Chic To Chic: Carine Roitfeld By Kal Ruttenstein
By Dara Block
Recently, I was looking back through my magazine archives and stumbled upon an old issue of Bloomingdale's Magazine. I am not sure where I got this publication... but wherever I got it, I couldn't help but gravitate towards an amazing interview between Carine Roitfeld and former Bloomingdale's Fashion Director, Kal Ruttenstein. Sadly, Kal Ruttenstein passed away in 2005, and if you are unfamiliar with his work, you should know that he was a complete visionary in the department store world. Season after season, he informed shoppers of what would be important by blending designs straight from the runways of Paris, New York City, and Milan into Bloomingdale's. He also had an amazing ability to incorporate ideas from pop culture to create such spectacular in-store boutiques. His eye for style was quite incredible, so it's no surprise why he was very excited to interview Carine Roitfeld. The two got together in 2004, when she was the editor-in-chief for Vogue Paris... so it's fascinating to see what Kal Ruttenstein and Carine Roitfeld had to say to each other. Now with all that said, let's take a closer look at this witty and detailed interview.
Lank-haired, kohl-eyed and reed thin, Carine Roitfeld is perhaps the most stylish woman in fashion. As the editor of French Vogue, as a collaborator with designers the stature of Tom Ford, as the creative czarina behind some of the most memorable fashion advertising of the last decade, Mademoiselle Roitfeld has had a profound influence on the glamour realm. Her extensive shoe collection alone is enough to inspire awe in fashionable women around the globe. Lunching with Kal Ruttenstein at the Ritz in Paris during Couture Week earlier this year, a conversational and candid Roitfeld reveals some of her less well-known traits: why she likes to sing in public, why she's mad about jodhpurs and why Kate Moss is her ideal woman.
Kal Ruttenstein: Carine, it's great to see you again. I haven't seen you in a couple of months. And here you are at the Ritz Hotel in a beautiful coat that contains a mixture of three different furs.
Carine Roitfeld: I'm sure it's very politically incorrect, you know, but….
KR: It's really great-looking, though.
CR: Thank you. But you know it's very cold today.
KR: It's freezing in Paris. It reminds me of the time you came to New York and you went with me to the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Awards. It was summer, and you wore a fur. No one was wearing furs in summer.
CR: That, too, was probably politically incorrect (laughs).
KR: You started a trend. You really did.
CR: No, I was following the show. It was Tom (Ford)'s show, I think. It was a Gucci outfit from spring. It's cold in spring, too.
KR: So — it was Russian New Year recently.
CR: Yes. Last week. And you know I'm half-Russian, so I love these moments, and I love to share them with people. I had dinner that night with Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Amanda Harlech, Hedi Slimane and Emmanuelle Seigner and my daughter. Karl took his glasses off for the whole dinner, which means it was very relaxed, you know? And suddenly, when a violinist came up behind him, he put his glasses back on (laughs). I don't know why. Maybe because if we go to a restaurant where there's a violinist playing a song I recognize, I sing along. They're songs I remember when I was a little girl. And I sing very badly, like a lost duck. After the dinner, Hedi sent me a note saying it was worth coming just to see the horrified expression on my daughter's face when I was singing. But why not? I won't die from being ridiculous for 10 minutes. It's such a pleasure. I just make sure to invite different people each year so I have a new audience. Maybe you can come come next year?
KR: If you invite me, I will come. My grandparents were Russian, so I have an affinity.
KR: I remember the first time I ever saw you. I noticed your feet before the rest of you, because you always wear incredible shoes. And I would ask people, "Who is this woman who's so chic?" And people would tell me, "It's Carine Roitfeld, the stylist, and Tom Ford's muse." But you had a career long before that. You were a model first, correct?
CR: Yes, but it was not my time. Maybe if I was a model today, I would be more successful. Maybe Mario Testino would discover me and I would have a great career (laughs). That wasn't the right moment for me, but it led me to fashion. I was a stylist for a long time before people came to know me as the muse of Tom Ford. But you know, life's like that. Sometimes you need someone else to make you known.
KR: Well, last year, all the models tried to look like you — your hair, your makeup, the look was Carine on the runway.
CR: (Joking) And now I'm out of fashion?
KR: (Laughs) No!
CR: It's finished for me (laughs)!
KR: Your look sort of remains the same.
CR: Yeah, I don't change. I still wear the high shoes and very simple knee-length skirts, mostly black, in winter.
KR: But there was a moment last season...
CR: Even on the runway, no? Some girls looked a little like me, their eyes, their hair. The very dark makeup that looks like you haven't taken it off from the night before. It's funny, because some people think I'm very, well, like those naughty girls who go out all night to clubs. But that's not me at all. I'm a nice girl (laughs). I'm, uh, maybe, more sweet than people think I am. People think I'm tough, or that I have a rock star attitude, but maybe I'm just shy. I'm not the girl they think I am.
KR: I think you're shy. The last time I saw you, a few months ago, you told me you were going to start wearing tailored clothes which you hadn't worn in awhile, like suits.
CR: I just got one recently. (Giorgio) Armani gave me a suit that I love, and I wore it on a television program for an interview about Tom Ford. I don't want to wear Tom Ford clothes for an interview about Tom Ford, because I'm not totally dedicated to Tom, you know? So I wore my Armani suit with a very old pink tank top, and when I saw myself on TV I thought a suit is not so bad. It's great, because you can cross your legs the way you want. It changes your attitude, but still in high heels.
KR: With pants, in a pantsuit.
CR: Yes. I would love to keep wearing them. And maybe I'm going to push them in the magazine so designers make more. What I really like now are jodhpurs, because I got back from India, where I visited Jodhpur, the city of these trousers. I saw some polo matches, which were beautiful. In India you can have what you want made in a couple of hours. A tailor came to my hotel and took my measurements like they do in Milan. In this case I got my trousers three hours later, one black pair, one beige. They're very tight, tight, tight under the knee and then a little wide, and I think they're very sexy. I love them.
KR: Will you wear them this week?
CR: It's a bit cold, maybe later in the season.
KR: What kind of shoes do you wear with jodhpurs?
CR: High heels.
KR: Of course.
CR: It's a bit like what Tom Ford did for (Yves) Saint Laurent, a bit masculine, a bit feminine.
KR: Let's talk about your magazine. French Vogue has an amazing look to it since you've been there. It gets stronger every season. In America, we all loved the Catherine Deneuve issue.
CR: It was a good one. I told you how I like traditions; well, French Vogue has traditions, such as inviting a special guest to edit the Christmas issue. It was stopped for quite a few years. In the past we had some great people, like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Françoise Sagan, the Dalai Lama and Roman Polanski. So I wanted to continue that tradition. Everyone has something to say about Catherine Deneuve. Everyone is still dreaming about her, you know. And in front of the camera, she's astonishing. In the shoots, she likes to play a role. People seemed to really like the issue.
KR: Where do you stand on the idea of celebrities versus models on the cover of French Vogue?
CR: It's been a very long time, maybe more than ten years, since we put a celebrity on the cover of French Vogue. And last August we put (actress) Sophie Marceau on the cover, and it was great for sales. But there are not so many celebrities in France that we think would be great for the magazine. We've shot Emmanuelle Seigner for the cover, and Catherine Deneuve, and now we are going to have some models. I don't want to be like American Bazaar, with celebrities every month, because we are a fashion magazine, but sometimes, it's great. We are very picky (laughs). She has to be beautiful and charismatic.
KR: Talk about your collaboration with Fabien Baron on French Vogue.
CR: The day I got the job, three years ago, I called him to come on board as creative director. But it was too complicated for him to work as a consultant for us and live in New York. I waited for two years and called him again, and this time he said yes. I was so happy, because he's the best. He has a chic attitude. I don't want to sound pretentious, but if you say a magazine is like a ring or a beautiful jewel, he makes the perfect box to put it in. He makes everything seem more spectacular. He understands our culture, which is very important. And he's easy to work with. He loves life, he loves to eat, he's simple. The day he came to the magazine, he invited the art staff to have lunch with him. I think he's very generous. And I like that.
KR: As an editor, you have had a great influence on fashion. Not only on designers, but on the readers of the magazine who try to emulate your look. You are your reader.
CR: You know why? Because I have a very simple look. It's easy to copy in a way because it's not so "fashion." I think it's more about having an attitude, a feminine attitude, rather than buying a total look. Everyone owns a skirt, but when you add high heels, your attitude changes, even the way you're talking to someone when you're sitting, it's totally different. And you are tougher, more feminine, and I think that's it. My clothes haven't changed much, but maybe my attitude has changed. It's more relaxed, very French, very Parisian, you know?
KR: Yes. But it's not as easy as you think to emulate the look.
CR: They don't put the hair in the face, no? They try, but they pull it back. This is my protection. Sometimes when I have no hair in my face, I feel completely nude. It's a strange feeling, you know?
KR: Do you think there's a big difference between the French look, the American look and the Milanese look?
CR: Yes. Totally different. I think Milanese is very... rich. They want to show off. So it's not just rich — they love to show the furs, the jewels, they put on too much makeup. But it's so womanly, in a way. I like that. It's good for them. When the Milanese woman crosses the street, all the cars stop to let her cross. The American woman is more low-profile but more self-confident and very sharp. The French woman is more laissez-aller, more bohemian and spontaneous and takes more risks. You can learn to avoid bad taste, but you can never learn good taste and chic. It comes naturally.
KR: You're right about that!
CR: You can learn not to make errors, the way you put your clothes, together, but to create something special is very difficult. Kate Moss — she's great. She's my idol, you know. Everyone wants to be like her, you know? Even if you don't like a look on the catwalk, when you see it on her, you want it. She's magic, because she has a way to transform things. She's the chicest model. And for us in France, even though she's English, she's the one. And now, I think after almost 15 years, she's still modeling, and she's still amazing. She is on our March cover.
KR: Can't wait to see it.
CR: French people love Kate, she sells. She's not too slick, she seems clever, and she has the je ne sais quois of Marilyn Monroe. Sometimes we both wear the same clothes — which means I, too, must have good taste occasionally (laughs).
This was such a great way to end the conversation and I must admit I think this may be one of my favorite Carine Roitfeld interviews, ever. Kal Ruttenstein asked such comprehensive questions and I love how in-depth and personal this interview was. I don't know why, but I feel like Carine Roitfeld is still the same person as she was in 2004, despite the fact that she has moved on to CR Fashion Book and is no longer the current editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. It really feels like her drive and passion for style is never ending and I feel like after reading this interview again and seeing Mademoiselle C it all completely makes sense on what a visionary she is. It's always fascinating to get a glimpse inside someone's creative process and I think Kal Ruttenstein did such an excellent job at capturing that with this interview. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this one, as much as I did!
Carine Roitfeld photos courtesy of lefigaro.fr, Kal Ruttenstein interview and images © 2005 Bloomingdale's. All Rights Reserved.