The stiletto-mania of the nineties owes as much to Carine Roitfeld as it does to Candace Bushnell. “I do not like comfortable,” Roitfeld says. She has outlawed sneakers and what she calls “Hugg boots” in her office because “they are hugly.” The line Roitfeld has always been best at navigating is the line between provocative and vulgar.
When Ford left Gucci, Roitfeld moved on to Missoni, which had always been fairly staid. Its knits were the stuff of Italian women with matching orange skin and hair. In Roitfeld’s hands, the knits became clingy and suggestive. “I like not to shock,” she says, “but there must be a bit of provocation. The girl can never be with bruise or violence, but there must be sex.” Missoni suddenly was hot. And then Condé Nast came calling.
Roitfeld has lived her whole life in Paris. Her father was a white-Russian émigré and producer of films like The Count of Monte Cristo. He was also her hero. “Women, they want to sleep with him; men, they want to be him,” she says, “that kind of thing.” Her mother, who is still alive, was classic Parisian—B.C.B.G., which means bon chic, bon genre—tidy little suits and an Hermès fetish. Not, in the end, Roitfeld’s thing. “My mom read French Elle when I was a little girl, and so, when I was 15 or 16, I said, I want to work in fashion. I didn’t stay to do studies, I became a model instead. Not a top model, just a model, but it made me a foot in that business.”
She met her husband, Christian Restoin (who is not, technically, her husband, but never mind), after she used some of the shirts he was manufacturing for a label called Equipment in a photo shoot. They have two children together: Julia, a New York socialite and graphic designer, and Vladimir, who just graduated from USC and lives in New York. They are, by all accounts, an extremely close family. When Roitfeld got the French Vogue job, Restoin closed Equipment. “For 30 years, I support him in the big job,” she says. “And now he support me.”
“Anna,” says Roitfeld, “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.”
“They are,” Roitfeld says of her family, “why I am so down-to-earth. They keep me very ground.”
Her closest friends are, naturally, in the business: “I mix everything,” she says. “My photographer is the godfather of my kids. I don’t separate; for me, it is impossible. I don’t know if it’s good, my way of working, but it is only what is possible for me.”
Roitfeld finishes her espresso and gathers herself up to leave, swaddling herself in that great piece of fur, but suddenly she looks panicked. “One thing,” she says. “I have in my office—what you call in America? Something to weigh?”
“A scale. So people always say that I weigh my staff, and it is totally wrong. All my girls are very skinny and very chic and very beautiful. And if they are not beautiful, well, then they are very charming. So people always say that I weigh them, but no. I don’t weigh my girls.”
The French Vogue offices are on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, which is the street in Paris with the highest density of super-fancy shops: It’s only steps to the Hermès flagship, and also to Lanvin. The office building itself is unremarkable, but it is right behind the Hôtel de Crillon, which is where Roitfeld takes her meetings if her office is “too mess.” The Vogue floor is the usual warren of small, cubelike offices, which gives way to the chalky white box where Roitfeld sits behind a glass-topped desk, her legs all coiled around one another.
“Doesn’t she look like Nicole Kidman?” Roitfeld says of the assistant posted at her door. “I told you, all the girl who work at French Vogue are vewy skinny and beautiful.”
Roitfeld’s office is entirely, almost clinically white, as if awaiting furniture or paint. The only decoration is a six-foot-square close-up of her face as photographed by Karl Lagerfeld. Rows of white bookshelves are empty, with the exception of a diamanté skull, a three-volume dictionary of Chinese characters, and two creepy masks, which Roitfeld explains celebrate the Day of the Dead. “I love skulls,” she says.
“It’s the same as in my home,” Roitfeld says. “I like clean, clean, clean, clean. It’s my new Zen attitude, you know? The less you have, the more you enjoy.”
Her desk is nearly empty—Roitfeld does not know how to use a computer—save for a telephone, a pair of black suede gloves, some color printouts of a fashion shoot, and a tiny snakeskin clutch.