Thursday, 14 February 2013

Roitfeld's Revenge

CR Fashion Book
Issue 1: Rebirth
Fall/Winter 2012

Review by Rory A.A. Hinton

CR Fashion Book
Issue 1: Rebirth

Carine Roitfeld is a "chiffrephile" (a lover of figures), and her love is elitist. Unlike her fashionably American counterparts, her figures lack pedestrian accessibility. The "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" story always gets good press within the pages of Roitfeld's world, where you can never be too thin-skinned, nor too over-dressed (or under-, depending upon Terry Richardson's lens envy). This is celebrated without apology. If her ten year tenure at French Vogue is any indication, she does not fancy the pear as a figure, nor does she offer advice on how to dress if you are about to turn 50. What she does offer with her new publishing venture is something much better: add her brand of vice to your mix and match and act your adage. Roitfeld is a 58 year old icon, and her vice is her virtue. Her ad for M.A.C Cosmetics in the inaugural biannual magazine CR Fashion Book shows that Prada is not the only thing the devil wears.
     Donald Davidson waxed metaphoric when he described metaphor as "the dreamwork of language." It is easy to wax this way when it comes to Roitfeld's erotic-chic aesthetic. Like any great artist, Roitfeld is not concerned with fashion as an end. After her less than voluntary death at the hands of French Vogue in January 2011, Roitfeld's rebirth in CR uses fashion as a means to make an affirming gesture toward George Herbert's claim that living well is the best revenge: "This issue takes rebirth as its theme and is filled with both images and ideas about birth, pregnancy, and family. The promise of youth, the force of age, and the rush of all things new. It's an escape, a fashion fairy tale. It's a dream of a better life - because fashion is meant to make us dream."
     Some believe in forgiveness. Others believe in revenge. Roitfeld has much to be revengeful about, especially when it comes to her critics. Like Miles Davis in Birth Of The Cool, Roitfeld in CR has turned her fashionable technique into an art form. CR is a rebirth of the cool for her. Her detractors will consider it an afterbirth. This is especially true of the fashionless feminists (Camille Paglia is a notable exception), with whom she has waged war for years over what they have dubbed as her "porn-chic" editorial policy: nudity, bondage, and blood (with a healthy dose of "fashionable anorexia" thrown in for misogynistic measure).
     In this vein French Vogue under Roitfeld's direction could be likened to the kind of dinner that Halston and Elsa Peretti often ate together - caviar, baked potato, and cocaine - a meal that inevitably dissolved into what the two of them ended up eating for their just dessert: a screaming cat fight. No wonder Carine Roitfeld and Condé Nast parted company (so conclude the critics). Despite such negative publicity she continues to purposely turn technique into art, with aplomb to spare (sans the starch, of course). Welcome to Roitfeld's revenge.

Carine Roitfeld


      We are informed in Roitfeld's editorial that CR was created with "humor, joy, grace, and always a dash of irreverence." While Wintour is rightly credited with globalizing Vogue as a brand name, Coddington nevertheless thinks that "a little nostalgia for the days when fashion came first doesn't do any harm." This is a graceful way of saying that Vogue should be more than just Prada-homogenized. Roitfeld could not agree more. No wonder she has been labeled the "Anti-Anna" of the fashion world.
     Roitfeld made French Vogue in her own elitist image. It was "svelte, tough, luxurious, and wholeheartedly in love with dangling-cigarette, bare-chested fashion" (as Cartner-Morley nicely puts it). In other words: it was très cool. And her brand of cool came first. It might be the case that branded fashion got the worst of her while she was at the helm of French Vogue. If so, then CR indicates that her departure from what she describes as that "golden cage" was a victory for style (she certainly left in it - with Tom Ford in tow).

La Femme Ford



     Fashion is still first with her. The difference now is her maternal dash of irreverence. "When I learned that my daugher, Julia, was expecting," writes Roitfeld, "I immediately began seeing babies and new mothers on planes, at fashion shows, in New York and in Paris. Birth and rebirth all around. I became obsessed. At the same time, I was thinking and dreaming about the first issue of this magazine ... I wanted to do something different ... I have always had a different side to me, a very family side." This "something different" in CR gets stylized with a model covered in black-lace Gucci carrying a baby doll. It is shown in a model dressed in Givenchy haute couture with a baby in a carriage. It is nothing less than erotic provocation pushing a pram. Roitfeld is the grand-mother of fashion.
     How grand is this mother? Unlike her own (at least when it comes to personal style). Roitfeld describes her mother as a classic bon chic, bon genre Parisian - clean-cut suits accented with a constrained fetish for Hermès (the messenger of the gods, not the devil). She is more Helmut than Hermès, especially given her desire to be the subject of a Newton photograph. That desire has become reality. She has gone from a static subject to the living embodiment: heavy on the black and white, yet light on the fashionable bondage. She is what Karl Lagerfeld describes in his piece for CR as "not girly." A French woman of Carine's ilk is "something very different and specific. It is not possible "for observers of women's style and standards of beauty and fashion not to notice her. Maybe she [is] nothing but an idea, but as the philosopher Berkeley said, "All sensible qualities are ideas.""

Defying Newton's Gravity


     Ideas are not absent here. When was the last time you read an article in a high fashion magazine written by Mata Amritanandamayi, known as "Amma" (or "Mother" in her native language Malayalam), extolling the virtues of a new path to inner beauty? Her devotees consider her "as a living incarnation of the divine-mother." Whether divine or humane, this grand-mother is a messenger: "We are honored to begin this issue of CR with a message from Amma - a woman whose magnetic grace and clarity of purpose inspire us all. These are her words."
     Here are a few of them: "The foundation of selfless service is unadulterated love. Amma knows that it is not easy to have such a pure, loving mind, because when two people come together, it is two separate worlds that become linked. Love and service are not two - they are inextricably tied to one another, like a flower and its fragrance. True service happens when we understand the hearts of the suffering and serve them. For this, we ought to learn to see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves."
     Apart from the notion of "selfless service," this is sage advice. While Carine is honored to begin her rebirth with this clarifying message, this message (in turn) gets honored through inclusion in a magazine that is all about the stylish virtue of selfish vice. Fashion under Roitfeld's watch has always been about that. The grand-mother of fashion has some sage advice of her own for the divine-mother (inclusion for the sake of instruction): altruism is not fashionable.
     Eyeliner and seeing in a generous light, lipstick and speaking kind words, earrings and patient listening, rings and right actions are selfish notions that provide the foundation for artistic revenge: living well. And living well in this way can achieve the kind of unadulterated love Amma speaks about in her inspiring words. This Anti-Anna is the fashion world's Amma. She reminds us that fashion is a way to love yourself first. Her one great philosophical idea is that sensibile qualities can teach us about the point of endorsing an androgynous aesthetics: to dream of a much better (because more fashionably inclusive) life. Her resemblance to Iggy Pop should give us serious pause.

Pop Art In Drag


     During an interview in the fall of 2012 Roitfeld informed The Guardian that present necessity required the tailored insertion of extra strips of fabric into her signature pencil skirts. This had nothing to do with abandoning her narrative tastes, however. She had taken up ballet and the results proved outstanding: "I am skinny," Roitfeld says, "but now my bottom is more round. It's good, no? I don't want to do Botox, that kind of thing. But I think how you hold yourself is very important. Ballet is good, because it makes you stand up tall."
     Standing tall consists in knowing where you stand, and why. For example, Roitfeld would be the first to tell you that artists were not the only casualties of AIDS. A large discernible audience was also lost, an audience that knew the difference between a dancer like Suzanne Farrell and the pirouetting equivalent of a prima donna wanna-be. In the light of fashionless criticism Roitfeld's revenge aims at raising the barre of artistic connoisseurship with every page she publishes. In an age full of magazines published for pears (as if the point of fashion is to cater to the lowest common denominator), promoting a chiffrephile aristocracy of artistic taste is a cultural necessity. Issue 2 of CR Fashion Book is available at selected newsstands starting February 21, 2013. Its theme? Dance.

CR Fashion Book
Issue 2: Dance


Amy Larocca. "The Anti-Anna." New York Magazine. February 18, 2008.
Ani Tzenkova. "Insider News: The Real Carine Departure Story." Fashion. December 18, 2010.
Camille Paglia. Vamps & Tramps: New Essays. Vintage. October 11, 1994.
Carine Roitfeld. CR Fashion Book: Issue 1 Rebirth. Fall/Winter 2012.
Catherine Rampell. "Angus Maddison, Economic Historian, Dies At 83." The New York Times. May 01, 2010.
Donald Davidson. Inquiries Into Truth And Interpretation: Philosophical Essays Volume 2. Clarendon Press, second edition. September 01, 2001.
Grace Coddington. Grace: A Memoir. Random House Canada. November 20, 2012.
Janet Maslin. "The Very Model Of A Fashion Insider." The New York Times. November 25, 2012.
Jess Cartner-Morley. "Carine Roitfeld: Vogue Was Like A Golden Cage." The Guardian. September 14, 2012.
Miles Davis. Birth Of The Cool. Capitol Records. 1957.
Steven Gaines. Simply Halston: The Untold Story. Putnam. September 11, 1991.