“The American editors are very, how you say, slick,” Roitfeld says. “Very perfect. Hair is perfect, they have a manicure. They are very clean, they follow fashion. I don’t think they take many risks. They do the total look of Prada. Me, I wear a lot of Japanese piece mixed with a bit of classic Hermès and Prada. Even though jeans suit me, I never wear jeans.”
Roitfeld herself styles many of her magazine’s sittings. “I love the combination of a masculine piece with a feminine piece. It’s very French, it’s very sexy. It’s my culture. It’s the way I was raised.”
The party pages at the back of the magazine are clogged with photos of French Vogue staffers, mostly Roitfeld herself, often with her daughter, Julia. She claims to have mixed feelings about the exposure. “It’s very difficult not to become a puppet,” she says of it all. “Like Anna, she becomes so iconic that she becomes like a puppet. I don’t want to be like that, I don’t want to wear this uniform, I don’t want to be just an envelope.”
Roitfeld styled a shoot last year in homage to Wintour’s look, puppetlike or not, starring a model with a bob, dark sunglasses, and many a fur coat. (“PETA, they like to pay attention to her, not to me,” she says, “so this is good for me.”)
Speculation about Roitfeld’s coming to America to helm a great American title (Bazaar, Vogue) is endless—not least because of the Devil Wears Prada plotline in which Machiavellian Miranda is temporarily ditched for Jacqueline Follet, who is sleeker and more laid-back.
In reality, it’s hard to imagine Roitfeld running a big, corporate American magazine. She is free to be the Rizzo to America’s Sandy because French Vogue is so small—and it’s a role that suits her. American Vogue has a circulation of 1.3 million, and it is a huge business, a massively lucrative brand, starring triple-A-list actresses, glossy socialites, and, of course, models. But part of becoming the editor of a big American magazine is wanting it, and Roitfeld does not. “My best quality is to be stylist. I never think about this career, this big job,” she says. “I never wanted to be what I am today, and I will not die in the position.” She still finds the idea of an office with a door where she’s expected every day (at least by telephone) somewhat troubling. All she ever wanted was to be surrounded by very attractive people and very expensive clothes. It’s always been “fashion, fashion, fashion”—so much so that she lists beauty and jewelry as evidence that the job as editor-in-chief has expanded her range of interests.
And she doesn’t care much for the business aspect of fashion. In an industry where accessories count for the bulk of her advertisers’ revenue, she has this to say: “Right now I think that fashion in the world becomes a bit boring. There is so much money, and I feel a bit when you go to shows they want to sell so many handbags, and for me, well, I do not like handbags. I do not wear handbags. It is not a nice look, to carry a handbag.”
“I’m not a business girl,” Roitfeld says. “I will never be a business girl, but I will say, for Anna Wintour, that I respect successful people, I like things that are success. But this is really American.”
Roitfeld got her start at French Elle as a teenager in the late seventies, basically dissecting her own look for readers. But it was not until the nineties that the look developed by Carine Roitfeld, executed by Tom Ford, and photographed by Mario Testino went global. Tom Ford, her longtime collaborator, took over first at Gucci and later at Yves Saint Laurent as well, and brought Roitfeld along as his muse.
It was the best job she ever had. “I was not checking the materials or something,” she says. “I was just looking the way I was looking, sitting the way I was sitting. Making the girls look like me; it was an easy job.”
The way she was sitting and looking begins with her hair, which has always been pin-straight and razor-sharp and kind of in her face. Her eyes, which are always rimmed in kohl pencil (she does not wear lipstick), peer out melodramatically from behind it all.
And then there are the clothes, which are every bit as sharp as that hair. They are well-tailored and unafraid of sex. They are not nostalgic, or sentimental, or romantic, or pretty. They do not dabble in haute bohemia or the intellectual frump of recent fashion. They are harsh and clean and always, always, worn with a stiletto heel. Roitfeld herself says it is “very sexy, but very woman, and always some rock and roll, eh?”