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The BoF Podcast: Carine Roitfeld’s Remarkable Fashion Career

The acclaimed stylist and editor, whose name has become synonymous with French style, talks to Imran Amed about how the industry has changed since her days at French Vogue, working with Karl Lagerfeld, becoming a brand and the importance of staying curious.
Carine Roitfeld | Photo: Hedi Slimane

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PARIS, France — Carine Roitfeld's first connection with fashion came from perusing the pages of her mother's copies of French Elle, the magazine that would later kick-start her career in the industry. But when Roitfeld started out as a stylist and writer for Elle, the industry was wildly different than it is today.

“It was amazing because we were not talking with advertisers … the last page of the magazine was just something for knitting,” she said.

Before the internet, Instagram and globalisation shaped fashion, it was a tactile, personal industry that involved more day-to-day interactions with local designers. Her favourite? Jean Paul Gaultier, on account of his willingness to talk about anything but fashion (and himself).

In an industry that operates on chance meetings and gatekeepers, Roitfeld said that her career path was defined by three people: photographer Mario Testino, whom she met in 1990 while working on a shoot; Tom Ford, to whom she served as stylist and muse during the designer's stints at Gucci and Saint Laurent; and Condé Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse, who Roitfeld said "was very nice and crazy" to give her the job of French Vogue's editor-in-chief.

Leaving Vogue after 10 years, said Roitfeld, was like leaving a "bubble" that shielded her from most of the practicalities of real life — from making a restaurant reservation or paying for a taxi to funding a shoot — but it also gave her the freedom to set up her namesake publication CR Fashion Book and form a long-standing partnership with the late Karl Lagerfeld.

“Everything was possible with Karl,” said Roitfeld. “[He] was a perfect protector. He defended me, he pushed me, and I pushed him.”

Roitfeld maintains the importance of pushing herself. Much like John Galliano's claim in 2014 that his best collection is yet to come, she believes that she hasn't made her best image yet. As for navigating the ever-changing landscape of the global fashion industry, staying open and approachable to new talent is key.

“I’m very curious,” she said, “I think it makes me young inside.”

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