Former Vogue Editor in Chief Carine Roitfeld 'Fashion Is a Matter of Taste, Not Money'

Carine Roitfeld recently stepped down after a decade of running the French edition of Vogue. In a SPIEGEL interview, the former fashion editor talks about how businessmen have squeezed the fun out of the fashion industry, the end of the glamour era and the power that comes with wearing high heels


SPIEGEL: Ms. Roitfeld, you were editor in chief of the French edition of Vogue, the fashion and lifestyle magazine, for 10 years. Before that, you worked for 10 years at Gucci alongside then-creative director Tom Ford. Can anyone who has spent 20 years in the fashion industry still be normal?

Carine Roitfeld: My only drug is a small glass of vodka in the evening, if that's what you're asking. But I was fortunate because -- in addition to the very special world of fashion -- I also had a family, which is something probably rare in this business. I have also been married to the same man, the father of my two children, for more than 30 years. And that has helped me remain relatively normal.

SPIEGEL: For a former Vogue editor in chief, you also look remarkably normal.

Roitfeld: That's part of my newfound freedom. I always wore a tight skirt at Vogue; it was like a uniform.

SPIEGEL: Can you tell us what you're wearing today?

Roitfeld: A no-name T-shirt from Los Angeles, corduroy jeans by Current Elliot and satin shoes I had custom-made in violet. So the glamour's limited to my feet.

SPIEGEL: Does this world of vanity, in which fortunes are spent on trivial things, corrupt people?

Roitfeld: The fashion industry certainly has its obscene sides. The cost of a coat can be obscene. So can the cost of a photo shoot if you're working with a really good photographer. But when I see how good the photos have turned out or even how well the coat was made or how many people worked on it, it's not quite so obscene anymore. Of course, it's not like we're working in a hospital; we don't save lives every month. We just make decisions about skirt lengths, about an inch more or an inch less. That's all.

SPIEGEL: Did that ever seem pointless to you?

Roitfeld: For 10 years, it was a hell of a lot of fun. But, toward the end, it unfortunately got less and less fun. You used to be able to be more playful, but now it's all about money, results and big business. The prêt-à-porter shows have become terribly serious. The atmosphere isn't as electric as it once was, and they now have about as much charm as a medical conference. But it takes just one good fashion show to get things exciting again.

SPIEGEL: If fashion can tell us anything about the age it's created in, what do you think current fashions tell us?

Roitfeld: Today's fashions don't let people dream as much as they used to. Twenty years ago, fashion was a promise -- something that was part of your life and perhaps enriched it, something that reflected a particular era. If you look at advertisements these days, all you see are handbags. They aren't about dreams anymore; customers are buying objects now, not dreams.

SPIEGEL: Is that why you left Vogue in January?

Roitfeld: Ten years is a long time -- and especially 10 years in a gilded cage. They were wonderful years; but, sooner or later, birds want their freedom again.

SPIEGEL: Your French publisher said the time for being provocative and trashy was over.

Roitfeld: I'd put it this way: Fashion needs glamour, provocation and broken taboos.

SPIEGEL: Was it your decision to go?

Roitfeld: Absolutely. And at the perfect moment. The French edition of Vogue had never been more successful, had never had more readers or advertisers. And it had never made as much money. For 10 years, my American publisher, Jonathan Newhouse, let me do what I wanted, even when he thought it might be crazy. But it couldn't have gone on for much longer.

SPIEGEL: Is this the end of era?

Roitfeld: Creativity needs space and a willingness to take risks, but businessmen don't like risk. What's more, designers are coming under more and more pressure. Today, a dress can't just please the women in Paris; it also has to please those in Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and New York.

SPIEGEL: Is globalization making fashion more boring?

Roitfeld: At the very least, it's leading to a lot of compromise. But globalization is only one factor. Today's designers no longer have to create two collections a year; they have to create four: spring, summer, fall and winter. And some fashion houses also add haute couture twice a year. Who can possibly manage all that? Good designers are artists; they're fragile people.

SPIEGEL: Two of the biggest stars in the Paris fashion world, Britons Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, both left this stage in a very dramatic way. McQueen committed suicide a year ago. And Galliano, the Dior designer, made his exit a few weeks ago after publicly professing his love for Adolf Hitler.

Roitfeld: McQueen's artistic creations always had a very dark side, but his death still came as a shock. After all, it's not like he was alone. He had a big team surrounding him, but it unfortunately wasn't able to protect him.

SPIEGEL: And Galliano?

Roitfeld: I had no idea how unhappy John Galliano must have been. You have to be very unhappy and lonely to praise Hitler in public while completely drunk. The House of Dior has always addressed a range of topics, for example, by having haute couture shows on homelessness where all the models look like people living on the street. But drunkenly shouting "I love Hitler" and calling people in a bar a "dirty Jew-face" is unacceptable. I don't think he really believes what he said; they were simply the actions of a drunk.

SPIEGEL: Are drugs an everyday part of life in the fashion industry?

Roitfeld: No more and no less than they are in other artistic circles. Yves Saint Laurent was the first person to openly admit to being a drug addict. Since I never touched drugs myself, I find it hard to tell whether people are taking them. But, of course, some people do. The industry has become faster and faster. People are constantly fighting jet lag and working through the night.

SPIEGEL: Now that Galliano and McQueen are gone, is German designer Karl Lagerfeld the only one left?

Roitfeld: Yes. Good old Karl. Superhuman Lagerfeld. I don't think he experiences this pressure in the same way. That's why he can put up with it.

SPIEGEL: And no one else can?

Roitfeld: He's not the only one. There's also Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, Miuccia Prada and, of course, Tom Ford. And then there are the up-and-coming talents. But they still need time. In a way, we've already seen everything. What else could they hope to invent?

SPIEGEL: And, in any case, copies of their designs soon turn up in Zara and H&M shops.

Roitfeld: Yes. At fashion shows, bloggers sit in the front rows and transmit new looks around the globe. It's all become terribly rapid. You're sitting in Paris, and people in Beijing already know what's going on. It's pretty crazy. But designers are probably really flattered that their looks are being copied.

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BTraven 04/08/2011
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And I have always thought that only with an handbag a woman can become a fashion icon. It seems to me that I was wrong. Does she really believe that one cannot learn to be elegant?
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