Carine Roitfeld doesn’t play by the rules.
“I’ve never been very politically correct,” admitted the French fashion editor. “Today I’m wearing white shoes, and [I heard] in America you can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.”
Outfitted in Gianvito Rossi pumps with metallic toecaps and heel tips, Roitfeld took the stage Monday night for the French Institute Alliance Française Creative Leaders series. Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator at large and director of PS1 at the Museum of Modern Art, led the interview.
Previously the editor of French Vogue (they parted ways in 2010), Roitfeld launched her biannual magazine CR Fashion Book this fall. She was recently appointed global fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar. When pressed by Biesenbach for her best job title, though, Roitfeld hesitated and then proposed “image maker.”
“I never find the right term for me. It’s very difficult when I fill out immigration papers and they say, ‘What is your job?’” she joked.
But getting to this point wasn’t easy, Roitfeld told the sold-out crowd. “It’s difficult to be a dreamer. … I’m a self-made person and I’ve done almost everything by myself,” she said. “It [took] me many years. To be here today [took] a lot of work.”
Still, Roitfeld was candid about the responsibility she feels to create newness in fashion.
“[I want to be] a link between couture [and the] real woman,” she said. “I like to take something and make it totally different. I like to turn something expected into unexpected.”
The talk wasn’t complete without acknowledging some of Roitfeld’s most controversial editorials and campaigns. A mad cow disease-inspired story in French Vogue and a too-sexy-for-some Gucci ad were of note.
“I’m a free spirit,” she explained matter-of-factly. “I say, ‘let’s go,’ and then don’t think too much about what happens after. I’m spontaneous.”
Roitfeld said she draws the line at “porno chic,” a term associated with her provocative work over the years. “A lot of people don’t understand what I want to do, but it’s OK. At the end, they can interpret it [the way they want],” Roitfeld said.
And she’s careful to keep the fashion world in perspective.
“We are lucky to work in fashion. It’s a big business and a lot of people are working in fashion, but it’s not working in a hospital. The big problem is the length of the skirt,” she said. “You have to have a sense of humor in fashion.”
At the conclusion of the conversation, Roitfeld fielded audience questions about fast-fashion, retouching and the changing tides at Balenciaga, which prompted gasps in anticipation of her response.
“It would be great if Balenciaga took someone with not a big past. Someone as young and fresh as [former creative director Nicholas Ghesquière],” Roitfeld said, adding that she’s known the designer since he was 18. “For the fashion world, it would be very new and positive because now people don’t want to take risks. … I like when people take risks.”