Portrait of an icon

Fabien Constant on capturing Carine Roitfeld.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Mademoiselle C director Fabien Constant as Buster Keaton in The General
Mademoiselle C director Fabien Constant as Buster Keaton in The General Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Fabien Constant's meticulously dashing portrait of Carine Roitfeld in Mademoiselle C works as a triple treat with style, beauty and grace. We witness the launch of CR Fashion Book, the new magazine by the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, and watch how dreams are made. We see Kirsten Dunst and Harvey Weinstein applauding in the audience, at Carine Roitfeld's Cannes amfAR gala fashion show, before the documentary whisks you away to a photo shoot with Karl Lagerfeld.

For CR's inaugural issue 0, classic models transform into French movie stars of the Sixties in front of Lagerfeld's lens: Stephanie Seymour becomes Nathalie Delon, Linda Evangelista becomes Anna Karina, and Carolyn Murphy turns into Mireille Darc.

Right before New York Fashion Week, Fabien Constant gave us some insight and took a turn as Buster Keaton for my camera.

In an early scene, Roitfeld throws her arms around a shy young fan's neck, to pose for a picture.

Carine Roitfeld: 'Fashion is changing into who you want to be'
Carine Roitfeld: 'Fashion is changing into who you want to be' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Anne-Katrin Titze: You chose to begin your documentary with images of chic shoes exiting limousines in New York at night and then, in a complete turn around in mood, you show Carine wrapping her arms around a shy and delighted fan and we hear her talk about her insecurity, that she never knows what to put as "profession" when filling out customs forms. What did you want to achieve with this juxtaposition at the start?

Fabien Constant: I love this question! The opening really for me was to get the people into a world, a very private and chic world. A selective world - the world of fashion. It is the arrival of the people to the CR Fashion Book launching party that you will see at the end. I let you come into this very private, very chic world that you dream about. It's going to be limousines and sunglasses. And the minute after exactly, it's full sunlight, it's New York. You can't even take in more New York in one shot. It's from the penthouse of the Standard East Hotel, I don't know where we are here, but it's downtown.

AKT: Yes, it's in the East Village. I used to live on that block and recognised the view right away.

FC: On the top floor, you have a full circle view of New York. It was really sending the message that Carine is in New York now and she is moving from Paris. It was also saying, yes, the magazine is a wrap. We don't play the "ooh, will they make it?" game.

AKT: We nevertheless get wrapped up in the suspense of bringing out a brand new magazine.

FC: Sure. But I wanted to be honest with the audience. This is a woman with kids and there are 17, 18, 19-year-old bloggers and they are in love, obsessed with Carine. They are all American but they know this French lady and they are fascinated. The blond guy talking is the boss of Tumblr, so he's quite big in the internet business, and he says for them meeting Carine is like meeting President Obama. And I wanted to show that she is nice with all of them, she's helping this young kid to have a nice picture.

AKT: She is also giving good advice to the audience. You have to love the camera to take a good picture.

FC: Exactly. And I love this moment. We were in this process and she had to love my camera. She had no other choice. She gave me the access, for sure, she didn't lie.

AKT: She is also letting go of control by doing this.

FC: I love that when she says that to these kids, she is also talking to me. She says, "You have to love the camera" and she is looking at the camera. I was the one having the camera on my shoulder. There was no other option for me because I knew that she didn't say yes to a camera, she said yes to me. Most of the time in documentaries, people try to avoid their characters looking into the camera because it gives information to the audience that there's a camera in the room and there's a guy behind the camera. But I love it - it shows the relationship we have, Carine and myself. So when she looks at me, she looks at the audience now.

Stephanie Seymour in front of Karl Lagerfeld's lens
Stephanie Seymour in front of Karl Lagerfeld's lens
AKT: You don't try to hide the seams. You do a similar thing with your soundtrack, the positioning of music. The scene during which Carine visits Joseph Altuzarra's studio and finds herself posted on the mood board you have what sounds like cartoon bird chirps. Are you quoting Disney?

The choice of score Constant selected in this scene is inspired.

FC: For sure. It's not directly from a Disney thing, but that's exactly the idea. I love to use music as a character. I know there are some directors who like to edit their full movie, fiction or documentary, and go for the music processing afterwards. I don't know how they do it - I can't edit without the music. Sometimes I will have the image suit the music and not the opposite. And sometimes the magic happens. Also I love cuts - when you stop the music right at the exact second and it brings up a joke or some meaning you didn't expect. Music can do that.

AKT: "An irreverent, timeless dream" is a description given about CR Fashion Book. Is that what you had in mind with this film also?

FC: Stephen Gan, the publisher, says that. They are looking for a catch line for the magazine. Fashion is a huge industry but it's to make people dream, too.

AKT: One could say your film is irreverent in a very loving way.

FC: I love this definition. I guess some people will say that the movie is a bit kind with Carine and those people.

AKT: What's wrong with being kind?

FC: Exactly. If you think it's kind, it's also because of you. I try to not judge. I made the decision from the beginning not to have any voice-over. Carine is not the most famous woman in America. In New York, for the fashion crowd, for sure, but in some places they don't know her. It would have been great in a very information point-of-view to have a voice-over: this is Carine Roitfeld, she has run French Vogue for ten years, she has done very sexual images, strong images, Tom Ford collaboration, whatever. I didn't want to do this. I wanted the audience to be totally free to catch what they want and what they can.

AKT: Your film looks forward, not back.

Carine Roitfeld and Karl Lagerfeld in Cannes for her amfAR gala
Carine Roitfeld and Karl Lagerfeld in Cannes for her amfAR gala
FC: I didn't want to do the Wikipedia documentary about Carine. My arc is from point A to point B: the creation of a new magazine. It so happened that she was doing so much on the side and that she has no boundaries between her personal life and her professional life. Everything is a mix and at the end of the day, I didn't expect it to be that personal.

AKT: She is going through huge transitions on every level of her life.

FC: On all levels, and they all happened at the same period of time and it happened all in front of my camera.

AKT: F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Last Tycoon "There are no second acts in American lives." Good thing Carine's is not an American life. This is all about the possibility of re-invention and rebirth.

FC: That's what the magazine is about and what the movie is about. At the end of the day, it's almost a movie about Romy [Carine's first grandchild, who was born during all the other rebirths]. She is the heart of the movie.

AKT: How is Romy doing?

FC: She is great. Running everywhere. She is the happiest little girl in the world.

AKT: Back to the other rebirths and your title.

FC: It was supposed to be the story of this magazine and it ended up being the portrait of a woman, the rebirth of a woman. That's also the meaning of this title, which was my working title from the beginning. Mademoiselle C because I'm used to calling Carine Mademoiselle, it's kind of a game between her and me. In France, we call all our actresses mademoiselle, whatever their age and whatever they are doing. Also, technically, she is a mademoiselle, because she is not married.

She has been with her partner, Christian Restoin, the reclusive founder of fashion label Equipment, for over 30 years, they have two children and now grandchild Romy together. Restoin speaks on camera and tells us that Carine's "model is Coco Chanel."

FC: The last point about Mademoiselle C is because it sounds like Mademoiselle Coco. The very famous successful Coco Chanel we know was a very, very old Coco Chanel. She had a kind of success in her early years, then came the war and everything. At the time of her comeback, she was almost 70. It's about having this huge amount of success in your late life. Carine is younger, but I love that the title sounds a bit like Mademoiselle Chanel. You are right - it's all about rebirth.

Mademoiselle C opens in the US on September 11 and on September 20 in the UK. The film will also be screened during London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week, and Paris Fashion Week. You can read our interview with Carine Roitfeld here. Plus read about the film's world premiere and view our gallery of the stars

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