STYLE

Carine Roitfeld: French Style Means Going Naked Under A Trench Coat

09/04/2013 10:17 am ET

When you think about adjectives to describe the editor-in-chief of one of the most revered fashion magazines in the world, "warm" and "kindhearted" aren't two that would ordinarily come to mind. But Carine Roitfeld, former Vogue Paris EIC, is far from ordinary.

As Riccardo Tisci's BFF, Tom Ford's muse and the grandmother of style, you'd think all the attention would have gone to her head --but that's far from the case. Roitfeld is incredibly friendly, stands up when you walk into a room, shakes your hand with a firm grip and gives you a sly smile when a PR rep cuts you off mid-interview, whispering, "C'est tough in America, much more so than in France."

Lucky for us, we got to experience the fashion mogul in all her glory earlier this week, when we sat down with her to discuss the new documentary about her irreverent career, "Mademoiselle C." The 90-minute film (which opens on September 11 in select cities) chronicles the icon as she puts together the first issue of her very own fashion magazine, CR Fashion Book. We chatted with Roitfeld about her appearance on the big-screen and learned many interesting things along the way, most importantly that the "Devil Wears Prada" stereotype ends here.

Why did you decide to leave Vogue and eventually start your own magazine?

Oh, you know, 10 years is long. You can stay forever and have a bottle of water on your table all the time, or you change and start a new project. And I think it was the right moment -- I was not too old, it was just the right timing. I think Vogue is an amazing magazine. There was a great editor before me, there will be a great editor after me, the name is very big. I tried to do my best at Vogue. I was very free, but I have more freedom now, and this freedom, I don't want to lose it. Even if it's more difficult because you have less power, fewer team members, less of everything, I think it's still exciting to be able to do all these projects.

When you're editor-in-chief of a big magazine, you cannot be a cover girl for MAC, you cannot be the face of Givenchy -- of course you can't, it's doesn't go with the job. So now I can do all these projects, have fun, do a book with Karl Lagerfeld, do my own book and now I'm working for Bazaar, and of course, the film. I never stop. I was working hard at Vogue, but now I've never worked so hard, but I'm working for me.

In the film it's very clear that family is really important to you, so how do you balance it all?

They're grown up now.

I know your kids are grown-up now, but you still need to make time!

Yeah, but I'm living in Paris most of the time, and they're living in New York. But when I'm here, I'm very happy to see them and to see my granddaughter because she's the new one in the family. They keep you young and they keep you energized. I talk to them each day [regarding] different problems, you know, not even problems, just stupid questions. I always keep in touch, and I'm very happy because some of my friends, their kids aren't close to them. Sometimes we fight, but no one can attack one of them, we're in it together.

You mentioned Karl Lagerfeld earlier, and I know a lot of people have a certain perception of him, but you two are very close friends. So what is he really like?

He's funny. You can talk to him about everything. He's always happy, and he loves people. You can see it [from our work] on The Little Black Jacket -- all the people we photographed always looked good. And after, we did a story together for Bazaar and he was genius. He was genius with Gabby [Sidibe], the girl from "Precious" -- you never imagine him photographing Gabby. It was a surprise! Everyone loves him. In the film, [we see Karl] pushing a pram, it's the way he is... he's a swan.

What's the craziest photo shoot you've been on in your career?

Crazy shoot? I don't know, I've done so many crazy shoots. Of course you remember the ones that really stand out [like] the one we did with Eva Herzigova, "The Butcher" (for The Face in 1997). I really liked because artists have used it [as inspiration]. And "The Butcher" was fun because Eva was very much a Victoria's Secret girl, very blonde, sexy and we dyed [her hair] brunette and she's eating bones, and it's all the bones from the chicken we had for lunch, because we had no money.

I love how you cast unexpected models in your shoots, like Kate Upton as your first cover girl for CR Fashion Book. Are there any another new faces you want to work with?

You'll see, next fall, I have a new one coming. It's good, what I learned from Karl: Always surprise people. Because if I did my first cover with the beautiful Lara Stone, all in black, very sexy, it would be evident -- beautiful, but evident. To use Kate Upton, [people] like it or they don't like it. People were very surprised. I think it's good to have surprises in fashion because we always see the same things.

Let's talk personal style, as you've become somewhat of a style icon in the past few decades.

I have a uniform. Most of the time I'm wearing a straight skirt, knee length. This is a bit big (pointing to the bell sleeves on her top), usually I'm in something tighter. And high heels. And the same sort of makeup, the same sort of hair, I don't change much. When you see me in the film, I'm wearing jeans, which is very new for people, and flat shoes because I was in the countryside.

But it's not really a uniform, I think it's just an easy way to dress. It has been the same for me for the past 30 years. And it's always been my way of dressing and when I try to be more fashionable and borrow something, sometimes it's beautiful, but it's not me. So I go back to my rules, maybe it's less creative, but it's more me. I want people to say you look beautiful in what you're wearing.

You definitely have a very French way of dressing. Do you think street style is different in American than it is in France?

I think they're different. When you go to a show, Americans in New York are very proper, much more so than the French. Everything is perfect. Their hair, the nails, everything. The look. Everything is perfection. We're a bit more relaxed, no? And a bit more comfortable. I think in France we don't want to be too different, because people aren't very nice and when you try to dress a bit different[ly], everyone looks at you like... you don't want that. So we're quite classic. My look is quite classic. You have a trench on, but maybe you're naked under the trench. Or you don't know which underwear you have under your dress, you don't know that you put perfume, in this place, or this place (pointing to her chest and belly button).

To be French is to be sexy without showing anything. It's more mental. When people tell me "You're very Parisienne," I say, what does that mean? Maybe it's an education -- you can always touch your hair, it's never like a helmet. Makeup is never perfect, you can have your nails done, but maybe there is no color. You paint your toes even in the winter, when no one is going to see your feet, it's very personal. I think everything is just for you -- or maybe someone is going to share it with you.

I discovered the slip dress which I think is one of the more French things because when you take off your clothes, even when to go into a shop to buy something, or you're going to Riccardo Tisci to try on a suit, it's like having protection. And you never know how you're going to finish your evening. So you have to be ready.

More French women who've taught us how to dress:

French Style Icons

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