In February of 2001, an ex-model, stylist, and fashion writer named Carine Roitfeld released her first issue as editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. Today, she announced her resignation. In the intervening decade, she made French Vogue a creative powerhouse. [NSFW]
French Vogue wasn't exactly chopped liver under Roitfeld's predecessor, Joan Juliet Buck — but Roitfeld brought with her a new kind of approach to style. And she had some of the best covers in the business.
Roitfeld gained her position at Vogue Paris just as I began looking at fashion magazines, and her influence necessarily shaped my eye. From about the age of 13, I special-ordered Vogue Paris at the only newsagent that would let me do so in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I grew up. Once a month the store would call to tell me the new issue had arrived, and I'd have to wait through an entire school day before I could get my hands on it on my way home. My mum let me have the magazines on the rather slender justification that they would help me keep up my French. Roitfeld's Vogue was a magazine to hold onto — the shoots were daring and different, the covers were dynamic (even when they had celebrities, they were shot and styled in such non-standard ways, like Madonna and Sofia Coppola, bottom left and bottom right). The fonts, the art direction, the layouts — everything about it was exciting and just really cool. It probably helped that the inherent materialism of the magazine was, to a teenaged girl in a small and isolated city where conceiving of a Dior dress or a Fendi bag as an actual object to be bought, sold, and owned was as unreal, as completely impossible, as conceiving of a Monet or a Picasso as an actual painting that existed in a museum somewhere, rather than as a poster or a colored plate in a book. I got that the magazine was pimping Things — but it was like the Things weren't even real in the way they'd have to be to inspire any envy or material covetousness.
Reading it, several things became obvious about Carine Roitfeld's taste. For one thing, she loved fur.
And Roitfeld favored boobies. Her editorials made sex seem funny, pleasurable, kinky, and androgynous — and she thought little of showing nudity on her covers.
Another of Carine Roitfeld's favorite things? Smoking!
And, occasionally, smoking and boobies. I mean, why not?
Occasionally, Roitfeld even published pictures of pubes.
But there was more to Roitfeld's Vogue Paris than just the obvious provocations. At its best, her magazine put together some of the wittiest and most subversive editorials in fashion. Certainly, she did the wittiest and most subversive editorials themed around satanism and neglectful motherhood that I have ever seen. She clearly enjoyed her great creative freedom and massive Condé Nast budgets — and unlike Franca Sozzani at Vogue Italia, which has a long-standing relationship with Steven Meisel, Roitfeld wasn't tied to any one cover photographer and his sometimes idiosyncratic tastes. As much as she liked the '90s supermodels — Naomi Campbell, and, especially, Kate Moss were frequent cover subjects — she also promoted newer models like Liya Kebede (whom Tom Ford had also favored during his Gucci days; Ford and Roitfeld are close friends and she worked with him at Gucci) and Lara Stone. She also had her photographers shoot the then-plus-size model Crystal Renn, starting in 2005.
I started collecting scans from some of my favorite editorials, and I had to stop. There were too many.
Of course, Carine Roitfeld also gave us Lara Stone in blackface, setting off a tasteless and kind of horrifying fashion trend that, thanks to Roitfeld and Vogue Paris's tremendous influence and the fashion media's endless capacity for self-referencing, is still reverberating. And Roitfeld is a tireless promoter of Terry Richardson's work. The frequency with which he shoots for Vogue Paris has not decreased at all since disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him by several models. And for those and so many other reasons, when I buy my issues Vogue Paris these days, I rarely treasure them in the way that I did the ones from 2002 and 2003, issues that by now I've read in entirety many times, but which still hold an allure.
Carine Roitfeld's resignation announcement was entirely unexpected; unlike Anna Wintour, her job security hasn't been the subject of much rumor. She told Cathy Horyn of the New York Times that she simply wanted to try something new; after ten years at the top, and after celebrating Vogue Paris's 90th birthday last month, Roitfeld says she wants to quit before she enters a decline. Now that Tom Ford is back making women's wear, will she be going to work with him? Will she consult for other luxury brands? Will Balenciaga go back to lending to Vogue Paris once she's gone, in March? Who knows. But Carine Roitfeld has already left her mark on fashion.