Carine Roitfeld is a dreamer. The former Vogue Paris editor and founder of CR Fashion Book, has scratched every bare surface of fashion and is now on to her latest venture: fragrances. Today, the celebrated fashion icon debuts Carine Roitfeld Parfums, an eponymous and genderless perfume line.
To mark the launch, Roitfeld held a star-studded party this weekend at an immersive pop-up store in SoHo, with the likes of Kris Jenner, Tom Ford, Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, Halima Aden, and Tracee Ellis Ross in attendance.
The inspiration behind the coveted scents continued to be a hot topic of discussion throughout the event. "Seven lovers across seven cities," announced placards across the party — seven because she says it's her "lucky number," and the choice of cities are rooted in a special memory she has associated with each.
Just in February, Roitfeld teased the release of her fragrances by having 400 naked posters of her slapped across Paris. While that may come off as a provocative marketing tactic on surface, Roitfeld says it had a deeper meaning. "All the cities that inspire the scents are very important for me, as are the names of the lovers because they come from someone I respect, or the name of my father, or my first muse," she says. "There's a lot of soul in each perfume. When you create something with so much honesty, it feels almost like being naked because you're baring your soul."
But that's Carine Roitfeld as a brand. In person, she maintains a sort of mysterious introversion. With Carine Roitfeld Parfums, she offers a window to her otherwise concealed personality. "Honesty," she insists is at the heart of her new venture. Although inspired by real people, the "seven lovers," Roitfeld assures, are for most part fictional.
"When you create something with so much honesty, it feels almost like being naked because you're baring your soul."
Now, with Roitfeld's immersive pop-up store open through May 12 in SoHo , she talks to PAPER about each of her seven lovers, her dreams, and, of course, her fragrances.
How did this perfume line come to be?
Carine Roitfeld: We started about nine years ago. I decided on the idea of a perfume when I left Vogue. Perfume has always been very important for me, and it has always been my dream to have my own line, but I didn't know how to do it. So I met Tom Ford and told him about it, and he introduced me to Frederic [Pignault, VP of prestige fragrance sales at International Flavors & Fragrances], and said he could help me. Frederic had confidence in me and that's the way we started this journey.
I decided to launch seven different fragrances because seven has always been my lucky number. They're inspired by lovers because behind anything I am doing there's always a story. The perfumes paint a fantasy about seven lovers from seven different cities. It's a way to remember and reminisce our love.
The whole journey started with a question I had for myself — a question of process. I'm not going to question why it takes two or three hours, and I try not to lie. Sometimes you're inclined to be more interesting, you don't tell the truth, but this time I was very honest. So we started off tough. Each scent has a bit of me. I know it definitely wasn't easy to work with me, as someone who knows nothing about perfume. All I had was an idea of a person, and I wanted to translate it to a smell. I didn't know what I was going to do, and I learned a lot with all of them.
Yeah, you were telling me about how it's been years in the making.
CR: Yes, because first of all, it's not my only job. So it takes time. "Vladimir" was finished one year ago. It took me very long to be sure. I wanted to be happy with it, and my nose is not easy to please [Laughs]. I had to learn. I tried a number of different scents to understand what I wanted and what smelled best on my skin. It was a long process. Then we had to design the bottle, find a name, do the calligraphy for the name, create the packaging. It was taking so much time. I had no idea it would end up being so big.
"Classic French perfumes are not just perfumes, they're a way of thinking."
Was that the toughest part of making the perfumes?
Pascal: The good part, if I can just say so, is starting on the creative side of the perfume and having no idea of what actually goes behind making this creative project come about. I think if we all knew what it was...
Carine: ...we wouldn't do it.
Pascal: Yeah, if we knew what it took, we probably would have done it differently. I think we're very happy and that's what makes this project special. For example, we only discovered how expensive each one of those perfumes were because of the quality of the raw material used in creating each one of them. This is something we've only learned after seven years in the process. We didn't start working with a specific dollar amount because we had no idea what it was, or that we should even have one.
Carine: Perfume is a strong addiction. It's how you memorize them, it's how you remember them, it's how you see them. You can remember someone for 50 years because of perfume, you know? You hate someone because you hate his or her perfume. It's why my own perfumes are very strong. It's not a cologne, it's perfume, and I want people to remember it and remember you when you wear it. It is a French tradition, too. I was raised in a country where perfume is very important. Classic French perfumes are not just perfumes, they're a way of thinking. It's part of the look.
Let's talk more specifically about the perfumes you created.
Carine: So let me start with "Aurelien," from Paris. It was the first one we did. Along with it, the first challenge for me was to stop wearing my own perfume — the one I created, the one I was wearing for 20 years. It's a mix of YSL Opium Opens a New Window and Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger. I had to stop wearing it to start wearing my own perfume. That was the first big challenge. It was the first one I decided to wear, and it was the one that would look a bit like what I was wearing, in a way. It's very personal, I don't go after commercial appeal. I hate so many scents that are very commercial.
Then there's "George," my London lover. It's a combination between the Sex Pistols and The Royal Family. It's a tryst between French and English, which has always been very difficult. So let's just say, it's a difficult lover. I knew a George in Paris, it's a very popular name. It's the name of a king. It's very special.
Then there's "Lawrence," from Dubai. We used oud to create this one. It is something that the country really likes. It's very, very strong. I think it's a sexual perfume. Why "Lawrence"? I think because I loved Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole with the blue eyes and the white scarf. When I first watched it, all these people, woman or man, were wearing a scarf around their face. It was my first memory, so I decided to call it "Lawrence."
Was there a real person behind it?
Carine: There was always someone behind the perfume. "Aurélien" is the name of my muse. And when I think about UAE, I think about "Lawrence." It's like an homage to this film. King George of course was the inspiration behind "George," but it was also my uncle's name. I love this name. If I could have another son, I think maybe I would call him George. It's very beautiful in all languages.
Do you have a favorite lover?
Carine: I'll tell you at the end! [Laughs] Moving on to "Orson," from New York. This is dedicated to Orson Welles, who unfortunately I never met, but I loved him as an actor, director, and storyteller. The name Orson isn't very popular either, I think. You don't see a lot of Orsons today. In New York, there's Uptown and places like The Carlyle Hotel with these beautiful flowers when you come in kind of like in his films. But my lover is an artist living downtown, which is a city of its own. So, it's a complex mix of two cities.
Do you have a favorite Orson Welles film?
Carine: Citizen Kane. When I was young, at dinner we were not watching TV like all of you did because I'm a bit older. We were listening to radio. There was a famous radio broadcasting each night about the end of the world called War of the Worlds, and it was created by Orson Welles. People actually thought the next day would be the end of the world. There were a lot of phone calls to the radio, "We have to leave!" people would say. It was crazy. So yeah, I knew of him before I even went to movies, because of his radio program. I remember it created a big panic actually. We all trusted him. I was maybe eight years old when I listened to that with my mom and brother. I'll never forget. His voice was phenomenal.
Tell me about "Kar-wai," from Hong Kong.
Carine: Oh, yes! I love In the Mood for Love, like everyone, no? I was lucky to have met director [Wong] Kar-wai. So this perfume signifies my Chinese lover. This is the creation of Pascal, and I didn't know at the time, but he spent a lot of time in Hong Kong. He was working there, so he totally understands the combination between the little streets of Hong Kong and this bit of chic, that comes from the family of Kar-wai, too. It's two different worlds together. For this scent, I went for something light that is still strong, so it was another problem to solve. We needed the transparency without having something that is light and pretty.
"It's very personal, I don't go after commercial appeal. I hate so many scents that are very commercial."
What about "Sebastian," from Buenos Aires?
Carine: I love Buenos Aires, it's a very European city. It's beautiful. This is the sweetest one, I think. We wanted a classic perfume because it holds a bit of nostalgia for me. It's very Carlos Gardel, a very strong scent. "Sebastian" I know is very this way too, it's more of the selfish lover.
Pascal: It's the idea of the dance, the tango which is dear to Carine and the passion of the lover. This contrast between life and death and love and hate. The red of your lipstick, and the black. It's the tango. So it's really about the rigor of the dance and how disciplined you need to be, but at the same time you're a little bit crazy about it.
Carine: So essentially, Sebastian is one of my best friends. He is not a lover, I just love his name, and him as a person.
I feel like that's probably your favorite one or your least favorite one.
Carine: Ah, look at you! Depending on the day, and what he did to me. [Laughs] But you're right, maybe this is my favorite one.
"Vladimir," from St Petersburg takes me back to memories my father and me. This was very difficult, but it's my version. It's more difficult to bring to life, as a perfume, because it really was important in terms of the name. This perfume reminds me of a lot of things: my Russian grandma, my passion for dance, everything speaks to me. I remember visiting St Petersburg as a child and there are so many little things that stayed with me — from the incense of the church to the man walking bare feet in the snow, the ballet, and all the exuberance. Even the cold. So all of that comes together to form "Vladimir." It was very difficult to find it because I really wanted my son, Vladimir, to want to wear it. That was another challenge for me, so I finally I said to him, "OK, Valdimir. I give you the baby. you have to wear it and you have to like it. You're going to work with Pascal and you're going to decide, both of you, what will be the perfect 'Vladimir.'"
So are you pleased with the result, Vladimir?
Vladimir: Absolutely. I'm very happy that we took our time. I was actually happy from the very beginning, Three years ago, I started working with Pascal on the creative side of perfumes, which was different for me. I was brought on to manage the business side and not the perfume side. But because this one had my name, it was such a personal blink of an eye from my mom to me that we decided for me to spend a little bit more time on it. I worked on the process with Pascal for almost three years.
Is this your favorite scent?
Vladimir: It's the one I wear every day.
Carine: [Vladimir] can be a great business partner and have a good sense of everything, which is what's great about him. He can choose a good picture, and he can finalize a perfume. He's more than a business partner, it's a really good partnership that we have. He made my dream happen when he joined me as a companion on this journey.
I'm the dreamer and he's the one behind the scenes that makes it happen, and it's a lot a lot of work — to find a way to sell it, to find a distribution, to pay everyone, to find the people and the factory for the bottle.
The packaging of the bottle is special too because each name is a handwritten like you would see in a letter. The perfumes come with the story behind each lover in French of course. And in English, so you know...
Carine: Yes, of course.
"For me, perfume is something you have to keep a long time. It's your soul, it's your personality and you have to find the right one."
I also wanted to ask if you had any favorite scent-related memories?
Carine: I'm thinking about my mother wearing perfume. She died 50 years ago and I still remember it, it's a very strong smell. When I see someone wearing it, I see my Babushka immediately. It's the kind of feeling I get when I arrive at Toulon, the airport by Cannes. You can immediately smell the pine trees, even inside the airport and on the tarmac and you say, "I'm in the South of France."
Smell is very important. It could be a place, it could be a person. It's very dangerous, too. You could not like someone because of the smell of the person. I don't think it's something, personally, that you can change each day. For me, perfume is something you have to keep a long time. It's your soul, it's your personality and you have to find the right one.
It also doesn't have a gender, it could be for a man or a woman. My stories are about men because my fantasy is about men, but I think everyone can wear this perfume. That's it, that's my story. It's was very honest, not the kind bigger commercial brands would want. We have had to take some risks, and spend a lot of money to make it but it's a special and personal venture. I didn't change a color, a name, a scent, everything is the way I bring it. I'm a dreamer.
I don't want people to think it's a joke, it's a really great perfume. Maybe I have to make another perfume for mass audience because I love to sell too, this is my dream. My big dream is to be at Walmart, you see?
Vladimir: We had opportunities with big brands and licenses like Esteé Lauder, but this was very personal.
Carine: They wanted to change us.
Vladimir: They'd say, "All the bottles shouldn't be the same," or they would want a different name, or say, "This one's too hard to pronounce." It was very important to her to have something so personal that was completely her own because this was her first solo brand. I mean, It would've been the easy way out, it would've been done... probably quicker, but you know.
Photos courtesy of Carine Roitfeld Parfums / Launch party photos courtesy of Matteo Prandoni/BFA