Meet the Style Icon Who Propelled Kanye and Rihanna to Fashion Power Player Status

Carine Roitfeld
Pascal Le Segretain/amfAR2017/WireImage

Roitfeld, wearing her signature black in Cannes in May, says she’s a “rock‘n’roll grandma.”

Ever since she was a teenager in Paris in the ’70s, Carine Roitfeld wanted to be a rocker: a female Alice Cooper, Lou Reed or Iggy Pop. But a few things got in the way, says the former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief and fashion icon who has 1.1 million Instagram followers. For starters, she can’t hold a tune. “I have an ’orrible voice,” crows Roitfeld, dropping the “h” in a seductively French way, while checking off qualities that otherwise hit the mark: “I love black. I line my big, dark eyeballs with black. I love fishnets with holes. I love concert tees -- my current one is 1981 Clash.” She definitely has a rock hairdo -- spiky, sexy and stick straight a la PJ Harvey on the Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea cover. Plus, she’s legendary in the industry, considered a kind of informal adviser to rock royalty establishing their fashion world cred.

“Carine is rock 'n’ roll all the way,” says Courtney Love, who met her at a concert Love did at the Givenchy atelier in Paris a few years ago. “She has done an amazing job recognizing musicians and highlighting their individuality while capturing their spirit. Because of her, musicians feel more comfortable expressing themselves through fashion.” Says Roitfeld: “I’m happy when people say I have a rock ’n’ roll attitude. Fashion is about attitude.”


Icônes------ @angelcandices @joansmalls @theweeknd @brigittelacombe @dior @ivanmbart @thestylecouncilparis #bazaaricons

A post shared by Carine Roitfeld (@carineroitfeld) on

That ’tude served her well for Harper’s BAZAAR’s Icons portfolio, the 18-page, music-themed feature in the September issue of the fashion magazine that came out Aug. 22 and featured Love, Dionne Warwick, Grimes, Travis Scott, Miranda Lambert, composer-pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto and, on the cover, The Weeknd. (The artist will perform at the Harper’s BAZAAR Icons Fashion Week party on Sept. 8 at the Plaza Hotel.)

This is the fourth annual Icons portfolio Roitfeld has done since leaving Vogue Paris in 2010, with previous covers all starring musicians: Kanye West last year, Katy Perry in 2015, Lady Gaga in 2014. “Musicians are the biggest stars, bigger than actors,” says Roitfeld. “Designers love the exposure they get when rockers wear their clothes.”

After wrapping the fall issues of her own style magazines, CR Fashion Book and CR Men’s Book (on stands Sept. 7), Roitfeld talked to Billboard about the interconnected worlds of fashion and music, her friendship with West and why Rihanna rules fashion.

How do you choose the icons?

We start by asking who would be our dream to be on the cover. I also like to have someone who is comfortable with fashion. We were happy with The Weeknd, who loves fashion. He gave 100 percent of his time and is open to anything.

How do designers and musicians inspire one another?

Everyone watches Rihanna, Beyoncé and Kanye. There is a constant exchange between music and clothes on the runway and in music videos. Someone like Rihanna wears a dress, and people like it and want it. She always starts trends: She launched Vetements, wearing it before anyone, and is always so open to a new designer. And she’s been successful with her Fenty Puma by Rihanna clothing and shoe line.

What about the gender-fluid movement in music now, with artists like Perfume Genius and Young Thug -- has it influenced the fashion world?

Young Thug -- we photographed him two or three years ago for CR Fashion Book. I was intrigued by the idea of a rapper wearing dresses. I love how Kurt Cobain would wear a dress like a girl [on the September 1993 cover of The Face]. But David Bowie was the first: changing all the time, even to the end.

Is he one of your favorite artists?

Bowie could do everything: music, fashion, acting. Bowie is one of my icons, and yes, my bad English comes from listening to “Life on Mars” when I was young. He was fearless, the first one putting on makeup and coloring his hair red. He opened the gate for everyone dressing androgynously.

Which designers have the most rock attitude?

Rick Owens, always, from his clothes on the runway to what he and his wife, Michèle Lamy, wear. Also, Shayne Oliver from Hood by Air -- his clothes have it, and we all want to see what he will do with Helmut Lang. [Oliver is reportedly doing a spring 2018 collection for the label.]

What’s next for fashion and music?

Hard to say. When I first started working with musicians, I was frightened because I didn't know them, but they are very lovely people -- but very much individuals. It’s different than working with other stars. Maybe it’s because everything they wear is specific to them, and they have to project their personality out to a big audience. When you perform, you must get confidence from that -- you have a way of walking or acting that is you alone, unlike an actor, who is a character. It’s a different head. Their genius, in part, comes out in the way they wear clothes.

How does this display manifest in artists-cum-style icons like Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé and West?

Pharrell is about mixing prints and shapes, and having fun elements like Chanel jewelry and belts with lots of colorful pieces; he has a more playful style than others. Beyoncé has embraced her femininity, and during her pregnancy she was pushing the limits of it -- she was the goddess of fertility, the queen of femininity. Kanye is the ultimate in cool and the epitome of not trying too hard -- just like his brand.

Is it hard for musicians like West to cross over to fashion?

It’s smart what Kanye is doing with Yeezy. His first show in Paris was difficult, but he has found his niche, and now we’re all waiting to see what comes next. Yeezy is an important show now.

Black leather pants are a classic rocker look. What’s the best source?

Lost Art by Jordan Betten in New York [] will do the measurements and create couture leather pants for you, male or female.

This article originally appeared in the Sep. 2 issue of Billboard.