Julia Restoin-Roitfeld: Fashion's new face
Tom Ford has declared her 'exactly what beauty is to me', whole websites are devoted to her clothes and the contents of her bathroom cabinet, and her mother just happens to be the most influential woman in fashion. Can't face-of-the-moment Julia Restoin-Roitfeld allow herself to feel just a little bit big-headed? She tells Hermione Hoby the inside story
When the formidably exacting Tom Ford has described you as "exactly what beauty is to me" you might, you'd think, be pretty confident of your charms. But Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, a woman with the most claim to being fashion's face of the year, seems almost pained by his compliment.
"I can't believe he wrote that," she murmurs. "Unbelievable that anyone would say that. Especially from him -- he's so picky! His eyes are like a scanner. He looks you up and down and you know he's going to see eeeeeverything."
But everything, from where I'm sitting, looks pretty peerless. Manhattan is ankle-deep in snow-slush, but Roitfeld is a little oasis of unruffled perfection. In pictures, particularly those of her vamping it in Ford's womenswear collection, she's all smouldering va-va-voom. In person, her beauty is more kittenish and she seems younger than 30.
Throughout our conversation she keeps doing a little self-conscious duck to tuck her hair behind her ears and she speaks softly, her French accent still distinct despite seven years in New York. When I ask her to talk me through her outfit she's almost bashful. "Maintenance is hard in weather like this," she begins, apologetically. "I wear boots, then I feel I'm higher than the snow. These are Marc by Marc [Jacobs]." Her black jumper is Isabel Marant -- "My favourite sweater of the season. And then I'm wearing my favourite skirt of the season, too." It's black leather and from Topshop. "I need to go buy more just in case they stop producing them." She's a big Topshop fan. Her coat, however, a sumptuous powder-pink fur number, definitely doesn't look high street. She strokes it, makes a guilty little moue and whispers, "I think it's rabbit. I feel a bit bad. But it's old, so it's OK."
We're in Le Grainne Cafe, a bistro near Roitfeld's apartment and "the only place that makes good crepes. The only place." The actress Cynthia Nixon is at the next table. "Didn't she look amazing!" Roitfeld exclaims when Nixon leaves. Crepes aside, the thing she misses about her native Paris is being able to have dinner with her parents. Her father, Christian Restoin, runs the shirt label Equipment, and unless you're a hermit you'll know that her mother is Carine Roitfeld, the rakishly glamorous former editor of Paris Vogue -- a woman now more famous than most of the models in the magazine.
Ten years ago an editor would not have been such a public figure, nor would her daughter, but the exalting of both indicates a growing obsession with fashion insiders. Is it strange that her mother has become such a style icon? "No, it's good, it's great! She's my fashion icon, too!" she says with a smile. "We have very different styles -- I'm a bit classic and very feminine; she's more daring than I am, but she pulls everything together in such an elegant way. I mean, you see her on the beach and she has the silhouette of a 20-year-old. It's really annoying! I'm sure she got frustrated with me many times -- I probably wore a lot of ugly things as a teenager, but I had to go through it."
She and her younger brother, Vladimir, a curator, also based in New York, had "a very classic" education in Paris. "My parents were strict with school, strict with grades. I had piano classes, horseback riding, dance," she says. "And my mum was really involved. She would take us every Sunday at five in the morning to horseback riding. I remember her collecting me from school and she had red cars all the time -- an old Beetle, then an Alfa Romeo. So, yeah, she was quite a cool mum."
But being cool also meant not letting them hang on her coat-tails. "My parents would never let that happen. They invested money in our education to give us the tools, but, as soon as that was over, my brother started to make it within six months of graduating and I started to work right away."
In 2004, on moving to New York, Roitfeld enrolled at Parsons art school, having
previously attended its Paris outpost. Two years later she was studying for her finals, specialising in design management and "not modelling at all -- not at all hoping for anything or thinking about it", when Tom Ford cast her in the advertising campaign for his Black Orchid scent, wanting a "personality" rather than a model.
The Roitfelds' connection with Ford goes back a long way. In the Nineties Carine Roitfeld played a big part in Ford's reinvention of Gucci, styling supermodels in his designs. (She has recently denied that she was fired from Vogue for dedicating an entire issue to Ford, thereby infuriating other fashion houses.) At that point, however, Julia Roitfeld was too engrossed in her studies to recognise his voice. "When I got the call it was like, "Hi Julia, it's Tom," and it was a very seducing voice. But I was like, 'Tom? Tom who?'" What she eventually understood was that Tom Ford, whose every gesture sends the fashion industry into paroxysms, had her in mind as the face of the fragrance. "He said, 'If it's OK with you . . .' And I was like, 'Of course it's OK for me!'" He wanted her to meet the photographers the next day. "And it was one of those bad days -- I was focused on my finals, not feeling like I was the best; I probably had like a little zit somewhere. I spent a few weeks waiting and really hoping for an answer." Which, of course, in the end was yes.
"I've known Julia since she was a little girl and it is wonderful to see what a remarkable young woman she has become," Ford tells me. "She is not only very beautiful, but she is talented, well mannered and unbelievably professional. It is a pleasure to know her and work with her and I was so happy that she was a part of my first womenswear show for my own label."
High praise indeed. That show, says Roitfeld, was "really a Cinderella story". It took place last November in front of just 100 guests and featured some of the most beautiful women in the world in outfits selected especially for them. Smoky-eyed and big-haired in tailored black leather, Julia held her own alongside the likes of Beyonce, Daphne Guinness and Julianne Moore.
"I wore the clothes for 10 minutes -- like, in and out," she says. "My hair and make-up was so good I wanted to take a picture, but it was already gone! But it was just so amazing to be part of such a private and special project, with all those fabulous women -- Marisa Berenson and Lauren Hutton . . . I just wanted to look like them -- so chic and elegant and sexy." And Beyonce? "Beyonce! She was so sweet -- really nice. We'd just had one rehearsal and were next to each other before we went on. She said, 'My God, I'm so nervous,' and I was like, 'Are you kidding me? You? Nervous?' She's just a really down-to-earth woman."
At 30, Roitfeld is almost ancient in modelling years and blessed with the sort of womanly curves that too rarely make it on to the catwalk. Her demeanour is soft, almost demure, but when she talks about fashion and diversity she steps up a gear into stridency. "Fashion hasn't changed enough yet. There's too much of a stereotype of beauty. It would be more inspiring to have a different kind of woman -- to see fashion on [women] not just young girls. That's why I admire Mark Fast for being so bold about it and showing that his dresses look amazing on any girl, whether she's really tiny or whether she has boobs and a bum -- I think they all look really hot in their own way."
Roitfeld worked with the London designer in her capacity as an art director, advising him on imagery and branding for his diffusion range, Faster. A lot of her clients are young designers with small budgets. "I feel that's the whole thing about New York; it's all about supporting each other. Designer, photographer . . . you don't need to choose anything, which is what I like, just being creative. I'm always building images, even when I go out and put a look together, it's in my head the whole day; like, how I'm going to create this whole story. But I'm never satisfied; it's always a work in progress no matter what. Every day is working."
She doesn't give herself any days off? "No, because it's my own business, it all depends on me. I don't want to miss any opportunities."
When Mario Testino photographed Roitfeld for Lancome's spring campaign, the best part, she says, was learning about set design and lighting. "I need to know this for my clients. Modelling is like a constant internship because I keep learning."
She certainly doesn't need much practice posing -- she's photographed endlessly. There are, for example, whole online galleries devoted to her glitzy 30th birthday party held at the fashionable New York restaurant Indochine last year ("I was nervous for a whole month before -- 'What if no one comes?' -- and then when I saw everyone I just got super-excited and a bit too drunk.")
Her boyfriend is the equally easy-on-the-eye Swedish model Robert Konjic, who is 36. Her mother met him "maybe 15 years ago for his first job, a Gucci campaign. When she found out we were dating she found it funny. I mean, 15 years ago I was 15, so she would never have expected him to date her daughter." They've been together two years but "I don't think he wants to get married again -- he's done it and it didn't work out for him."
Her parents, who've been together for 30 years, are also unmarried. "I'm really close to my family and I really want one of my own. But the wedding, it's not necessary for me." She could always have the party and the dress without the ceremony, I suggest. "That's what my boyfriend said!" she cries. "I'd want the dress to be by John Galliano. [This interview took place before video evidence emerged of the British designer's anti-Semitic rants.] He makes the most beautiful dresses with a fishtail. I wouldn't mind that in satin with long sleeves -- it makes the best silhouette. I have him in mind." She laughs. "He doesn't know that, but he will now!"
She's often photographed with Konjic, but the most exhaustive catalogue of her life, and the lives of her mother and brother, can be found at the I Want To Be A Roitfeld website, an extraordinary labour of love, or, perhaps, obsession. If you're after an itemised list of every cosmetic in her bathroom cabinet, for example, or a recipe for her favourite snack, you'll find them here. Roitfeld admits to browsing it. "Of course, I'm curious! And it's quite amazing because it's really well made. But it's scary to see someone devote so much time. I mean, it's flattering, but we're not celebrities like Angelina Jolie or anything. It's funny and strange."
Does such scrutiny make her more fretful about the way she looks? "No. People already pick me for the way I am. Why do I want to change it if it's working this way? I mean, of course if I know I have to go to the beach I want to look my best and lose a pound or two, but . . ." She trails off with a little shrug and a smile. "You have stay yourself. It's more about feeling good about myself, really."
Sunday Indo Life Magazine