The one, the only: Carine Roitfeld

Fashion is an industry of icons, and I consider myself lucky to have met many of them. I consider myself even luckier to have had the opportunity to work with some of them. Most recently, we at VMAN collaborated with Carine Roitfeld, the former French Vogue editor and arguably the world’s most influential stylist, on her own issue of the magazine. On the eve of the magazine’s debut, I had a chat with her about all things related to men’s style. Her responses were unexpected, insightful and, like the woman herself, provocative.

Some highlights? She thinks magazines who make men look overtly sexy are boring. She found Steve Jobs to be extremely stylish. She admires hip hop dressing, partly because it’s an extension of the very American idea of comfortable fashion. She says that the casting of a men’s fashion show is the most important thing, and that if a man is ever in doubt about what to wear he should put on a suit. The most important thing for a man to remember when he’s getting dressed? Nonchalance. She is French, after all. See below for our entire conversation:

Derek Blasberg: We’re very excited about your issue of VMAN. What are your first thoughts on men’s style?

Carine Roitfeld: I like trendy men, but I don’t like fashion victims. So I wanted the issue to fulfill that vision. The goal was to make fashion look smart and believable.

DB: You and I have spoken about what you think is a cliché version of men’s fashion. I was shocked that you think sometimes too much sex is a bad thing.

CR: I was looking at several men’s fashion magazines and I thought so many of them were so boring. They pushed sex so much it became vulgar. The boys were naked just to be naked. For me, that is not modern. I want beauty and something that is truly interesting, not just a naked man.

DB: Are you saying that people have forgotten the line between sexy and shocking?

CR: Yes. I like when a boy is very sexy; I liked when Tom Ford first put extremely sexy men on the runway. But I do not like it when male models start to look like sex toys. For me, that’s when they lose their beauty. It’s the same when a girl wants to dress weird just to be weird and get attention. There has to be a reason behind it. To do something merely shocking is too easy.

DB: So, how did you put your version of modern sexy together for VMAN?

CR: To realize my issue, I imagined organizing the perfect dinner party. I started with the photographers, inviting some old friends like Bruce Weber and Peter Lindbergh, who I’ve known for years, and [Jean-Baptiste] Mondino, who I have always admired but haven’t worked with in 20 years. And then I asked some new people too, like Nick Knight. It was my big dream to do something with Nick because we had never worked together before. Michael Avedon is a new talent too. I was happy to find him: He is the grandson of Richard Avedon, who we all know, but he has an interesting eye that is his own.

DB: And then you filled the rest of the seats with the talent?

CR: Yes, exactly. I didn’t want male models. I wanted handsome actors, well known singers, real men from Manhattan, and a few strangers that maybe a reader would not recognize but would want to know more about when they see them. And, of course, you need beautiful girls, so I would invite some of Victoria’s Secret’s girls. This is a very interesting dinner, no?

DB: Yes. I can only hope I’d get the invitation too.

CR: Wait and see.

DB: Is fashion different for men than for women?

CR: Fashion can be a difficult thing for men to follow. It’s not as literal. When I go to a men’s show, I find myself looking more at the boys themselves than what they’re wearing. The person is more important than the clothes in menswear.

DB: So, you’re saying clothes don’t make the man – but they help.

CR: Yes. It’s interesting: You can put one outfit on one boy and he looks ridiculous, but on someone else it can look fantastic. That is what makes men’s fashion difficult, but also exciting.

DB: What is the first word that comes to your when you think about a stylish man?

CR: Effortless. It’s not chic for a man to look too trendy, like they care too much. You want the look to be cool. The clothes are part of this, but they are not everything.

DB: Do you have any favorite menswear designers?

CR: I look to different designers for different things, and it all depends on how I feel. Sometimes I’m thinking what I’d buy for my husband. But then, perhaps, I want something more daring and sexy, so I’ll look for a man in a leather skirt. I will say this: When it comes to a men’s show, the casting is more important than the clothes.

DB: That’s an interesting observation.

CR: Look at Dior Homme. When Hedi [Slimane] was there, the casting became this new idea. And then other brands started following him, and even today we still see his type of boys – very slim, slouchy, often from street castings – on the runways. In menswear, the casting can be a bigger trend than fashion itself, and that is very unique.

DB: Is styling a man similar to styling a woman?

CR: For me, it’s very different. When I style a woman I think about what I would wear. But when I style men’s clothes I have to dream about someone else.

DB: So tell me: Who are some of the most stylish men you know?

CR: I am a very lucky woman because I am surrounded by very stylish men: my husband and my son, for example. But for me, to be truly stylish, a man must look cool at all times: when they’re in a tuxedo or walking down the street, when they’re with their children or in a supermarket. A stylish man never looks ridiculous.

DB: Never?

CR: Yes. The true test of a man’s style is the haircut. There are some men who look good no matter how their hair is styled, whether it’s trendy or not. A man can change his haircut many times, but to pull off any haircut you have to be very chic. Like Brad Pitt.

DB: OK, besides Brad, do you have any favorite male style icon of all time?

CR: I don’t have favorites. But I like men who have their own unique looks, and don’t copy anyone else. These are often the same men who are copied by other people, like Serge Gainsborough.

DB: How would you dress if you were a man?

CR: It’s difficult to answer that because I’m always wearing skirts! But if I had to think about it, I’d probably wear a combination of Tom Ford, some pieces from Riccardo [Tisci for Givenchy], and some very classic pieces from Hermes. And oh, I’d always add a little piece of Rick Owens. That’s very important.

DB: How should a real mean approach his wardrobe in daily life?

CR: I like the word “nonchalance.” I don’t like things that look brand new. Cashmere that’s worn in and a little bit destroyed, or boots that have been worn for years.

DB: Off the top of your head, what must be in a man’s closet?

CR: It’s OK for a man to spend more because their clothes last longer. So, if you want to buy a new suit or a new pair of jeans, it should look like something that would already own and will wear for a long time. I think that after things have been a little bit destroyed they become beautiful.

DB: What do you think should not be in a man’s closet?

CR: You know I’m not a person who would ever say no, no, no to something. What I will say is this: If you’re ever worried about whether or not you are chic, go classic. When in doubt, wear a suit. Look at male politicians: You see them in a suit and they look fine. But if you see a picture of them on the weekend or on vacation, there’s a good chance they look terrible and unstylish. The uniform of a suit and tie can be very helpful.

DB: Do men have it easier when it comes to getting dressed?

CR: Yes. Much easier.

DB: But is it more boring?

CR: Not necessarily. Less choice makes it easier, but not less fun. It ultimately depends on what you put on, which is the same for a woman. But I will say this: It’s much easier to pack and travel as a man. You can wear the same tuxedo four nights in a row if you clean the shirt. A woman needs to change jackets, change shoes. A man can acquire quality pieces and wear them forever, which is very convenient. Those are the sorts of clothes I was drawn to in this issue.

DB: Are you a fan of French men? Which country do you think has the best style?

CR: I prefer the style of the English man because they like the shape of the body: they tailor garments to have a shoulder and a waist. I love Saville Row in London. The English dress for lunch, for dinner, for breakfast and for teatime, and then there’s a whole other wardrobe for what to wear in the country. They are both eccentric and classic at the same time.

DB: What do you think of American style?

CR: For the most part, Americans are about being comfortable and easy. They don’t try very hard. It’s where we get the jeans and the T-shirt, which I love. Jeans can be sexy, but they’re very simple. I don’t think fashion is a priority in the life of an American, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Fashion doesn’t have to be everything.

DB: I thought you’d like men who don’t make fashion a priority.

CR: I do. Look at someone like Steve Jobs. His look wasn’t very special – black turtleneck and jeans – but he had style. He looked the same, and you knew it was him when you saw him. Plus he was a very smart person, which is also very attractive. His style was simple, not distracting, and very strong.

DB: Phew! I was nervous you thought all Americans were unstylish and lazy.

CR: Oh no, I like many of America’s subcultures. For example, I actually love the “rappers look,” with the saggy pants and oversized clothes. It’s very deliberate. But then again, perhaps all the ultra large clothes stem from that American desire to be comfortable and easy too. I don’t know.

DB: I trust you liked the boys in the issue too.

CR: I dreamt of making an issue with no male models, full of men with real style and perspective. So now I have a new address book with all the new people I met putting the issue together! This has been a rejuvenation for me, and in fashion that is a very good thing. These are real men with real points of view. These are not Ken dolls looking for Barbie’s.

DB: I can report that everyone loved working with you too. You know, we really should do that dinner party with everyone in the issue.

CR: It would be my perfect party! Smart, handsome men, and then the Victoria’s Secret girls would be like a batch of flowers on the table.

DB: Handsome boys and gorgeous girls: I like you perspective on men’s fashion.

CR: Men’s fashion can be difficult, but when a man has a good style he can do anything he wants. I think this issue will be a dream for the reader.