Film Review – Mademoiselle C
A good fashion documentary will juxtapose the silliness of the fashion world against the art of beautiful clothing and end up with something both interesting and compelling. It’s sometimes hard to take the denizens of high fashion seriously, what with the emphasis on appearances and their own—sometimes very odd—sartorial choices. (Karl Lagerfeld, I am looking at you.) The gold standard of fashion-related documentary films is 2009’s The September Issue, a fascinating account of Vogue magazine’s jumbo fall issue focusing on the interactions between editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington, their relationship, and what it takes to get a fashion magazine out. Mademoiselle C is a new documentary directed by Fabien Constant that tries to bring the same exposure to former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld’s decision to leave Vogue and start her own magazine, CR.
Carine Roitfeld started out in fashion as a model, later moving behind the scenes at French Elle. In her career as a stylist she helped develop the porno-chic aesthetic of Mario Testino, and would later work with—and serve as muse for—Tom Ford. In 2001, she took the top position at Vogue Paris, where she served for ten years before she decided to strike out on her own. Mademoiselle C mostly deals with the inaugural issue of CR and the creation of the editorial features. (In fashion magazines, editorial features are the fashion spreads that are presented like a visual story. It might sometimes look like just a group of similarly-themed photos, but often the story behind the theme can be pretty elaborate. The best of these editorials are undeniably art.) Roitfeld runs into a few problems, such as her former bosses at Conde Nast “encouraging” photographers not to work with her. But her old friends Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, and Bruce Weber step up to the plate and contribute to the issue. Whilst working on her new project, she also celebrates the birth of her first grandchild and takes a moment to reflect on her career.
For many reasons, some of which I have already talked about, it can be difficult to take the fashion world seriously. I personally love fashion—to the point that I mostly make my own clothes so I can have exactly what I want—but disdain the atmosphere that surrounds the production and marketing of clothing. From sweatshop scandals to demanding divas, the business of high fashion is fraught with personalities high in drama and low in self-awareness. A good fashion film will cut through all the crap to show the art and ingenuity present in many in the industry. Mademoiselle C does not do this at all. By all accounts, Carine Roitfeld is a genius stylist who is amazing to work with. None of that shows up here. There is a lot of time spent watching her hang out with famous people and working on shots, but there is no time spent discussing her ideas or letting the audience see the finished product. We see the editorials in progress, but there is no real context. Divorced from the generative ideas or the final pictures, the shoots just look silly. And we never really see Roitfeld at work. Mostly we just see her wandering around throwing feathers on people, blandly discussing generalities about the magazine, or waxing poetic about her new granddaughter.
And she talks about being a grandmother all the time, which is awesome. Because not only do we never really get to see her working, we never get a sense of who she is as a person. The film sketches out the bare bones of her career, but does not explain how she got interested in fashion or how she became so successful. She must have incredible drive and talent to end up as editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, but you would never know that from what is in this film. She loves her children, her partner, and her granddaughter. She is great to work with and is the muse for many. I am totally on board to believe all of this, but this movie only tells, it does not show. It’s bland and kind of tedious in its focus on trivialities.
I know a lot of people think fashion is stupid, but we all wear clothes and even the cheapest off-brand on-sale piece-of-crap is influenced by what happens in high fashion. It’s a blend of art and commerce that verges on both the ridiculous and the sublime. Carine Roitfeld is a force to reckon with in this world, and deserves a film that is more than just 93 minutes of watching her hang out with designers and look at pictures of herself. I want to see a powerful woman being powerful, not just have it described to me.