After a decade as editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris ended with her resignation in December 2010, Fabien Constant’s Mademoiselle C elegantly shows Carine Roitfeld embarking on a new project, putting together her own magazine, the CR Fashion Book and facing an often hostile industry with her own style, beauty and grace. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker, Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Kate Upton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander Wang, Terry Richardson, and others show their support.
During the recent New York Fashion Week, we spoke about Tom Ford, fairy tales, shooting with Bruce Weber baby-animals, William Klein’s Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, her film producer father Jacques Roitfeld’s influence, and how one of her tricks can turn a Chanel bag into a necklace.
Anne-Katrin Titze: The film is all about storytelling. It tells your story, in a future oriented way, and it shows how you tell stories in your work.
Carine Roitfeld: That’s true. Good job, it’s true.
AKT: I haven’t seen a film before that is actually about how fashion tells stories.
CR: That’s good because that’s always what I want to do. Telling stories. I am very happy that you get this feeling. It’s with my stories I’m telling other stories. My life is always mixing personal life and my work, that must be why. I’m happy, you are the first person to say that to me.
AKT: The Bruce Weber shoot, for example. We see how you pick and choose and combine and how everybody is working together.
CR: That’s a ballet, huh?
AKT: It’s a ballet and a fairy tale.
AKT: Even more so than the fairy tale narrated by Tom Ford. Tell me about the Bruce Weber shoot.
CR: It was amazing to be all day with all these baby-animals and baby-humans. The baby-animals – they were so beautiful. It was really hot and it was a tough day but it was like a dream. Honestly, we spent a great day. I was so tired when we were leaving but it was so beautiful. And Bruce is a genius at it. You never see Bruce working and you never heard Bruce talking. I think it’s very rare that you have Bruce like this on camera. I keep working with him. In the next issue [of CR Fashion Book] there is a big story with Bruce. He is the best storyteller because he loves people, you know. He has a way to show people – no one shows people the same as he. He loves life, he loves love, he loves animals, he loves babies – he loves a lot of things but he is ingenious.
AKT: That’s what it is. Loving a lot of things and letting them …
CR: Go together! Yes, let them go and it takes a moment. You know, on the cover, when the little girl who was holding the baby is laughing so much, it was just that the baby started to pee on her. It was fun.
AKT: Mademoiselle C starts with a shot of your shoes exiting a limousine at night in New York, playing with a myth of your persona. In the very next scene the mood switches completely and shows you interacting with people, with your fans.
CR: With all the bloggers. That was tough for me. I’m shy, too. It’s difficult, but I have to be less shy than they and help them, you know. It was very nice, too to see all the smiles on their faces. To see that the public is so young and they want to learn from you and they are so happy to meet you. It’s a big compliment. It makes me happy too.
AKT: It must have taken some courage to have a camera follow you during such a time of transition in your life.
CR: When I said okay to Fabien for the film, I said, you do what you want, you do the editing, the music, it’s your film. I’m just – not even an actress – the structure of your film and that’s it. I gave all my confidence to him and we didn’t change anything. For me it was like therapy to look at me. Because I must look at me working and I said, oh my god, I’m like that? What’s that hair? It was difficult.
AKT: You give the advice yourself to one of the fans: Always say “I love the camera!”
CR: That’s true. I learned this from Tom Ford. You have to be beautiful. You have to love the camera. This is the only recipe. It seems very personal now, that film. I didn’t expect it to be that personal when I accepted to do it. Thinking is one thing, to look at it on screen is another thing. Afterwards I thought, oh my god, it’s all about me, me, me and me and my family and my husband and my daughter, it’s a lot of me. But finally, I think it works.
AKT: It does. The more specific the story, the more universal it becomes.
CR: I hope for women to see that it’s possible to raise kids  and to work in fashion. What I think is very important for me too is friendship. I think Stephen Gan is very generous in the film. He is my partner [on CR Fashion Book], for 15 years we have been best friends. We kept saying, one day we are doing a magazine together, and it happened and it makes everything for me to be possible. When he talks like this [in the film], he never talks like this to me. So, I have to listen to him through the film to know how nice he is with me. We were sharing a lot of dirty martinis together but he never talks this way to me. I have to watch this film to know what he thinks about me. I was very moved.
AKT: When you started the film, you knew nothing about the outcome of your CR magazine, of course.
CR: No, we didn’t know about the magazine, if it would be a success, if we’d be able to finish it. It was a lot at the same time. And, you know, to meet a new team it was very scary because it’s scary to have a microphone and a camera. Very scary because you never forget the camera. Plus, to do this with new people and having a new magazine was a lot of emotion all together.
AKT: And at the same time your family was growing. You became a grandmother for the first time.
CR: A lot of emotion but it was good emotion. Nothing bad, just happiness. But in a way emotion makes you tired. Even today. We did a press day and I met a lot of people I didn’t know and I talked with them. It was very emotional. Tonight I am going to be tired in a good way. When you talk about what you’re doing, what you thought – it’s very emotional, no?
AKT: You come from a film family.
AKT: What were some of the first films that made an impression on you? Do you remember cinematic images from your childhood?
CR: I’m not sure it’s one of my parents’, more a Walt Disney one or something like that. I’m coming from a big family of film producers. They were Russian, but they emigrated. My father was raised in Berlin. He loved Berlin but during the war they had to come to Paris. I was raised on the music of Hildegard Knef. Do you know her?
AKT: Yes, I love her. [Knef starred in Wofgang Staudte’s film The Murderers Are Among Us in 1946, the first East German film released after the war, was invited to Hollywood by David O. Selznick and refused his terms, and acted in The Snows Of Kilimanjaro opposite Gregory Peck in1952.]
CR: All through my childhood – difficult to remember that name – was Hildegard Knef. She had a deep voice like Marlene Dietrich. This is all through my childhood, it was very German. There were also the French classics like Folies-Bergère (Henri Decoin 1957), Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Robert Vernay 1954), or Nana (Christian-Jaque 1955) – [three films produced by her father Jacques Roitfeld] so many classic films that are maybe not so known in the US but belong to the classic French movies.
AKT: You talk about fashion films briefly in the movie and you bring up William Klein’s Who are you, Polly Maggoo? (1966) as one you like.
CR: Polly Maggoo was inspiring for my Issue 0 [of CR Fashion Book]. I don’t know why, I don’t like all of the film, but some sequences are genius, I think. It gave me the idea to go back to wigs because I hated wigs for many years. One day I watched Polly Maggoo and I thought, oh, they have all those wigs and finally I liked it and I decided to use a lot of wigs. Each time you find something for a theme or in the moment. Inspiration is not a crash. I’m not cracking things, I’m just looking around me and I find inspiration this way.
AKT: You said, you didn’t want to use the tricks you already knew worked.
CR: Oh yes, I can make a dictionary of all the tricks. But they come back. They came back.
AKT: The tricks are back?
CR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. In the last issue you are going to see more and more tricks. All my bad evils come back.
AKT: Tell me about a trick that you’re not going to use again.
CR: I never say never. Which one? A Chanel bag around the neck as a punk necklace – I’ve already done that two or three times. And using meat. I don’t know what I have with meat and blood. I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t like so much meat. But I’m always using meat in my pictures. I don’t know why.
Mademoiselle C opened in the US on September 11 and opens September 20 in the UK.
Anne-Katrin Titze is the New York Critic for Eye For Film. She is a lecturer on fiction, film, fashion, and fairy tales and curates conversations and panels with filmmakers at Universities and various cultural venues. Anne-Katrin is also a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.