In my journey through fashion, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most beautiful women. Many of my dear friends are “supermodels”, women who represent an ideal standard of beauty. But these women are also transcendent because they encompass an internal beauty that truly make them exceptional. And for me, no woman is more exceptional than Carine Roitfeld. A former fashion editor, current founder of the CR Fashion book and Global Fashion Director of Harper’s Bazaar, Carine not only inspires me as a designer, but as a woman.
Always impeccably dressed and arguably one of the most beautiful, stylish and sexiest women in the fashion business, Carine embodies, above all else, a refreshing self-assurance. She is smart, confident, and a trend-setter who plays by her own set of (style) rules. Somewhat of an outlier in the fashion world, she celebrates individuality and imperfection. On style, Carine eschews trends in favor of a stunning uniform of tailored pencil skirts, button down shirts or blouses, gorgeous heels and dark and slightly smudged makeup. She epitomizes understated elegance peppered in with a bit of rock and roll. It’s no wonder why she’s on every best-dressed list including Vanity Fair’s annual International Best-Dressed List. The subject of a critically-acclaimed documentary, aptly titled “Mademoiselle C”, her influence now reaches beyond the fashion world and into pop culture.
Carine not only sets fashion trends, but new standards of beauty. When the fashion industry was fixated on rail-thin and homogenous Eastern European models, she discovered a curvy, gap-toothed Dutch model named Lara Stone and put her on the cover of French Vogue wearing nothing but black gloves. (Lara would go on to become one of the world’s most successful models with contracts with Calvin Klein and L’Oreal). Unconventional, confident and still very much the same woman I met many years ago on a fashion shoot.
I first entered Carine’s orbit in the 1980s when she was then Fashion Editor of French Elle. I had been booked to do a shoot with photographer Pamela Hanson in Biarritz for an editorial inspired by India. Even then, Carine knew exactly what she wanted for the story. She brought an array of beautiful Indian jewelry to style with the Boho-inspired maxi skirts and blouses. Though she has said in interviews that she wasn’t the best stylist when she worked for French Elle, I recall her being quite talented, focused, and confident in her decisions. In fact, she knew exactly what she wanted for the story which was atypical and very refreshing. She was a strong, beautiful young woman who spoke often about her family and beamed about her eight-year old daughter, Julia. Affable with an easy going manner, you immediately wanted to be Carine’s friend. During her fifteen-year tenure at Elle, we worked together very often on shoots with Pamela and with other photographers like Marc Hispard and Eddie Koli. But Carine would truly hit her stride a few years later when teaming with Mario Testino and Tom Ford.
Though she credits Testino for propelling her career forward, it’s likely that Tom Ford is the one who truly pushed her past creative boundaries. In the Nineties, the two along with Testino, created campaigns that ricocheted through the advertising and fashion world’s for their provocative and sexually charged content. Carine’s fashion-forward sexy-rocker aesthetic played muse to Tom Ford, who brought Gucci to the forefront of a creative and advertising renaissance. I had the pleasure of doing Tom Ford's first ever runway show for Gucci, which was AMAZING. Among the sexiest and most stylish shows at that time, it also put magazine editors and buyers into a frenzy. That show would kick off a decades-long successful streak for Gucci where it skyrocketed to the forefront of fashion and one of the world’s hottest brands.
Testino, Tom Ford and Carine’s creative collaboration continued through the decade with provocative Gucci campaigns that pushed fashion advertising (and censors) to its limits. Though I had always been a student of fashion photography, I can’t recall an advert that shocked me more than a Gucci bikini wax ad in a magazine like Vogue. I actually didn't actually know what to think! It was so very provocative and wildly inappropriate, I had never seen anything like it before. But perhaps right for the times as the sex-fueled aesthetic aligned with Tom Ford’s vision for the Gucci lifestyle. I still have yet to see its likes on any fashion pages again.
Carine would move on to become editor of French Vogue in 2001 where she worked for a decade and left her imprint on the magazine. She then founded the CR Fashion Book, an avant-garde fashion magazine that encapsulates Carine’s unique vision on personalities and style. She also published a coffee table book, appropriately titled “Irreverent”. The stunning book chronicles her life with a combination of imagery and text that I draw on for inspiration today. Smart, sexy, confident, and indeed irreverent. But above all, still a traditionalist who loves spending time with her family. What a career thus far. Well done Mademoiselle C. Bisou!