Made In France: Carine Roitfeld

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As editor of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld shocked and surprised by turns. Lee Carter talks to the fashion maverick about her glossy new book

Carine Roitfeld doesn't compartmentalise.

Life and work to French Vogue's editor-in-chief for 10 illustrious years – until her high-profile departure in January – is one big "mix", a word she uses freely to mean assorted emotions, moods, whims, and any other sensation that may stray into her ever-pulsing radar. Where her Vogue counterparts are celebrated for their ordered methodology, Roitfeld seems to move to an inner rhythm, acting on impulse and, if we're being old-fashioned, exercising a woman's prerogative. In this way she has become one of the most enigmatic and influential figures in fashion, at once puzzling and opinionated, compliant and contrary, submissive and subversive.

And so it is that her new book, Irreverent (Rizzoli, £60), is an exquisite jumble of images, 30 years of her most memorable, daring and sometimes controversial work at French Vogue and a host of other magazines. These are softened by family and personal pictures, including one in which she is topless and rifling through underthings in her closet. (She says she doesn't know why she has shown it as she claims to be pudique, or modest. That she is French will have to suffice.) It is an experiment of sorts, an autobiography told through this wealth of images, sprinkled with short Q&As given by friends – famous, industry, or both. Anchoring it all is a lengthy interview given by Purple magazine's Olivier Zahm, who, along with Alex Wiederin, is the tome's editor.

"It was supposed to come out a year ago," says Roitfeld by phone, from bed. It's the middle of the Paris spring collections and she's exhausted, but also exhilarated and talking a mile a minute. She speaks with a dulcet accent or sometimes in French itself. "But at that time I was at French Vogue, so I had a lot of work and it was physically difficult to find all the magazines from 30 years ago. As I do not have archives, I had to go in my cave [cellar] and to the last chest of my wardrobe to find old issues of The Face, Arena Homme Plus, and all these magazines."

She persisted, emerging from her cave with a trove of images that, for the book, she has annotated with recollections and anecdotes from the day of the shoot. The very first photo is of Roitfeld herself, wearing a T-shirt that reads "Vogue love you mum" in child-scrawled letters with the caption: "My son Vladimir made this T-shirt as a present for Mother's Day when he was eight years old. And I hadn't started working at Vogue yet!"

From there it's game on. Portrayals of S&M, pill-popping, cross-dressing, self-mutilation, and veil-wearing (a custom banned in France) soon follow, each more beautifully perverse than the last. One of the most jarring images, which appeared just last year in French Vogue, is of Hungarian model Eniko Mihalik, naked with an elderly woman's wrinkled and spotted arms wrapped around her, as if her own. Meant to disturb, and succeeding, it's a comment on the ravages of age. Next to it, Roitfeld recalls: "This is another one of the beauty stories I did with Mario Sorrenti. The shock: a beautiful young girl with old hands. Take care of your hands!"

All told, hundreds of images across hundreds of pages are reprinted, as are countless thank-you cards and letters from those famous friends – Riccardo Tisci, Helmut Lang, Valentino, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Hedi Slimane – expressing heartfelt love and gratitude for using their designs. One of the letters comes from Tom Ford, with whom Roitfeld first achieved legendary status in the 1990s as the stylist of his Gucci collections as he transformed it from a lacklustre heritage brand into a modern luxury powerhouse.

Dated 2007, the post-Gucci letter congratulates her on a story featuring his eponymous brand of sunglasses on a model made to look like a fur-cloaked, impeccably bobbed Anna Wintour, who famously wears oversized shades in the front row. The shoot, the brainchild of Roitfeld's fertile mind, is ironic, self-aware, light-hearted, deferential and still talked about. It's enough to wonder if fashion, at the highest echelons, is a convivial place after all.

When asked about her most significant issue, she doesn't miss a beat. "It was my last October issue, which was the first year of the 90-year anniversary of French Vogue. We made a special book of 90 pictures since the beginning of its days. We mixed old articles with new articles, old pictures with pictures of today. It's like Vogue from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. I was very happy to work with the best photographers, in an irreverent way, and to see all the pictures mixing so well. French Vogue was always a photographer's magazine."

Even Roitfeld appears somewhat gobsmacked by the depth and breadth of her oeuvre. "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."

Sometimes stories were iconic for their sheer audacity. In 2008, Roitfeld styled and ran a shoot (she's the rare editor-in-chief who also styles) lensed by another of her famous friends, Mario Testino, that seems to mock the animal-rights group PETA. In it, the model Raquel Zimmermann, dripping in animal skins, marches past protesters holding placards denouncing the use of fur. Roitfeld's annotation reads: "Even though this was a statement against wearing fur, the people from PETA were very unhappy. I think it was because the girl is giving the finger – but that's what happens when you wear fur. It's risky, but I think it was funny to show it like this. I wear less fur now."

Over the years Roitfeld has adapted in other ways, too, disposing of devices long used to add gravitas to fashion imagery. "Smoking is not good," she's quick to concede, "but you know this book is 30 years of fashion, and 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, people were not talking about how bad cigarettes were. It was something very normal, you know? 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." Proof that fashion magazines are not impervious to public pressure; in fact they're quite sensitive to it.

Body image, however, is an issue Roitfeld has been right about from the very start. "In my 10 years, I never put a girl that was too skinny in French Vogue. I think readers can be very impressionable and you have to pay attention to what you tell them and put in the magazine. And I tell myself my kids are going to read the magazine and I don't want them to feel bad. I prefer to use curvy girls like Lara Stone. 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 wears high heels and a garter belt, it's because it's what she wants. She's a strong woman."

Roitfeld is herself an image of strength, a former model who's gone from gamine to glamazon – a petite glamazon – in the course of her career. With her smoky eyes, which she applies with dark shadow to create her signature smoulder, she's often described in the Newtonian sense, a reference not to the 17th-century scientist Sir Isaac Newton, but the mid-century German photographer Helmut Newton. His seminal black-and-white portraits of self-empowered, dominatrix-like women lording over their surroundings – even the men, especially the men – are widely imitated to this day.

But Roitfeld isn't so sure she fits that mould. "I would love to be a Newton girl, but I'm not as strong as a Newton girl," she demurs. "Although it's true that I always like to mix femininity with 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."

Even with the book as proof, no one would ever guess the kohl-eyed dynamo is in her 57th year, which isn't to say she isn't constantly evolving. While talk of blogs inspires a moment of ire – "a lot of rumours on the internet are wrong and horrible" – Roitfeld seems ready for her next venture, and there has been speculation it will be online.

True to form, however, she remains inscrutable. "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."

Of course, those expecting further elucidation will just have to wait until she's ready.

Lee Carter is founder and editor-at-large of the New York fashion site Hintmag.com; "Irreverent" is published by Rizzoli, £60, rizzoli.com

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Geography Teacher

    £130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

    Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit