Carine Roitfeld (Nov 2005)
At last, the style experts agree on something: the best-dressed woman in the world today is Carine Roitfeld, a skinny fiftysomething with smoky eyes and sharp heels. The terrifyingly chic editor of French Vogue talks to Sabine Durrant
Black? 'It's finished.' Leather? 'No good as you get older.' Jewellery? 'I hate watches. I never wear these things.' Thongs? 'Before I love strings. Now I hate strings.' Handbags? 'You can wear a completely transparent shirt and show all the breasts - I don't care. But I prefer to have my hands in my pocket than to have a nice little bag. So I am not good for all these fashions. They have to sell bags, bags, bags, bags, bags, bags. I hate handbags.'
French polish: Carine Roitfeld in Paris, wearing Yves Saint Laurent
Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue, one of Vanity Fair's Best Dressed, 'the muse of the moment' according to the influential industry magazine Women's Wear Daily, is sitting behind a Perspex desk in her minimalist office in the centre of Paris.
This is the woman who has replaced Anna Wintour of American Vogue as the most closely watched editor in the front row. Her look - the straight falling-forward dark hair, the smoky eyes, the heavy eyebrows - is so 'in' that if you flick through the current issue of her magazine, you see a stream of imitations, from the model in the advertisement for Chanel to the girl wearing a watch for Breil. Right now Carine Roitfeld, 50, is the most stylish woman in the world.
Today she is wearing an off-one-shoulder off-white Prada dress. It is startlingly 'evening' for an 11am appointment and when she gesticulates - which she does a lot - you expect a nipple to appear on the low-cut side (though it never quite does). The big brown chunky high shoes - 'I steal them,' she says grandly - are from the next Yves Saint Laurent collection.
Round her neck is an unobtrusive cross ('I am not religious, I just like it') and the 'strings', she tells me, have been replaced by Calvin Klein 'little shorts - feminine, very low'. Her pants are the only things she has on that she has paid for. 'Maybe if you write it, they send me some,' she says in her sweet, French-accented voice. 'You never know. My size is small.'
When her assistant brings in a list of models for an upcoming shoot she puts on a pair of thick-lensed tortoiseshell glasses to read it ('Trop petite… trop petite,' she say, running down the names). I can honestly say there are no other signs of ageing. That bare left shoulder is toned and golden (no crêping, no sagging). Her knees - impeccable. Her beauty is rangy, mysterious, part Charlotte Rampling, a bit Patti Smith, a bit Nico. There is some wear to the texture of her face, but no lines across her forehead or wrinkles between her brows.
'Oh this is horrible, the fifties. Oh,' she shudders. 'I am quite lucky. I have the same body when I was 20 years old. But when you are getting older, you have to find some new tricks.' She tells me she whitens her teeth, touches up her dark hair ('it's not white, just a bit grey, eh?') and French manicures her hands. She has always been a 'black-eyes girl', but recently she discovered that adding a little white to the inside of the inner lid 'lifts, opens them'. She tames her bushy eyebrows ('My signature') every morning. She does pilates. She never, she says, frowns. '
Botox? No. I don't like Botox. It makes a very strange forehead.' Do you promise? 'Yes. The only thing I am doing is massage to de-stress the face. You know, with fingers? No, I don't do Botox, or surgery. I am anxious people would look at me: "The lips are not like before - what did she do?"' When I tell people she said this afterwards, no one believes her. But I do. I can't see why she would lie.
She is so disarmingly frank about everything else. You imagine the editor of any other Vogue would be anxious not to offend advertisers or their readers, would worry about sounding snobbish, or vain, or the opposite of right-on. Roitfeld, with her lists of loves and hates, doesn't seem to care what people think. She wore fur when it was in fashion, but not so much now 'because it has a smell'.
Sitting in the front row at the shows is not so good because 'you see the same ones getting older and older'. People, she says, think she is cold because she is shy. 'I keep my hair down as my protection.
With a drink it is better. I am very fun after one glass of vodka. I am more beautiful, too.' She takes a tranquilliser, Lexomyl, every day to stay calm. Running the magazine is 'like walking on eggs,' she says. 'All these egos.' You'd say she had a very French directness. 'But I am not French. I am Parisian. I don't love the French.'
Her upbringing in the 16th arrondissement was, she says, 'very bourgeois. I'm not saying we were in diamonds, but very, very comfortable.' Her father - 'my idol' - was the Russian film producer Jacques Roitfeld: 'very chic, he love to go out, he never come home' - who died in 1999. Her mother, still alive, 'but old', is 'more conventional'.
Roitfeld was very competitive at school and then, at 16, 'everything changed. I got bored.' She discovered nightclubs and began modelling. 'I was not a big model. My face was too much in advance.' She became a writer and then a stylist for French Elle: 'Little stories. Small, small pictures.'
'I don't wear fur now because it has a smell'
She met her partner, Christian Restoin, who ran the clothing company Equipment, in a nightclub and had her two children, Julia and Vladimir (now 24 and 22), almost immediately. 'It was like a good accident.' She never stopped working but 'it was an easy life. I see some of my friends, they have so much to fight for money, they squeeze like a lemon, there is no more juice, no more happiness to do the job. Because I was in a comfortable position with Christian, I was not destroyed.'
Roitfeld describes her professional progress ('I hate this word "career"') as a series of accidents. While she was working as a freelance stylist her daughter, Julia, was in a children's fashion shoot. The photographer was Mario Testino. Roitfeld and he hit it off and began working together as a team, doing advertising work as well as shoots for American and French Vogue. '
And then there was this guy called Tom Ford constantly calling us to work on his first collection for Gucci. But at this time Gucci was just a pair of loafers. I was young, I was, "Oh la la" - it was not trendy - "Who is this guy?" He called me maybe ten times and I say one day, "OK, come to the shoot," and when he came he was so beautiful, so charming and we say OK, not because of the clothes, but because of him.' Roitfeld went on to work as a consultant for Ford at Gucci and YSL for six years.
'I was like a feminine continuity of himself. We are both Virgo. We have the same history of what is beautiful, Studio 54, rock 'n' roll. Tom would look at me, the way I was crossing my legs, where I was putting my bags, how I was sitting. He'd say, "How do you wear it?" Me: "Oh, no bag with this, it's not possible." He discover maybe an idea of the woman through me. His first collection was not so sexy and then when I come in it was very 1970s, very oh la la low-waist sweaters, very open the shirt… OK, today I wear a very nice white dress, but in this period I was more rock 'n' roll.'
Roitfeld was approached by Jonathan Newhouse to edit French Vogue in 2001. She was already earning a lot of money and 'was not raised' to manage people. 'But I love to change. I always love to push myself because I am not so self-confident. I always make me big things to do.'
She says, 'Every day you have to think you are a soldier. It's true. Always have to fight. I'm fighting to keep a level to the magazine. I'm fighting to get the good girls. We are doing a cover with Mario Testino just before the couture show of Givenchy so I try to book the model now. And I know that is going to be tricky because there is a Lacroix show. I don't want to be mean to Lacroix but I want my cover to be beautiful.'
Advertising revenue, under her jurisdiction, has increased 60 per cent from last year. In the industry, her magazine has become known for fresh, fierce, razor-sharp photography. Roitfeld continues to style many of the shoots. She is not afraid to shock.
'We are very free in France. We are free with sex, with cigarettes…' Earlier this year a spread of photographs depicting Bee Shaffer, Anna Wintour's debutante daughter, at the Crillon Ball, appeared in the middle of an 'erotic-chic' edition of the magazine.
'Unfortunately,' Roitfeld winces, 'just after the most erotic picture in the entire magazine.' There were diary stories claiming Wintour was horrified. 'And of course some nice people left this story on my desk. But really I wanted to do something beautiful for Bee. I was very shocked… I sent Anna Wintour a note and she sent me a note back: "Don't worry, we love the pictures." So…' She breaks off. 'She taught me a lot. Maybe she think I go up too much, I don't know… I want good relations with her. But…' She looks vulnerable for a minute.
To cheer her up, I ask if it amuses her to be a muse. 'It amuses my children. They say, "Oh la la, the muse, your hair is dirty." They make fun of me so I still have my feet very much on earth.' Her style, she says, is not about rules. 'I hate, "Don't do that, don't wear white shoes with black tights." I do the contrary and I don't care what people think.' She also hates signs of richness: 'All those logos… it's horrible. If you think about an attitude of a girl, "I am a very Saint Laurent girl." You know, because these girls they look sexy in a boyish way. I don't have a driver. I don't think because you have money you have taste… Education and money - this is quite rare. No?'
She has a beautiful empty flat - 'I hate garbage. I try to edit, edit, edit' - in Les Invalides. She drives an old Mini. (Actually she drives three old Minis, one red, one green, one convertible.) 'For normal woman, with not big money, if I would give advice: buy mainly classic pieces and a new pair of shoes each season. A Burberry trench-coat is always beautiful. Maybe you change the belt and this season you put an Indian scarf. This is my speciality. Simple things to make it happen, to make it different.'
She doesn't know how long she will stay in the job. Her partner has left fashion and they see each other when they can around what is, including parties, a seven-day working week. Sometimes she takes a couple of days off to visit Russia ('I love, love, love St Petersburg') and when the magazine closes for three weeks in August the whole family goes away - usually to America, but this year, as both her children are now studying in America, to Grenadine. 'My kids call me every day,' she says.
'OK, I am the Best Dressed. OK, I am editor-in-chief. OK, I am here. This is great. But my kids are not in drugs, they are happy with life. I am still with Christian. We are still a family. It is a work to keep a family. This is the best.'
She has to go off now. She is having lunch with an old, old friend of her father's who has contacted her out of the blue. She is puzzled. 'Perhaps she was his mistress,' I joke. She answers seriously. 'Maybe at the beginning. After, they were just friends.'
She picks up her handbag - a tatty denim thing I later see in the window of Yves Saint Laurent next door for €450 - and dangles it over one naked shoulder. It's an old lady she is meeting. She doesn't want to be late. She gives a heavy sigh. 'I am nicer than I look.'