'Mademoiselle C': Carine Roitfeld on Being Fearless With Fashion, Faithful to Family (Q&A)

Carine Roitfeld

CR Fashion Book founder and editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld said it was more nerve-wracking watching the documentary about her on the big screen than running a magazine. Of Mademoiselle C director Fabien Constant she said: "I trusted him, you know, because when I like someone, I give all my confidence."

The fashion documentary, which premiered in New York on Sept. 6, hits L.A. theaters Friday.

Carine Roitfeld is a legend in the fashion business for a number of reasons: After an early modeling career she became a stylist, then muse and stylist for Tom Ford for many years. She edited French Vogue for 10 years (2001 to 2011), created windows for Barneys, contributed to all editions of Harper’s Bazaar. But  she is known most of all, probably, for her look: The ultra Parisienne, she’s reed-thin, severe, with stick-straight dark hair, a shock of smudged eye makeup and no other face color; close-to-the-body chic clothes always adorn her in black or gray; and she wears the kinds of shoes that even other fashionistas wouldn’t shake a Brian Atwood at.

She’s also 59 years old and a new grandmother. She could change the acronym “MLF” to “GMLF.”

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Of course, one’s looks should never overshadow one’s accomplishments – unless you’re a model, a B actress, or a fashionista. But the new film directed by Fabien Constant, Mademoiselle C, which documents nine important months in Roitfeld’s life as she launched her very own publication CR Fashion Book in New York (the first issue came out Sept 2012, the second this spring, and the print run has already gone from 50,000 to 65,000 and the price from $15 to $20) makes it clear that as cool and edgy as she looks, she’s actually rather warm and fuzzy on the topics of family, her longtime mate of three decades Christian Restoin, and her passion for the art of fashion photography and great design. This may well be the first fashion documentary about a (gasp) nice person who does not (really?) put on airs or attempt to create an “image.” She actually is her image and her image is her.

The film opened in five cities on Sept. 11, premiered in New York in the midst of fashion week on Sept. 6, and hits LA. theaters today. The Hollywood Reporter talked to Roitfeld in Paris about how the film came together and her purpose in creating it.

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There have been many fashion docs on established designers and entities – The September Issue, Diana Vreeland, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, etc. – but you and Fabien chose to focus on a nascent magazine. And some of the content is very revealing, the staff formulating ideas in meetings, etc. Was it uncomfortable “giving birth” to a magazine in front of a camera crew?

The documentary was the entire idea of Fabien Constant! I would never think of it myself! But when he asked me, over a cup of green tea – not even vodka! – I spontaneously accepted. I thought it would be good buzz for this new magazine. I did not realize how personal it would be! But it’s Fabien’s film and I respect "our deal" – I let him edit the film entirely. It’s really difficult to forget the microphone is there, and I’m sure it was very painful for my team to work on this new issue with the shadow of it. But I knew Fabien before and I was sure he would be as discreet as possible, and finally he became part of the team. And they respect him, like him and keep working with him on new projects. It’s actually the making of an unknown magazine that is the most interesting part of this documentary. It’s fresh eyes over the birth of a new title! And the name of the first issue was Rebirth. It was not a legendary magazine. We had to build every sequence of it, and no one was on staff full-time.

So what exactly is “the story” of the film?

Fabien follows my life during almost nine months. And there’s an obsession during these nine months: the pregnancy of my daughter Julia before she gave birth to my first grandchild, Romy. In a way, this was very tied into the achievement of this first issue. The theme was rebirth – Kate Upton is holding a baby on the cover. It’s almost dedicated to Romy! A new magazine means a new team. It might be easier to start this now, but at the time, we had to build our relationships in front of the camera. Not easy! But we are all still working together and I hope they love the film and find it honest, like I do.

VIDEO: 'Mademoiselle C': Carine Roitfeld on 'Bringing New Vision' for CR Fashion Book

Most people at the center of documentaries only want you to see their best, most confident sides. You come off on-screen as the anti-Anna Wintour, very open, collaborative, with a huge feed-me kind of ego. Does it concern you that you come off as human – as opposed to superhuman?

As I told you, Fabien had all the freedom he wanted, as to what to film and what to edit. Even the title of the film was his idea. I think he really showed what working with a team means. A magazine is not just one person. And a fashion shoot is the same! It’s about working together, running to catch planes, carrying bags, editing the content (so painful!). But it’s about friendship, too. [Creative director] Stephen Gan and I were talking for 15 years about creating a magazine together. This project really exists because of him. He trusted me and made my life as easy as possible, organized all the logistics, supported me in the difficult moments – and he helped all my dreams come true! He designed it and helped me search for new photographers and new talent. I’m not a superhero – I’m a super worker! I am not all the time in limousines with high heels on. Maybe some of "my fans" will be disappointed to see me wearing jeans and flat shoes – but I hope they will respect the work and the free spirit that always drives me.

How difficult was it to get people like Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci and Tom Ford to be part of the film? Designers are notoriously hesitant to show up in films. And Karl actually wheels a baby carriage around – that’s quite the image!

I know that people in fashion and people in general hate to be filmed. I was very happy that all these iconic people accepted to play the game with us, and it’s because of them that this documentary is the way it is. Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Bruce Weber, Riccardo Tisci and Kanye West deserve an award as best supporting actors! I am so grateful for their comments and just their presence. Again I hope they will not feel just used!

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Do you think if you had not had a great long relationship with your husband and a great home life with your children, your pictures would not be as sexy and fantastical as they are?

It’s true that family was always my priority. My friends know that. I was and still am a very present mum, and now I hope grand mum! I am very faithful to my classic family life. I never really think of my photos as "crazy" or "sexy" or even "erotic" images, but a psychic would probably say that they are my fantasy. The fact is, I’ve never taken fashion very seriously and am always looking for an irreverent way to present clothes. The woman, the real one – all her obsessions – were more exciting to show than a new collection. I am fearless, but I try to respect the person. I will never push a young girl to be naked or provocative. I am a mother and always think of the message I give to the readers. The intention behind the image is very important. No violence, no drugs – unfortunately, we used to have a lot of smoking in photos, but 20 years ago, we did not know it was so dangerous.

In the film you say, “Fashion is always a dream.” Can you talk about what you really mean here?

Fashion is a dream. It’s a very specific world. Even if something is a big success, it’s a world of beauty and creativity first , and decisions or choices are not really dramatic. Each season it has to change!

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The film definitely has a sense of humor -- which many fashion films don't -- and a lot of charm, and the music makes it so upbeat. It might be the first fashion film that actually makes fashion look fun – and not like those sometimes very pretentious cliches. What does this stem from?

I do think fashion is fun! Much more than people think. And if you feel that from the film, it’s great! It’s a tough and competitive world with great and fun people: designers, photographers, stylists, hairdressers, makeup artists, photographers, stylists, models – and it keeps you young!