“I love violating the codes of bourgeois elegance.”
- Carine Roitfeld
To violate such codes of course, one must also be fully conversant with them. An ethereal beauty born in September 1954 of the most redoubtable bourgeois credentials, her mother an elegant Parisian housewife and father Jacques an impossibly well-connected Russian film producer, Carine Roitfeld stepped at eighteen from the gilded 16th arrondissement pedestal of Auteuil straight into a modelling career.
Having been discovered on the street, the sense of boundless opportunity and unfettered creative curiosity that characterises the languid adventure of the young bourgeois led seamlessly into writing at French Elle. This sense of the world viewed from the societal summit, gives great clarity of insight into the dazzlingly subversive manner in which she has pricked and challenged the sensibilities of her milieu ever since.
The sense of the meritocracy of DNA that abounds in privileged circles and her view that style is innate must have given her the self-assurance to make the further effortless transition into styling fashion and beauty stories at the magazine, work she had secretly coveted since adolescence. Such was the clarity and truth of her already eye-catching work that she was soon recruited by Glamour magazine, still in its infancy and as such an enormous blank canvas for Roitfeld’s unique vision.
There is an extraordinary convergence of complementary artistic sensibilities that seems to follow Carine Roitfeld like some stardust-flecked tail to her comet, as she blazes flame across the sartorial cosmos. If, as she contends, chic is inherited, then this crystallisation of some of the true global style icons of the last twenty years flickers with the gleams of destiny.
It was during her time at Glamour that the first of these alchemic creative relationships blossomed, when Roitfeld teamed Mario Testino. Already by then one of the fashion world’s premier photographers, he was at that time focussing much of his considerable artistic energies on capturing nudes. Legend has it that Roitfeld suggested that Testino apply the self-same brazen and sensual vulnerability of his nude shoots to fashion photography.
This delicious subversion of the fashion axis, swung radically by Roitfeld and Testino in favour of sexual and emotional revelation as opposed to dressy concealment - drew them inexorably to Tom Ford, a soon-to-be fashion supernova who had taken the helm at Gucci in 1994. Testino’s images of Ford’s radical new collections at first Gucci and then Yves Saint-Laurent, all the glory of their slashed navel-grazing décolletage styled unforgettably by Roitfeld, revolutionised fashion at a stroke.
This extraordinary trio, with Roitfeld as its stylistic axis and chief muse, made the couture sensibility at once more powerfully sexualised and at the same time more evocative of the same human frailties to which are all our naked selves are susceptible. Roitfeld and Testino then paraded this new ultra-modern cutting edge across cover and after cover of The Face, Vogue and then French Vogue, and it was at this Parisian outpost of the couture bible that Roitfeld’s remarkable career took another startling turn.
Once installed as Editor-in-Chief in 2001, this proud French woman, who amazingly had up until that point been working as a freelance stylist, set about redefining the magazine as unequivocally French and uncompromisingly provocative. Her self-styled “erotic-chic” swepting all before it - from the runway to the high-street - and attracted such stellar names as John Galliano and Tom Ford as guest editors for consecutive Christmas editions. By the time she stepped down as editor in January 2011, to be replaced by long-time protégé Emmanuelle Alt, Carine Roitfeld was one of the pre-eminent figures in the fashion world.
Having worked extensively with Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s Creative Director, and also having lent her inimitable style to couture images at Missoni, Versace, and Calvin Klein, Roitfeld is a fashion lightning-rod. During appearances on the front row at runways in Paris, New York, London, Milan and beyond, she turns as many heads and draws as many column inches with her latest looks as the collections themselves.
Since leaving Condé Nast’s contractual strictures, she has spread her wings like a Victory and taken to the flight of fancy once more, collaborating with fellow style icon Karl Lagerfeld on a high profile campaign for Chanel and producing the extraordinary Carine Roitfeld: irreverent. Only this month, the book’s extravagant launch party at exclusive underground caviar club Chez Raspoutine attested to her continued top tier status in the fashion world, where a bewildering roster of celebrities - including designers Olivier Theyskens, Alber Elbaz, and Giambattista Valli - partied until the early hours at her uniquely decadent Bal des Vampires.
Edited by art-world power-player and editor of the highly influential Purple Magazine, Olivier Zahm, and the Creative Director of Vogue Hommes International, Alex Wiederin, this is a fascinating insight into the creative history of one of fashion’s most daring and instinctively innovative intellects.
Given the exalted heights attained so far during such an incredible career, it is fitting that irreverent is published by Rizzoli New York, one of the leading imprints for art, architecture, interior design, photography, haute couture and gastronomy. Founded in 1974, it is one of the jewels in the crown of global media giant RCS Media Group, itself formed by the merger of Angelo Rizzoli’s venerated publishing house that dates back to 1929 and one of Italy’s oldest and most reputable daily newspapers, Corriere della Sera.
Fittingly for a woman whose influence has reverberated through the retinas of the world’s glitterati, this visual retrospective of her lifelong creative process lovingly presents a glossy selection of 250 magazine tear sheets and covers and a host of deeply personal papers and correspondence. Tellingly, however, it also features glowing contributions from its subject’s glittering peers and colleagues; Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, Riccardo Tisci, Helmut Lang, Azzedine Alaïa, Miuccia Prada, Alexander Wang, Lara Stone, Sofia Coppola, Martin Margiela, David Sims, Mario Testino, Lauren Santo Domingo, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Marc Newson, among others.
Our relationship with our bodies and what we use to clothe them are as coiled round each other as the serpent and the branches of Eden’s most infamous tree. Fashion can be described as the negotiation between art and history in deciding what to cover and what to reveal - an eternal dance whose rules and rhythms are in a perpetual state of evolution.
Style is that deeply personal impulse dictating how we cover and how we reveal our most naked selves and lives - how we choose to move to the beat of fashion’s drum. In these terms, therefore, Carine Roitfeld is one of the rarest and most precious of creatures, the incandescent style of her steps, reels and pirouettes dictating the tune.
- Benjamin Stewart
Rizzoli New York
Address: 300 Park Avenue South
New York, 10010
Tel: 212 387 3400
Photo Credit: © CARINE ROITFELD: irreverent, Rizzoli New York, 2011
Carine Roitfeld: irreverent