Carine Roitfeld: A Look At The Career, Style and Lessons Learned From The Former Vogue Paris, Editor-in-Chief

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Carine Roitfeld is a name known to many within the fashion industry and yet still retains an enigmatic presence. Often ushered within the same sentence as names like Anna Wintour, both highly influential figures within the industry, both carrying two very different definitions of the word intimidating in their possession. 

Upon reading about Roitfeld’s background and her style evolution – of which is relatively non-existent as the former Vogue Paris Editor-in-chief appears to have always held sophisticated sartorial sense – the poetic manner in which she speaks about fashion is what stands out the most. In interviews, she emulates the kind of warmth that makes you feel as though you’re right there with her, that it’s you she’s telling the stories to rather than the journalist. Her views both on life and the fashion industry reminds us all why we fell in love with fashion in the first place, bringing back the magic often lost in the harsh reputation the industry is tarred with. As so perfectly articulated in previous articles, there’s something about Roitfeld that completely draws you in whether thats her charcoal-rimmed eyes, her risk-less sophistication or the endearing manner in which she talks about her family. 

Instagram / @carineroitfeld

Carine Roitfeld first began her career as a model before finding her niche within the publishing world, anchoring herself as a writer within French Elle where she stayed for 15 years. In 1990, between writing for Elle and carving out a career as a freelance stylist, Roitfeld met photographer Mario Testino on an Italian Vogue Bambino shoot that her daughter, Julia was modelling for. It was here that the pair’s now famous partnership began. It was the collaborations that came from this powerful friendship that went on to launch both of their careers on a global level. In an interview with 032c magazine, Roitfeld spoke of the friendship, “I was not the best stylist when I worked for fifteen years for French Elle, but certainly when I met Mario Testino something happened. The right person for me at the right time.”

The photographer-stylist duo caught the eye of Tom Ford who, at the time, was Creative Director at Gucci. Ford invited the pair to work with him in reviving the then sleepy, Italian brand. Roitfeld proved particularly instrumental in turning Gucci around while it remained under the helm of Tom Ford and the trio worked together to create some of the most famous ad campaigns and runway shows for the brand, all considered to be milestones within Gucci’s history. 

Instagram / @carineroitfeld

Fast forward to 2001 and the sex-filled, irreverent and controversial aesthetic that the Ford-Roitfeld-Testino trio became known for was dominating the industry. Next thing she knew, Condé Nast came knocking with an offer of appointment as Editor-in-Chief for French Vogue (which she quickly changed to Vogue Paris upon taking over the role.)

Throughout her ten year tenure at the French edition of Condé Nast’s flagship fashion title Roitfeld stuck to her guns and became known for her bold, editorial choices at the magazine including highly controversial editorial shoot with Dutch model Lara Stone where her skin was painted black. Other shoots that sparked serious controversy were those including supposedly pregnant models who were photographed puffing cigarettes as well as “leather-clad glamazons kissing with blood pouring from their mouths” as described by The Guardian. 

Roitfeld was considerably more hands-on than editors that had gone before her, personally styling many of the magazine’s shoots over the course of her time as Editor-in-Chief. “It is impossible to overstate Carine’s powerful contribution to Vogue and to the fields of fashion and magazine publishing. Under her direction, Vogue Paris received record levels of circulation and advertising and editorial success,” said Jonathan Newhouse, chief executive of Condé Nast International. “Vogue Paris has established itself as one of the most iconic magazines in the world, with huge influence in the field of fashion and photography.” And so, upon announcement of her departure from the magazine in 2011, the industry and fashion fans were shocked. 

Instagram / @carineroitfeld

Instantly, rumours began flying. The main ones included partnering up with long time collaborator and friend, Tom Ford and speculation that she was on her way to take Anna Wintour’s role at American Vogue. For a while she did the natural thing, turning her hand to styling, collecting a roster of clients that included big names like Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel but by the time 2011 came to a close, she was ready to step out on her own, launching her biannual magazine, CR Fashion Book. In the same year she joined forces with Hearst publications and accepted the role of global fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar. In 2016, her partnership with Hearst deepened as they took on the task of monetising CR Fashion Book’s digital and social media content. “It’s difficult to find a new family in fashion, but that’s what I had to do,” Roitfeld said of her departure from Vogue and further career progression within the Hearst and CR Fashion Book family. 

In terms of style, Roitfeld has always kept is simple but sophisticated, a uniform of stilettos, pencil skirts, sleek cuts and a lot of black. Never overcomplicated and certainly never boring. Her secrets? Repeat buying and a trainer ban. 

“I would never wear sneakers. I really dislike them. I dare you to find a picture of me wearing sneakers…I don’t wear them. I think it is unattractive.” She told The Guardian. 

She speaks kindly of fashion, like an old friendship and while romantic in her philosophy she retains realism throughout. 

“We work seriously but don’t take ourselves seriously. This is important in fashion. It’s not all fashion. It’s a dream.” 

“When you work in fashion it can be a bit superficial, about clothes and beauty. It’s not the real world. It’s important to let it back in, to appreciate that.” 

She continues, “It’s fun to play with fashion because it is a fantasy. Each morning you dress to become a different woman. Fashion helps.”

Niamh Crawford-Walker

Niamh is a freelance writer covering fashion, beauty and lifestyle articles. Her work has appeared in IMAGE magazine, image.ie and Emirates Woman. Niamh is also a blogger at niamhserena.co.uk and podcast host of Werkin’ On It.

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