Vladimir and Julia Restoin Roitfeld haven’t always been this close. But they’re getting closer. In 2008, little brother Vlad, 25, moved his collection of mid-century-modern-style furniture from Los Angeles, where he went to college and worked in the movie business long enough to know it wasn’t for him, to New York. Big sister Julia, 29, has lived here since moving from their hometown of Paris back in 2004 to study.
On a chilly Saturday morning in January, we meet up at Vlad’s apartment, located in a Beaux Arts building on a particularly dignified and youthless tranche of the Upper East Side, near the park. Both had just gotten back from post-Christmas trips. She was in Mexico with her model boyfriend; he was in India with his Italian fashion-editor girlfriend. Soon Vlad, who’s started a business, called Feedback Ltd., which creates highly publicized pop-up art galleries, will be off to help set up the next one, in Milan, in collaboration with another well-connected young man, Andy Valmorbida. It will open during Italian Fashion Week, sponsored by Giorgio Armani, and like the three he’s had in New York, it will kick off with a celebrity-stocked party. Julia, meanwhile, has her own traveling to do, since her boyfriend lives in London and the clients of her small art-direction company are around the world.
At the moment, the siblings are the perfect social totems for the city’s downtown mutual-appreciation society of fashion expats, arty party strivers, and heirs to fortunes, who read haut-y social fashion magazines like V (Julia’s close to its editor, Stephen Gan) and The Last Magazine (Julia used to date its co-editor, Magnus Berger) and the hipster shelter website the Selby (which has featured Julia’s London Terrace apartment.) They all, like Julia, miss the Beatrice Inn. (“It was such a nice, chill hangout.”)
“We have friends in common, her friends always know what she’s doing, and she always knows what I’m doing,” says Vlad.
“There’s never really a time for catch up because we don’t need to catch up, we talk all the time,” Julia agrees.
If they aren’t an all-conquering sibling team, exactly, they’re united by the fact that their mother is Carine Roitfeld, the feral-chic editor of French Vogue and the sort of 55-year-old woman who’ll show up, as she did last November, to one of her son’s openings here without any pants on—Mrs. Robinson as Lady Gaga, all black lace and dominatrix boots, topped off with a cape.
Roitfeld is an object of carefully tended international obsession, and by extension, her very pretty, very gracious children are too. Carine made her debut in the broad American consciousness via the movie character Jacqueline Follet, who has the fictional equivalent of her job in The Devil Wears Prada. There’s a plotline where Follet is supposed to take over for the U.S. editor, but the plan is foiled.
Indeed, there’s an entire website slavishly devoted to tracking the family; it’s called I Want to Be a Roitfeld and is run by a Carine-possessed woman who goes by the pseudonym Kellina de Boer (though her phone number, and accent, are registered in Norwell, Massachusetts). Early on, one commenter, who Kellina is convinced is Julia, wrote, “hey girl writing on my family … you are a freak! spend your time on something more constructive!” Now, the blogger says, “if I write something that’s not true, she lets me know.” Julia, for her part, denies ever commenting on her site. “It’s flattering, but it’s scary at the same time.”
Vlad and Julia’s childhood was unusual. Their grandfather was a film producer, the son of Russian immigrants. Their father, Christian Restoin, founded a successful shirt company, Equipment. He and Carine never married but have been together over 30 years.
Carine worked as a stylist for years before landing the Vogue throne and couldn’t help styling her children too, to their occasional discomfort. “As a kid, you just want to fit in, you want to look like everyone else,” says Julia. “You don’t want to be in leopard shirts and leather pants.” But their mother was Tom Ford’s muse.
Vlad and Julia grew up around their mother’s shoots and were sometimes in them when they were kid-appropriate. Though usually the scenes were a bit more … adult. “We used to do these funny stories” in French Glamour, says Vlad’s godfather Mario Testino. “All this sex. It must have been interesting to see a little bit of that as a kid.” In a way, their mother outmaneuvered their ability to feel stifled. They had the kind of childhood where, as their mother tells me from her mobile phone, the car horns of Paris beeping in the background, “nothing really was forbidden.”
“I’m much more prude than her, maybe,” admits Julia. “I think I’m actually a bit more narrow-minded than her.” Take Trainspotting, the surreal heroin ode that came out when she was 15. “She’d be like, ‘Oh, there’s this new English movie, they have a playlist with all the bands you like, let’s see it.’”
In 2002, at 17, Vlad was sent to New York by himself to prep for American university. He ended up at the University of Southern California, which worked because he wanted to work in film. Growing up, “I was really into Westerns. I think I always had this admiration for the U.S. as a kid, and I think that this was the image of the cowboy. This very strong, powerful man, a horse, saloons, and beautiful ladies.”
At USC, Vlad found his fantasy of American college life, with its football games and skateboarding to class. There were other aristocrats there, too. In 2005, he and Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos were featured in W in a piece called “Big Men on Campus,” which recounted undergraduate activities like hitting Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg’s and dropping by the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Vlad got an internship working for producer Lynda Obst. “He had the best shoes,” she remembers. “He did everything every other intern does. The great perk was getting to drive me on the golf cart.” She liked him as her driver, because he didn’t interrogate her about the industry. So she would ask him questions; Obst has a son around his age. One day she asked him if his mother worked. “He said, ‘Yes, she’s a magazine editor.’ I said, ‘Oh, what does she edit?’ ‘Oh, French Vogue.’ Holy mother of God.” Obst says he was very well liked: “He made no effort to be pushy or grand.”
During Julia’s senior year at Parsons, Tom Ford decided that she was going to be the face of his perfume Black Orchid. “It didn’t come out until after I graduated,” says Julia. “I didn’t want to get this kind of attention when I was still in school. As kids, it didn’t mean much that my parents were in the fashion industry, but when I was at school, everyone is like, ‘What is your last name?’”
Carine is aware of the bind, and the advantages, her kids have. She wants Julia to not be just “daughter of,” and worries Vlad is so polite he might get walked over. But she and her partner sent them to New York—for a reason. “There’s a lot more possibility than maybe you can have in Paris. And in a way we almost raised them with this idea.”