There’s a Sympathy For The Devil theme underlying the eye-popping fall edition of Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book, which attempts nothing less than to cast a flattering revisionist light on one of history’s most hated women.
The 9th edition of the former Vogue France editor’s upscale fashion bible, which she calls her favourite to date, is devoted to rehabilitating and re-framing the image of Marie Antoinette, whom Carine insists was both a fashion trendsetter and victim, too — wrongly vilified for the crime of having extravagant tastes.
“I wanted to show that she is not just a villain to be despised or a muse to be channeled,” Carine. “She is a prototype for contemporary fame, body, beauty, celebrity and femininity. … I wanted to capture that sense of attraction and repulsion — the fantasy of glamour but also the poison and prison of femininity and society.”
That’s a challenging thesis to support … and a bit misleading, too. This edition of Fashion Book is actually less about historic vs. modern beauty ideals than it is about fashion snobbery in general.
The centrepiece of the issue is a startling, brilliant, witty and slightly bitchy photoshoot of Rihanna by Terry Richardson, himself a kind of jester in the court of haute couture.
With a dismissive don’tgiveafuck gaze and puffing on a cigar, Riri models an assortment of very high-end showpiece lingerie and clothing that the masses can only envy. The styling is exquisite and the lingerie fashions — including Mimi Holliday, Fleur of England, Angela Friedman, Rosamosario and I.D. Sarrieri — impeccable, though perhaps a bit de trop.
Which, as the photo of Riri giving you the middle finger while wearing a Givenchy Haute Couture dress that probably costs $10,000 makes clear, is precisely the point.
Carine says she sees parallels between the misunderstood Queen of France and pop music’s self-appointed bad girl because of the latter’s “unapologetic attitude that inspires and fascinates.”
But the parallels go deeper than Rihanna’s girl-power message and her status as “an icon of authenticity” (Carine’s words). The world-conquering celebrity is both revered and somewhat resented in her native Barbados, where the average full-time worker earns less than $15,000 USD yearly (2009 data) and where every girl wishes they could be her. If the island nation had a queen who both inspired and stirred unrest, it would be Rihanna.
But let’s state the obvious: the real contemporary analogue to Marie Antoinette isn’t a high-living pop star, it’s Carine Roitfeld herself — and don’t think she doesn’t know it.
“Everything done by her and to her has influenced society’s concept of womanhood, for better or worse,” Carine says about the French queen, though she could easily (and legitimately) be talking about herself.
Carine has “an air of royalty” (as she describes Rihanna) and has faced the guillotine a few times herself in her legendary (and polarizing) 40-year career as a fashion tastemaker nonpareil. During that time she has worked singlemindedly to elevate the bourgeois habits of the fashion-buying public and propped up dozens of aspiring designers in that cause. Like many fashion editors, she’s been dogged by accusations of elitism and, like her prototype Marie, has ignored them all.
Viewed in such a context, this edition of CR Fashion Book comes across as both a validation of the high-fashion tribe of which Carine is queen, and a bit of transparent legacy-polishing too.
Perhaps Marie Antoinette never did say “Let them eat cake” to the starving masses, as Carine reminds us here. But to those people who are sick of the flimsy, cheap, unoriginal, foreign-made, fast-fashion that dominates today’s clothing market, Carine might offer this advice: Let them wear couture.