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Exclusive Video: Carine Roitfeld on CR Fashion Book

Carine Roitfeld is constantly coming up with new “obsessions.” Her latest is espresso “on the rocks,” which she orders to her hotel room at the Mark on the Upper East Side. She takes hers black, poured over two cubes of ice nestled at the bottom of the glass; it looks more like a sexy cocktail than a humble beverage available on every street corner in New York. “It is so delicious,” she says in her thick French accent, as though she is describing a particularly furry stole or an extra-sharp stiletto. “Sometimes it makes me go like — ” she flutters one hand, to simulate the jitters — “but I am obsessed!”

Roitfeld’s obsessive tendencies provide the framework for her new magazine, CR Fashion Book, which hits newsstands on September 13. Each biannual issue will revolve around a particular theme that an ever-changing cast of contributors will interpret in their own ways; fittingly, the debut issue’s focus is “rebirth.” This topic has been at the forefront of Roitfeld’s mind in a very literal sense — she became a grandmother for the first time in May when her daughter, Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, gave birth to a baby girl, Romy. But the word is also loaded with significance, as CR will mark her first major solo act since her abrupt departure from French Vogue at the beginning of 2011. “It’s like a new baby for us,” she says, endearingly pronouncing the word like “behbee.”

When Roitfeld announced her split from Condé Nast at the end of 2010, many speculated that it was a direct result of a controversial collaboration she did with Tom Ford for the magazine’s December 2010 issue, which featured a lascivious editorial titled “Pussy West” and a spread starring 6-year-olds dressed in diamonds, lipstick, and satin. Roitfeld later admitted that higher-ups at the company almost “killed” her over that content, but wouldn’t elaborate on her reasons for leaving except to say, “it’s the time to do something else.” 

And indeed she is. CR Fashion Book experiments with format in a number of innovative ways. Instead of having a front-of-book section, for example, timely content like new beauty, home, or fashion products will all be put on her new website, which officially launched last week. (This is particularly interesting given Roitfeld’s anti-technology standpoint in years past — in a 2008 profile, she revealed that she didn’t know how to use a computer and didn’t even have one in her office.) The magazine will instead be wholly made up of more evergreen stories ranging from editorial spreads to written pieces to interviews by an eclectic mix of contributors, or, as Roitfeld calls them, “special guests.” It also has two covers so that you can flip over the issue and start reading from either side, with the pages switching direction in the middle.

Ad-page-wise, CR Fashion Book has been very successful so far, particularly considering Roitfeld’s done something unprecedented: The brands are ordered alphabetically, every ad is a full two-page spread. Roitfeld explained that after handling the tricky politics of ad space at Vogue, she wanted to simplify the process. “When you work ten years at a magazine, you know all the problems. It’s very picky where advertising is in a magazine, so we decided, Okay, let’s do alphabetical.” But it won’t always be A to Z: “Maybe next issue we start with another letter,” she suggests. Miraculously, no brands complained about this arrangement. “I was surprised, but we had no problems,” she said.

The 340-page debut issue contains a lot of big names. There are fashion stories by Lady Amanda Harlech and, of course, frequent Roitfeld collaborators Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford, the latter of whom also penned a fairy tale for the book. “When you talk about rebirth, it is a bit like a fairy tale, no?” explained Roitfeld. “So I asked Kirsten Dunst to write a fairy tale for us, too.” Photographers include Sebastian Faena, Bruce Weber, and Michael Avedon, the college-age grandson of Richard Avedon, who shot a couture story. “I wanted to open my magazine to different people. It’s not the same people that you usually see in all of the magazines,” Roitfeld told us. 

Admittedly, finding new talent was imperative, because many of Roitfeld’s favorite photographers weren’t allowed to work with her. “I made a big family when I was working at Vogue for ten years, and I’m still friends with a lot of them. But all these photographers, like Mario Testino for example, who is my oldest friend, they have contracts with Condé Nast, so of course they cannot work with me. I keep them friends, you know, they come to my parties. But I had to find other ideas,” she says. “I make a new address book.” 

The same goes for models. The issue includes famous faces like Stephanie Seymour, Linda Evangelista, Carolyn Murphy, and Lara Stone. “But I have to find very new, new faces,” she says. “So it’s a place for big legends and very unknown people, maybe going to be the next legend.”

Click to watch The Cut’s video interview with Carine Roitfeld.

See the Carine Roitfeld Look Book.

Exclusive: Carine Roitfeld on CR Fashion Book