Carine Roitfeld arrives in her Avenue Montaigne office wearing a faux-fur coat. She is the epitome of what her countrywomen refer to as chicissime; dressed top to toe in black, her eyes ringed in black kohl and shaded with bronze glitter. Strands of brown hair obscure – intentionally, she admits later – the contours of her face. How is it possible that this woman is 64? “Do you mind if I eat in front of you?” are the first words out of her mouth as an assistant fetches a ham and cheese baguette. “You can share it with me, if you like.”
Roitfeld is still the queen of Parisian style eight years after her departure as editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, where she reigned for a decade, tearing off the magazine world’s cordon sanitaire of respectability with provocative shoots and a disregard for corporate convention. Some speculated that she was pushed, but she maintains that she left of her own free will and that it was time after ten years at the helm. No matter, because she quickly started her own biannual magazine, CR Fashion Book, and designed three capsule collections for Uniqlo and a makeup range for MAC while working with her close friends Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford on their collections. Now she is launching her first range of perfume; seven scents, each named after a man, or ‘lover’, and the city he lives in.
“I would like to be a little less anxious. You know, that’s why I put my hair in front of my face: to hide””
The venture is self-funded. It’s a brave move going solo with no one behind her — celebrity scents are nearly always done in collaboration with a big beauty company. Lagerfeld once told her she was naive. “Are you calling me stupid?” she had replied. “No, not at all. You’re in your bubble. When one is in a bubble one does not necessarily see the bad around, and so one must protect oneself.” She admits it is a bit of a gamble. “I am not a big brand like Chanel or Dior, so it’s a bit new for me, a fashion editor, to launch my own brand.” Ford introduced her to her first ‘nose’ and she has appointed her son, Vladimir, 34, who previously worked in the art world, as her CEO: “So now my son is going to be my boss.” The company is located in New York, where he is based, as is Roitfeld’s daughter, Julia, 38, an art director, occasional model, and mother to Roitfeld’s first grandchild, Romy, six.
The project has been a six-year labor of love. Roitfeld herself has worn the same scent for years, a self-made mix of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and orange blossom – “It is my signature. People say, ‘Ah, Carine has arrived.’ I like leaving that little trace of me” – and her first ‘lover’, a Parisian named Aurélien, is the scent she says most closely resembles her own. She says he smells of nighttime, leather, expensive cars and nightclubs like Castel, the Parisian boîte she frequented as a teenager, where she drank whisky and Coke and would occasionally bump into her father. There’s also a Vladimir in St. Petersburg (named after her son); Sebastian in Buenos Aires (“He’s quite virile,” she says of her Argentinian, inspired by her best friend, the photographer Sebastian Faena); George in London; Lawrence in Dubai; and Kar-Wai in Hong Kong.
Could Roitfeld’s ‘perfume men’ be real lovers? No, she answers firmly. It’s not an unjustified question, considering the rumor that she has recently split from Christian Restoin, her partner of 40 years, the founder of the label Equipment and father of her two children. Yet she won’t be drawn other than to confirm that she and Restoin have indeed separated. “So, there you have it,” she says. “I had a new life after I left Vogue, and now I have another one, too.”
Roitfeld was brought up in the well-to-do Parisian neighborhood of Passy. She adored her Russian father, a film producer, while she describes her stay-at-home mother as a constant presence, always there for her and her younger brother. Her Russian grandmother lived opposite her school, and every day would stand outside with orange juice and crackers spread with pressed caviar, which mortified her at the time. Fashion was not discussed much at home, and Roitfeld’s feminine uniform of pencil skirts and heels has remained a constant. When she arrived at Vogue Paris, she noticed all her staff wore jeans. Did she tell them not to? “No.” Did it annoy her that they did? “No.” I’m not quite sure I believe her. So what did she forbid? “Uggs. I find them horrific. And flip-flops in summer because they look dirty. Otherwise they could do as they wished. But I stuck with my style while the others were always, even the girls of my generation, in black jeans.”
When I think about you and age, I start… “You think of a grandmother,” she says and bursts out laughing. Does age bother her? “No, but it used to. The truth is no one likes to get older, not so much because of wrinkles, but because of health.” She says a lot of women complain about putting on weight as they age, but that is not her problem. “I don’t deprive myself of anything. I am lucky, the shape I have. It’s in my genes. I am lucky to have pretty legs – that’s luck. And nice ankles, another bit of luck.” And a pretty face, I add. “No,” she disagrees. “I hide my face, I pull my hair in front of it. I don’t show it. But I have nice eyebrows, nice eyes…” I look at her eyes. “I always do black around my eyes. And glitter, to give that wet look.” But I thought women over 40 weren’t supposed to wear glitter? “There are all sorts of things that we’re not supposed to do.”
“The one thing I have absolutely no interest in doing is going out with someone younger. I am not a cougar””
She drinks less than she used to, but always pours herself a shot of vodka when she gets home. She has recently taken up smoking two or three Marlboro Reds a day. She doesn’t eat sugar or gluten. But what about the baguette? “It’s not going to kill me,” she answers with another pout and a shrug. If there is one overwhelming characteristic, apart from how likeable she is, it’s how unsure of herself she appears. Roitfeld admits she suffers from anxiety. When she was asked to present an award at last year’s British Fashion Awards, she wasn’t sure she could do it. She says she was thrown by speaking in English and being in London. “I would like to be a little less anxious. You know, that’s why I put my hair in front of my face: to hide.”
A few days after our interview, my phone rings – it’s a French number. “Bonjour, Vassi. Can we speak?” says the unmistakable accent. “You asked me if I had thought about dating again and I told you that, for the moment, absolutely not. It’s true that maybe I am looking around me a bit more than I did before, to please my eyes when I am in a club, but it’s certainly not at the forefront of my mind. The one thing I have absolutely no interest in doing is going out with someone younger. I am not a cougar girl. If I don’t end up dating again, that will not be the end of the world. I’ve got so much around me, so much tenderness, so it’s really not a priority, and, especially: I AM NOT A COUGAR GIRL.”