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The Unstoppable Carine Roitfeld
February 22, 2014

By Rose Apodaca

On the sky-high heels of a documentary, the third issue of her eponymous magazine, a global editorial directorship, raising millions for AIDS research, advertising campaigns, the implausible state of grandmotherhood and now nose-deep in the creation of a signature scent, Carine Roitfeld proves that giving up the world of Vogue Paris gained her the keys to rule the fashion universe.

Carine Roitfeld is everywhere these days, and that is a good thing. The culture needs individuals determined to rattle the status quo, and while Roitfeld has enjoyed a career of it, she has redefined her status and influence in the last three years through a breakneck catalog of projects and an exponential exposure validating her prevailing standing as a creative force and bona fide iconoclast in a landscape crammed with hopefuls and pretenders.

Not so much a whisper but a roar of Roitfeld’s declaration of independence is on film now in Mademoiselle C, a feature documentary by director Fabien Constant that hit theaters this fall. It loosely trails Roitfeld launching one of her greatest triumphs since announcing her departure from Vogue Paris in December 2010, her to-the-hilt chic eponymous glossy, CR. Despite a 25 percent cover price increase to $20USD, circulation is robust and thriving: at 65,000 print issues it is half of the peak circulation of her previous gig at Conde Nast and it immediately sells out.

The pair already collaborated on a 12-minute short as part of a 2011 W magazine editorial that casted Roitfeld as couture client. “When Fabien proposed the documentary, I thought it would be good buzz for this new magazine,” she told 7Hollywood, during a heady summer that had her finalizing the third edition of CR, styling ad campaigns for Chanel and editorials for Harper’s Bazaar, and taking on global directorship for that fashion title. “But I did not realize the film would be so personal! Fabien followed me during four months, and you never forget totally the camera is there. I am more fun without it! But it’s his film and I did not change his editing. What I hope is that a lot of young kids in love with fashion will see it, understand this world, discover the team spirit—and that fashion could still be a dream! I am a dreamer and a hard worker.”

Even through the sheer glamour of it all, that work ethic is irrefutable. After all, this is a woman who could have wrapped up her powerfully influential and always provocative decade-long Vogue Paris post for an extended respite. Instead, she marched head on in her signature stilettos, with an open embrace to all that interested her. It is no short list: the oversized retrospective as scrapbook, Irreverent; Barneys New York window displays; a M.A.C. Cosmetics capsule; a book-video-exhibition collab with Karl Lagerfeld on The Little Black Jacket; now a perfume in the works to bottle everything she represents.

She’s already underway on a 2014 follow up to the gold hit she struck last Spring at the Cannes Film Festival’s grandest gala, when she mined the blindingly gilded splendor of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra with a glimmering parade of custom-made looks by every significant fashion house. The event took in $25 million for the AIDS research charity amfAR. It also further secured the reign of Roitfeld.

“I’m very happy to continue [Elizabeth Taylor’s] work at amfAR,” she says, adding the late legend ranks among her icons because she always did as she saw fit, despite popular opinion—including her early advocacy for AIDS awareness and research. “It’s an amazing charity, and they brought me back into the film world through a special gate! My father and grandfather were film producers. The best souvenir with my dad was going with him to Cannes. What a privileged re-introduction to Cannes through my work for amfAR!”

Mother Theresa notwithstanding, influence is not secured by altruism alone. Most certainly not in an industry that demands grit to survive and endure, especially as arrestingly as Roitfeld has in the four decades since being scouted as a model on a Paris street at age 18. The film is visual proof of the endless hours spent in service of a field she thrives on, along with fellow workaholics such as Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Kanye West and Donatella Versace. “I am lucky to have friends who accepted to be filmed,” she gushed.”

For Roitfeld, too, it’s another opportunity to reveal this rarified realm. This is, after all, a fashion superstar with a habit of grabbing an onlooker on her way into a runway show. Interviewers are apt to note her ingratiating way of drawing them in. What appears to be an earnest drive to share her world has become among Roitfeld’s most intoxicating qualities as she navigates a rising public profile. That includes a growing legion of fans, many only catching up to an influential archive through a mushrooming number of online disciple channels, the most amusingly one named and devoted to “fashion’s first family.”

This isn’t so much hyperbole. Consider New York Fashion Week in September: at her side during a nightly celebration for one or another of her latest projects, steadfastly stood Christian Restoin, her other half for more than three decades. They never legally married, she has said, so they would never have to divorce.

Also in tow during that fashion week circus was their two children. The entire clan took one evening off  from feting mother to celebrate a Peter Lindbergh showcase by son Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, who has been making his mark as an art dealer and curator since graduating from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in 2007. Four years older at 33 is sister Julia Restoin Roitfeld, an equally beautiful creature who capped her studies at New York’s Parsons School of Design in 2006 by becoming the face of Tom Ford’s Black Orchid. (As friend and muse to Ford, Carine played a key function during his phenomenally successful stints Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent). Like her mother, Julia has a penchant for a smoky eye and career hyphenation, having worked as model, consultant, lingerie designer and now graphic designer.

With her longtime partner, the Swedish model Robert Konjic, Julia gave birth in May 2012 to Romy Nicole, and, it turns out, a rejuvenated outlook for grandmama. It also became an unintended central plot for the documentary. “For the first issue [of CR], I was obsessed with my daughter having a baby,” she says, having zeroed in on the theme of “rebirth” for the inaugural issue. She wasn’t alone in being captivated by all a baby represents. One of the film’s most ballyhooed moments is Lagerfeld pushing the pram.

Roiteld has always, at times controversially, channeled her preoccupations in her work. With CR, that is by decree. “Last issue, I was obsessed with ballet. This time, it’s Caravaggio’s life, one of the romantic expressions of this issue. His was not the perfect life,” she notes. Hope and redemption steer issue number three, just out last month. But why a painter who died four centuries ago? “I was talking about paintings with Klaus Biesenbach, the director of MoMA PS1. I thought about Caravaggio, the first painter to show the reality—like a photographer using no retouching and the idea of street casting, which was so new at his time. I became obsessed with his paintings, his searching of redemption. For me, he was in the ‘lignee’ of my icons such as Rimbaud, Mapplethorpe, Pasolini, Alexander McQueen or Jim Morrison…or even Marilyn Monroe! Free spirits, creatives. Because they died young they will stay ‘young’ forever. But it’s not just a question of age! Coco Chanel at 70 years old kept changing the rules of fashion. A free mind is really what I love!”

Optimistic desires of hope and fantasy underscore everything Roitfeld articulates these days. These are considerations in, she says, “a timeless and endless conversation. Some designers are artists and they can be sometimes, very relevant…. and sometimes they break the rules and they change the aesthetic.”

Read this article and the entire 7 Hollywood issue here.