Despite the fact that her feathers and fur are purely ornamental, Carine Roitfeld serves as many fashion folk’s spirit animal. Enigmatic, powerful, and usually swathed in Alaïa, the French fashion legend has long been everyone’s ultimate everything.
Now Roitfeld shows you the inner scenes and seams of her life through a new documentary. Called Mademoiselle C, the film, which opens on September 11 in major cities across the US, shadows the smoky-eyed icon through two big events: the launch of her new magazine, CR Fashion Book, and the birth of her first granddaughter, Romy Nicole. (Also: she does a full split on camera. Take that, Betsey Johnson!)
I met Roitfeld across the street from Bloomingdales to discuss her latest project, and yes, I was shaking.
Fashionista: Have you had film offers before?
Carine Roitfeld: Do you know a French film called Emmanuelle?
The erotica film?
I had an offer to be a supporting character in Emmanuelle and I was 17 years old, and I was a model. I would have loved to go to Thailand but my dad said, “No, no, no, no, no!” So fine. And that was my only proposition [to be] an actress.
So why did you decide to put yourself on film now?
Honestly? It’s very easy to have fun with people in fashion. And [director] Fabien [Constant], he knows fashion people, he respects them, but he is not in love with them, you know? So he had a good perspective.
Who came up with the idea to film the CR Fashion Book launch?
I said, “Ok, Fabien, let’s do something together.” And he proposed to me to do something with the first issue of CR. And of course to me it was very important because it’s a new magazine getting ready for launch, you know, coming out, and he was very enthusiastic.
What about Stephen Gan and the rest of the CR Fashion Book team?
You know, I did not say to him, “Ok you can go everywhere, you can film everything, you can do this to my team,” because you know, it is only four people but no one loves to be photographed or to be filmed. Everyone hated it. So for them it was a nightmare. It was bad for them more than me.
Why was it bad for you?
Not bad, but hard because you know when you are just starting a magazine, you do not know if people are going to want you. And you have to make it whole. And everyone was very embarrassed because you cannot forget the camera, it’s impossible.
But you’re used to cameras, right?
Yes but what I did not understand, what I did not expect at all was that the film would be so personal.
Even after he said, “I want to document your life?”
Well, after I said “Ok Fabien, let’s do it,” he said, “Okay, let’s have you doing ballet because it is become a part of your life; okay, let’s do it because it will be fun.” And I agreed because I wanted to show this fun side, this very very fun side of fashion. And then in the end, when I saw the movie, I thought, “My god! This is very, very personal, huh?”
But the first issue of CR Fashion Book was also so personal. It’s theme was inspired by Julia’s pregnancy, right?
It’s true that at all the times of my life, my life and my work were very mixed, and everything was together. But really, I was surprised that it was so personal.
How do you feel watching the film?
To see “you” on a big screen, to hear your voice is horrible, to look at you is horrible, and I say, “Oh, what did I wear when Karl was in town?” “Oh, what is this make up?” You always criticize yourself, you know? But if you try to forget about you and look at the film, I think it was very educative for people who like fashion, and I’m more than happy about my supporting actors.
Your team at CR Fashion Book?
Oh yes, and the company of Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Ricardo Tisci, Alexander Wang–it’s not bad, huh?
Sarah Jessica Parker and Vanessa Paradis are in there, too!
It makes the film really interesting for people who love fashion. And it’s with these people that I’m working with all the time, and they trust me because no one likes to be filmed. But even Karl was very easy–and when you get to see Karl pushing the [baby stroller] was very nice, but that’s the way he really is!
What do you hope the audience says when the credits roll, and the film is over?
People are going to discover, “Oh maybe, she is a normal woman, working hard and raising kids.” And maybe people are going to discover, “Oh, Karl pushes baby strollers and talks to children.” So maybe they have a new idea of fashion, that people are not the monsters that are imagined in fashion, no? Because I don’t think anyone in the film looks like they have a monster in their heart.
Not at all.
These people are hard workers with passion for what they’re doing. And if people take that away, this will be a good film with great success because fashion is about working, it’s about passion, and you see me working hard and working all the time. And fashion is about friendship, and you see that.
Like when Bruce Weber agrees to shoot the CR cover, even though there was so much gossip about Conde Nast forbidding their favorite photographers from working with you?
And with Stephen Gan, who started the magazine with me. And the way he talks about me in the film, I was very shocked it was very emotional for me, because I knew he was my friend but I never knew he wanted to do so much for me, and to protect me so much. I see him and I say, “Ah!”
So friendship is a big part of your success?
So friendship, to be a mom, to have friends, to have some sport in your life, to keep writing–and even when I’m going to the Met, people like Tom Pecheux make fun of me. You see him making fun of me! And so, I hope you say, “Okay, she doesn’t have to try very hard to get back to reality because there are always people around to do that.”
I’ve always wondered…You take hundreds of photographs on a shoot, and can only use a handful in the magazine. So that means there are 90 photographs of an incredible shoot–top models, top photographer, the best everybody–that nobody will ever see. What happens to them? Do you keep them somewhere? Do you just delete them and forget about it?
Well a magazine like CR, we don’t have a lot of money. Nobody believes me, but we don’t. So I would say 90% of what we’re shooting, we’re using.
But before, when I was at another magazine with more money, I’m sure we could have had a genius garbage issue, with all the images we threw away. It would be an amazing one. But with CR? Honestly we don’t have the luxury not to use all the images. And what we don’t like for the magazine, we put online. So mostly I think 99% of the pictures make it to the public. But you are right, honestly, a garbage issue would be great. I will do it for you.
I’d be honored. “Here, Faran. This garbage is for you.”
No, now I think we should do a garbage issue. You know, sometimes it ends up being the best picture, the one in the garbage. Because most of the people are frightened to use the best images.
They are frightened for so many reasons. And me, I try to be fearless. I never said, “Don’t put a black girl on the cover.” I never said, “Don’t put this with that, don’t put babies on the cover, don’t put little animals on the cover.” Because my god, now everything is controversial to someone. It’s impossible.
You don’t want your images to be controversial? Not even a little bit?
I tried not to shock people, I tried, I tried to be a good girl! But sometimes I’m not the good girl I’m supposed to be. I’m a bit crazy, it’s who I am. Maybe it’s more fun for other people, too. So now it’s like a trademark, no?
There’s a part in the film where you tell a fashion blogger he has to make love to the camera. If he looks at the camera like he loves it…
Then it will love him. Yes! Tom Ford told me that.
But that’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? You were a model, and you’re beautiful. What if you’re not beautiful?
I think that no one is “not beautiful.” Some people are beautiful in the way that they wear clothes well, but there is nothing inside them and you’re not inspired because they’re not interesting. In anyone, it’s not possible there is not something beautiful. But you have to know what it is. And this guy in the film, he was so shy, so I tried to make it better for him, so I gave him the tricks I learned from Tom Ford, you know? I try to share with other people. But you know, I did something with Karl Lagerfeld for Bazaar on all kinds of beauty. You can be beautiful old, young, fat, tall, skinny, you know, everything is possible.
But you still shoot mostly models.
You know if someone is a model, she is more easy for clothing. But not all models, and I love to feature those girls. Lara Stone was not easy in the beginning! No one wanted to use her. She was just this bizarre girl, she had these [pointing to her breasts].
Who’s your new favorite model?
My new favorite girls are the ones from Victoria’s Secret. I loved Gisele before and now I love Alessandra Ambrosio, and Miranda Kerr. I like them a little bit more curvy. Maybe they are not as easy for clothes, but I love them. And it’s my favorite fashion show of the year. Can you imagine?
You are always at the Victoria’s Secret show!
People never go to that show! They are so snobby! But I have gone from the beginning, because it’s just such theater. I watch the wings and I think, “Oh my god, this is genius.” And my kids love it. My son and all his friends will all come with me and they’re just in love.
All the boys are.
But it’s not vulgar! It’s just fun, it’s a good show. It’s what a woman wants. So now I love these girls like Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima and I love that they come down the runway with these big smiles and they make it look so fun. They all look like Alice in Wonderland.
In the film, you talk a lot about learning from Coco Chanel. Did you ever get to work with her?
No! No, I never met her. I never worked with her. And I hope people don’t think that when I did the picture where I dressed like Coco for Karl, it was me saying I was taking her place. It was the last picture at 2 o’clock in the morning, and they said, “Madame Roitfeld, it’s your turn!” So I said, “Okay, we’d better do something fun.” So I thought I should dress as an old lady.
But it was so cool.
You think it’s cool because you’re young! ” But I think I respect her a lot because I think she created what didn’t exist. She used her own way of thinking, and she started her business again when she was 70. So that means I have a bit of time in front of me to keep creating things.