Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Women's Fashion / An Intellectual Fashion

Carine Roitfeld

In his column, Donatien Grau speaks to prominent thinkers and creatives about fashion and its connections to contemporary creativity

Carine Roitfeld
Carine Roitfeld Courtesy of Carine Roitfeld

Carine Roitfeld is one of the most famous faces and minds of contemporary fashion. She first started as a model and muse for the photographer Mario Testino, and participated in the making of the "erotic chic" trend in the late 1990s.

Carine Roitfeld is one of the most famous faces and minds of contemporary fashion. She began her career as a model and muse for the photographer Mario Testino, and participated in the making of the "erotic chic" trend in the late 1990s. After serving as editor-in-chief of French Vogue for ten years, at New York Fashion Week 2012, she presented her new magazine, CR. Irreverent, a book edited by Olivier Zahm, was devoted to her in September 2011.

How would you connect fashion to elegance?
Fashion and elegance are somewhat similar to "chic": you have it, or you don’t. It’s very difficult to learn how to have it, but you can learn how to avoid mistakes. Elegance is quite close to "chic": first of all, it is all about heart and spirit. Fashion comes next. And in my case, all of that comes from my father. He taught me how to understand the spirit of elegance, and not the materiality of it.

What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
None.

Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did?
Fashion is a language, for sure, and it is a reflection of society. At the same time, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, or it’s not fashion anymore.

"My father taught me how to understand the spirit of elegance, and not the materiality of it"

The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in which way?
Fashion has a political role insofar as following it can give you the impression to belonging to a certain social group or a private club. For instance, you can think of people who come from emerging countries: they haven’t been fed with the culture as we have, and they discover it. They need signs of recognition. Fashion gives a certain idea of their current life, and how it has changed: there are revolutions going on, social uprisings, and fashion reflects them.

What does fashion have to do with intellectuality?
I don’t like intellectuals, or, at least, people who call themselves that way, because I am under the impression that there is always something condescending in their demeanour, and I don’t like condescending people. There must be connections, but it’s not the way I see fashion.

How would you relate the concept of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
I think there is no style without fashion, and no proper fashion without style. Unfortunately, there isn’t always style in real fashion. Actually, fashion isn’t something you can buy, you need to have the sense of it, and most people don’t.

Barthes also called fashion a "system". Would you agree with that expression?
Fashion has changed a lot in recent times. I don’t know if it’s a system, or if it’s just the current situation, but I do see that the people who handle fashion are not the same, they don’t have the same values. Decision-makers have changed. Before, the people who made decisions could be great designers, such as Monsieur Christian Dior, Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent, or Madame Grès. Now, they’re the CEO of the big companies. It does change a lot.

You’ve worked with Tom Ford and Mario Testino. Would you agree to say that the image defines fashion?
Totally – at least, today, with magazines, and blogs, etc. I think fashion is still part of a dream, fortunately. And people need to dream – that’s our job. Fashion is difficult to explain, and often a single picture does it better than a whole fashion show. A single picture gets directly to the brain, and provokes desire.Fashion’s goal is to provoke desire, to bring you somewhere you would have never gone without it, to have you enter a private club you would never gotten into without it. It was more or less the message we tried to convey, when Mario Testino and I did the advertising campaigns for Gucci: for a pair of glasses, we created a perfect image, representing some sort of private club, in which girls were sexy, guys were sexy, they were droven in limousines, everything was fantastic. That’s a dream for everybody, and glasses – that is, fashion – are the way to be part of it.

In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the director of the Prada Foundation, Germano Celant.

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