Film Review: Mademoiselle C

Fabien Constant’s doc about ultimate fashionista Carine Roitfeld will be catnip to the style-obsessed, while definitely showing that a lot of hard work goes into those all glossy images one carelessly flips through.

Every era has had its chicest woman in the world. In the pre-WWII era there were legendary clotheshorses like Daisy Fellowes, Lady Mendl, Millicent Rogers, Mona von Bismarck and the Duchess of Windsor. Following them came peacocks like Gloria Guinness, Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Loulou de la Falaise, Tina Chow and, more recently, Kate Moss and Daphne Guinness. For the last two decades or so, magazine editor Carine Roitfeld has been the epitome of chic, the fashionista’s fashionista, who, like many of those mentioned, is something of a jolie laide. She possesses a fierce, hyper-sexy personal style over conventional beauty, with her feline eyes, pug nose, blade-like body and general aura of louche, tawny allure.

Roitfeld, who has been something of a cult obsession among people in, and besotted by, the world of fashion is the subject of Fabien Constant’s doc Mademoiselle C, which focuses on what she did following her resignation from a successful ten-year stint as editor of Vogue Paris. Having worked as a much sought-after stylist, and as the top muse of designer Tom Ford, before her magazine job, she found herself, far from being cast into an un-chic wilderness, still a magnet for her army of adorers. Chief among them was Stephen Gan, editor of influential magazines V and Visionaire, who offered her the chance to create her own magazine.

Constant focuses on Roitfeld kick-starting the magazine, with staff meetings and photo shoots in which her eagle eye and uncanny knack for a visual wow factor are clearly displayed. Although intimidating in her near-ferocious elegance, she comes across as very likable and down-to-earth in a universe largely populated by sleek adders. It’s an ultra-rarefied life, of course, and she is seen preparing for the annual Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute gala, as well as swanning about the various parties thrown in her honor for her magazine’s launch. It’s interesting to watch the working styles of such fashion eminences as Bruce Weber and Tom Ford on their photographic shoots, the former a bearish easy-going sort (happy in nature and the outdoors with a baby who urinates on the model’s gown) and the latter a laser-like control freak. (It’s also rather revealing of this world that practically the only person of color you see is a woman playing a maid in the Ford shoot.)

Roitfeld made her reputation by inserting a 1970s sexual sizzle into her layouts, heavily influenced by the kinky work of photographer Helmut Newton. She had an uncompromisingly exciting vision at Vogue, in which she used ethnic models and was among the first to bring back Kate Moss after her tabloid drug scandal. One wishes more of that vision were in evidence in her work at the new magazine: ideas like the campy nuns surrounding a fainting woman in a church and somewhat gratuitous nudity are not the freshest.

Roitfeld also discovered that, while many of her colleagues were eager to work with her on the new project, Vogue publisher Condé Nast evidently threatened to blacklist any who did. Roitfeld managed to turn this lemon into a big pitcher of lemonade for, as she says, this took her out of her comfort zone, forcing her to look at the work of new artists for hire. Her long, happy marriage and her becoming a grandmother are addressed, giving a personal touch to all the frou-frou. There’s a funny moment when her long-time makeup artist bitchily jokes that she should be reborn looking exactly the same “but with thick ankles,” and the sight of Karl Lagerfeld gingerly pushing a baby carriage around a studio, while everyone oohs and ahs at the adorable unlikeliness of this image, says volumes about the sometimes inescapable, ass-kissing absurdity of Roitfeld’s glossy hothouse environs.