The fly-on-the-wall’s star is Carine Roitfeld, Tom Ford’s muse and the editor who mysteriously resigned from Vogue Paris in 2010.
“It was a huge drama,” says director Fabien Constant, who made style and beauty shorts for the magazine at the time. “There were so many ridiculous rumours and overreactions.” He playfully sets a shot of Condé Nast’s bland press statement to funereal music at the beginning of the film.
Constant and Roitfeld have a friendship that helped her overcome her discomfort with being filmed. “I always knew I wanted to show how this woman is more than just the glamorous life [the public sees] but I needed the right arc.”
When New York publishers Visionnaire offered her a new magazine platform, CR Fashion Book, he asked to document the making of the first issue.
“I really liked The September Issue but was frustrated because I knew there must be hours of footage of the actual making of Vogue that we never see. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to show very private discussions between the editor and staff.” Constant captured 330 hours of Roitfeld in Tokyo, Florida, Paris and New York.
The issue’s theme is new life. Constant describes Roitfeld as obsessive and — for the French, at least — this is no malady but a part of the creative process. “When an artistic person has an obsession, the whole world starts to turn around it,” he explains. Roitfeld exclaims early on that she is obsessed with her pregnant daughter, stylist Julia Restoin Roitfeld. Julia pops up at the first editorial meeting, as the team discuss putting a baby on the cover. Bruce Weber shoots wholesome American model Kate Upton on a farm, surrounded by newborn animals and children, for a fashion spread. Karl Lagerfeld plays with his godson while Roitfeld visits. Continuing the theme, the second issue’s cover features a very pregnant Kim Kardashian.
The old ‘CR’ creeps in too. The lady who put “erotic chic” in Vogue can’t resist having three supermodels-turned-mums (Stephanie Seymour, Linda Evangelista and Carolyn Murphy) pose as femme fatales of French cinema. Pictures from a rather shocking, semi-nude shoot in a graveyard get her publishers’ Facebook account suspended.
Roitfeld says serene family life allows her to push boundaries at work. She invites the camera into her Parisian home and introduces both Julia and her art-dealer son, Vladimir. She and her children’s father never married and both have had stints as the working or at-home parent. He is supportive of her decision to begin her career anew, pointing out that Roitfeld’s role model, Coco Chanel, worked into old age.
Celebrity cameos include Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman, Kanye West and most major designers. Some are superficial exchanges but more are warm and genuine. “She spent so much time getting to know these people on shoots,” says Constant. “In her position, she could come in at 3pm and sign off on other people’s work but she’s there first thing until late at night. There’s so much waiting around on photo shoots or during Fashion Week. Eventually you get to know everyone and form real relationships.”
There are three fantastic fashion scenes. In the first, Carine goes racing around Paris, trying to snag all the best couture samples before competing magazines pull them. The designers are all old friends (Donatella Versace jokingly proposes marriage by offering Roitfeld an enormous cocktail ring). The 1990s’ most important fashion couple reunites when Tom Ford shoots his version of Sleeping Beauty for the magazine. Roitfeld whips a Flip camera out of her clutch and films the Met Gala (the ‘Fashion Oscars’) while she sits with Beyoncé, James Franco, Gisele and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci.
The September Issue was a tug-of-war between Anna Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington but Mademoiselle C’s conflict is solitary. Roitfeld oscillates between putting her best foot forward and attending Fashion Week as an ex-Voguette (“You are invited, so you put your heels on and go”) and wondering aloud if people are sick of her. Amazingly for a woman who’s spent 30 years in fashion, we often see her tearing up and looking worried or nervous. She is beautiful but we also see the toll of workdays that last from 7am to early the following morning. Before his final cut, Constant offered to cut these unflattering moments. She told him not to change a thing.
The film’s resolution is the birth of Roitfeld’s granddaughter Romy. “When she takes Romy in her arms, you see the change in her. Suddenly everything she was confused about makes sense. From that point on, she became very positive. When I was editing the film, I realised that Romy had been a character all along. It even took nine months to make.”
Evidently, you catch more flies with honey than froideur. We never see Roitfeld treat anyone with condescension or disrespect. There is extensive footage of editorial meetings and she is always thoughtful but authoritative. She balances conflicting opinions. Budget and model crises are tackled in complete calm. She gets the best out of a creative team with minimal stress. By the end, she has a new magazine and a new role as global fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar. Carine Roitfeld will never inspire a bitter tell-all or an extreme stereotype and, given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be her?
* Mademoiselle C is available on DVD and download from Oct28.