue and I learnt a lot from her. She’s very strong, very direct. If she didn’t like someone or something, she would say, ‘Carine, I’m sorry, I will not use it.’ She said it herself, immediately, and I liked that. I have no problem with her.”
I tell her I went to a fashion show once, many years ago, and couldn’t believe the goody bag. I kept wandering around in a daze, asking, “Seriously, I don’t have to pay for this?” She says it would not happen now. “Ten years ago we were receiving a lot of free stuff. You go to Milan and they give you a handbag because they hope you wear the handbag, but now is finish, the good times.”
Unlike Anna Wintour and Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, Carine does not come from a writing/editing background. She is first and foremost a stylist, an image maker, as she says, and her images are extraordinary, sometimes shocking, always thrilling and, in a way, to hell with the label.
So she had women accessorised in bondage gear, with whips. There were women with men’s hands down their knickers. There were women terrorising ocelots. There were women covered in blood. There was even a full frontal image of the plus-size American model Crystal Renn opening a red trench coat and showing a hefty thatch of jet-black pubic hair.
What was the thinking behind that, Carine? She says she was at that shoot “and nothing was premeditated. I say to Crystal, ‘Will you make a picture naked?’ and she say, ‘Yes, no problem.’ So I give her a red leather trench and she open the trench and we see she has a huge hairy pussy.” ! She continues with, “Mostly, the pussy is small and feminine, but this is big hairy pussy and I think is beautiful.” Fair enough, I say, because, frankly, I can’t think of anything else to say.
She was born into glamour. Her grandfather, Jacques Roitfeld, was a Russian Jew who fled Odessa and made for Paris where he became a film-maker. His son, Vladimir (Carine’s father), then took over the production company. She attended Cannes with him and film premieres and once met the Queen. And her mother, Nicola, a one-time script girl, was très chic.
Her first, personal fashion memory, she thinks, was when she was 14 and hankered after a tight-fitting Shetland jumper. Her mother bought her one in the end, but not happily. She started her career as a model, but knew she would not make it to the top. “I have interesting face but I am not beautiful,” she says. “I am too Iggy Pop-looking.” She became a writer and stylist for Elle, then collaborated with Mario Testino, producing iconic images for magazines such as The Face. One was of Eva Herzigova in a blood-splattered apron butchering raw meat.
Carine then joined forces with Tom Ford as his muse for Gucci and Yves St Laurent in the 90s, and her name was established. She just made everything terrifically sexy, probably because she is just so terrifically sexy herself.
When I ask what she was like at school, she comes back with, “I was always the first, the best.” In every subject? “Everywhere, the best.” But you didn’t go on to higher education? “No, because when I get to 18 I stop being good student.” Why? “Because I discover nightclubs.”
She was appointed editor of French Vogue in 2001, oversaw a thriving circulation, plus has a look that is much copied. How would you describe this look, Carine? She says she hopes she doesn’t have a look. “I do not like conformist. I love white shoes in winter, for example, and white shoes with black tights. I like black bra under transparent shirt. I always take the opposite.”
And do you have to buy your own clothes, or do the designers just unload a ton of stuff on your doorstep every morning? She says she buys her own, of course. And what’s the most you have ever spent? “I would not say it was on clothes. It would be on jewellery.” OK, what is the most you’ve spent on jewellery? “I just bought in an auction a Salvador Dalí piece of jewellery. Is beautiful and I spent €2,200.” That’s not mad money, I say. “Was a lot for me,” she says.
What’s the key to looking good as an older woman? “You need a husband like mine. Horrible. He tell you the truth. Willy, he do. He say, ‘OK, you have a nice silhouette and you don’t have stomach but a bikini is not good for you now. OK, you have nice legs, but better to wear long skirt for the beach.’ I can not be in competition with a girl of 20, so I have to be the best in my category.”
Our intended one hour together goes to two and then three. She shows me a photograph of herself meeting Vivienne Westwood, whom she adores. She says the most beautiful woman in the world today is the Dutch supermodel Lara Stone. She says we will never go off Kate Moss because even though “she is not superbeautiful, she is a great stylist, and she is fragile person. She like a Marilyn Monroe girl, always between laughing and crying, and we know this vulnerability.”
She says next time she is in London she will take me to a catwalk show. Willy? “Willy,” she says. She also gives me one last piece of advice: “If you wear the heel, the man will help you with your suitcase, and if you do not wear the heel, the man will not.” I thank her for this, then make for home and my Crocs. Not comfy? An amazing woman, Carine, but sometimes she just doesn’t know what she is talking about.