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Fashion on Film: Movie Review: Mademoiselle C

Fashion Icon Carine Roitfeld looks chic in every frame of the fashion documentary, Mademoiselle C. She has that effortless, Parisian style that’s artful in its simplicity and impeccable in its elegance. At 58, she’s aging gracefully, while many of her American counterparts rely on help of the surgical kind. It’s easy to imagine why she was the muse of Tom Ford, stylist for Photographer Mario Testino, and editor of Vogue Paris. What’s hard to imagine is why little more about her seems worthy of a documentary.

The plot of Mademoiselle C should have provided more of an opportunity for a dramatic narrative. Filmmaker Fabien Constant turns the lens on Roitfeld at the moment in 2011 when she is leaving Vogue Paris after 10 years and reinventing herself. The film chronicles the making of the first issue of highly anticipated CR Fashion Book, which carries Roitfeld’s initials and is the brainchild of Stephan Gan, founder of Visionaire, and Roitfeld herself.

Following some backstory and history about Roitfeld that includes her role in creating the sensational porno-chic trend in the 90s for Gucci, we hear Roitfeld’s vision for the inaugural issue of CR. She wants to show “key moments of a woman’s life -- birth, christening, first love, the boyfriend’s betrayal, pregnancy, death, divine protection.” To this point in the film, Roitfeld has been presented as a forward-thinking visionary who enjoys pushing boundaries. Her concept for the magazine strikes us as both a reductive and reactionary view of women. However, we’re willing to suspend judgment still. We’ve watched enough fashion documentaries to know that we don’t particularly have to like what fashion industry leaders say (Anna Wintour, anyone?) to respect their creative genius or output. Perhaps, Roitfeld will create a magazine so undeniably transcendent that we will forgive the fact that it started with such a narrow premise. Unfortunately, she doesn’t.

It’s impossible to take a photo shoot that features Kate Upton in a slutty Dorothy Halloween outfit, holding a baby and a donkey on a leash alongside a man in a bear costume as anything even remotely resembling what Roitfeld describes it as being -- “an image of maternity...It’s a moment of life, of joy...Everything I wanted -- a sort of rebirth.” Then, there’s Roitfeld’s take on baptism. A Mia Farrowesque model faints with (fake) baby in arms, while surrounded by campy models turned nuns in a church ala Rosemary’s Baby. Or the guardian angel shoot that remains decidedly earthbound by offering us a model wearing feather wings (can someone say “Victoria Secret”?) It all seems rather silly, and we end up wondering why the army of people tasked to create Roitfeld’s visions doesn’t seem to be seeing what we’re seeing.

Apparently, the filmmaker didn’t either. He presents an incoherent picture of what goes into making a fashion magazine, and viewers would be better off watching The September Issue for a more fully realized version of the subject. Then, there’s a fawning look at Roitfeld’s glowing personal life that adds little to our understanding of why she’s a leader in the fashion industry. Even a hinted-at riff between Roitfeld and Conde Nast, publishers of Vogue Paris, is obsequiously glossed over and drained of dramatic tension. Instead, we see Roitfeld hobnobbing with Kayne West or hear that she’s looking forward to sitting next to James Franco at the Met Gala. The documentary is heavy on such glitzy celebrity sightings and name-droppings, which come across as lazy and gratuitous. Perhaps, giving us a sneak peek into Roitfeld glamour-filled life might have flown 20 years ago, but the internet now offers a surfeit of these kinds of images on a daily basis. And the footage certainly isn’t justification for a documentary, particularly when it’s presented without any context to make it meaningful other than a celebration of celebrity.

In the end, not much seems fresh or intriguing about Roitfeld, the magazine or the documentary. Mademoiselle C shows the fashion industry at its worst: lacking ideas and full of sycophants who will allow one of its leaders free rein to make bad choices, because they fear being on the wrong side of the bet. A more apt title for the film might have been The Empresses New Clothes.

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