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

Part 2: The Power of High Heels

SPIEGEL: But don't you think that this copying is still a problem?

Roitfeld: I don't see it that way. Fashion stopped being a matter of money a long time ago; it's a matter of taste. These days, even women with less money can dress well. I was always saddened by the idea that elegance was only something for a minority. It's about style. Karl was the first one to understand that. It was very smart of him to design this H&M collection, and very smart of Chanel to allow him to do so.

SPIEGEL: Today, it's mostly wealthy Russian and Chinese women who are buying expensive fashions. People working at many boutiques in Berlin speak Russian.

Roitfeld: That's right. This obsession with particular designers is somewhat strange. I think it's the safest way for these customers to find their feet when they first discover the world of fashion. You can't learn how to be elegant; you can only learn how to avoid mistakes. The rest is instinct. Elegance is about the way you cross your legs, not the label or the newest clothes from the latest collection.

SPIEGEL: Now you're undermining all the sales arguments your own industry makes.

Roitfeld: It's often the case that what a women reads makes her more attractive and more elegant than what she wears.

SPIEGEL: Do French women read more than German women?

Roitfeld: From a very early age, French women learn not to exaggerate. Yves Saint Laurent once said that the purpose of clothes is to make women more beautiful but that a coat must never attract more attention than the woman wearing it.

SPIEGEL: In France, you have a reputation for being the woman who invented "porn chic." Your photos were criticized because they showed young Lolita-type girls, pregnant women smoking and smooching seniors.

Roitfeld: Yes, of course. Fashion has to be given free rein and only a small number of restrictions. I never used any photos that my children shouldn't see; that was my benchmark. The little girls wearing makeup were never naked; it said "No Smoking" under the pregnant woman; and why shouldn't old people kiss? You must be allowed to play. Anything else is terribly boring. I've also painted white models black and later red, which (the French anti-racist NGO) SOS Racisme complained about.

SPIEGEL: Did you find that silly?

Roitfeld: It's absurd to accuse me of being racist. I dedicated an entire issue of Vogue to the black model Liya Kebede. I'm always looking for connections to real life. I once had a series of photos about fur; but, in these politically correct times, you can't even go out on the street in New York or London without getting a pie thrown in your face. The photos showed extras holding up posters of animal rights activists. It was meant to be ironic, but unfortunately not everyone got it. Why can't we wear the animals we also eat, such as sheep and rabbits?

SPIEGEL: You're 56 years old. How difficult is it for a woman to age in the fashion industry?

Roitfeld: Well, during photo shoots, you come across these beautiful 16- or 18-year-old women who have perfect bodies and not a single wrinkle -- but their pictures are retouched. Under these conditions, when you look in the mirror, you have to be happy with yourself, remain young at heart and keep that rock 'n' roll attitude. Otherwise, you won't be able to deal with it.

SPIEGEL: What will you do with your new life?

Roitfeld: I have numerous projects in the works: a book with Karl Lagerfeld, another about my own work, an ad campaign for Chanel and some consulting work for Barneys, the designer fashion store in New York. Who knows? Perhaps I'll become a muse for designers again.

SPIEGEL: So you won't take the place of your former colleague Anna Wintour at the head of the American edition of Vogue?

Roitfeld: That was never seriously under discussion. I like to provoke. I'm very French. In America, they're not even allowed to show a hint of nipple in photos. Anna Wintour is the most powerful woman in the global fashion industry, the first lady of fashion. She's a politician; I'm a stylist. They are two very different jobs. Incidentally, despite all the rumors, she is actually very nice.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any fashion principles?

Roitfeld: I don't change my handbag every season. I believe in the Yves Saint Laurent woman who either has her hands in the pockets of her pantsuit or is holding her lover's hand. She doesn't need a bag.

SPIEGEL: You also always wear high heels.

Roitfeld: Yes, they give you power. You move differently, sit differently and even speak differently.

SPIEGEL: So you never wear flat-soled shoes? Not even when going for a walk?

Roitfeld: I don't go for a walk very often. I wear flat-soled shoes on vacation, but I also travel in high heels, which is why I'm regularly stopped by customs officials at the airport. Wearing high heels in an airplane is suspicious. Nobody else does that.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any fashion tips for us?

Roitfeld: If you don't want to make any mistakes, buy black clothes. That's always good. And from age 50 on, you can slowly start adding a little beige. That's softer. Every five years, you should take a critical look at your own wardrobe and, if necessary, eventually swap your bikini for a one-piece swimsuit.

SPIEGEL: And, if necessary, eventually stop going swimming altogether?

Roitfeld: There comes a time in your life when you even have to consider that. You should always be one of the best, whatever your age group. That may mean staying away from the beach.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Roitfeld, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Claudia Voigt and Britta Sandberg


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BTraven 04/08/2011
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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