French Woman Carine Roitfeld Knows Sensuality Is Not a Sin

In February Emmanuelle Alt, new editor-in-chief of VOGUE Paris, talked to VOGUE US about her plans for the magazine.

“More French girls, more French lifestyle… . I always want a relationship with reality: nothing too sexy or provocative or fashion victim. Even I love to dream, I want the magazine to feature a girl who looks like she belongs in real life. We are French — we can show smoking, nudity. We have no boundaries, and it can be good to have them.”

Marta Español photographed by Santiago Esteban for Elle Russia, February 2011

My heart dropped when I read Alt’s words. In the global fight to control women’s bodies, France as a nation and Carine Roitfeld as VOGUE Paris editor-in-chief and sensual libertine have said ‘no deal’ to tsk-tsk talk that modesty is always a woman’s best virtue.

Interviewed recently by SPIEGEL, Roitfeld said that fashion doesn’t let people dream any more. Defending some of her bolder journeys into provocation, we hear a vintage Roitfeld response to being called the woman who invented ‘porn chic’.

Yes, of course. Fashion has to be given free rein and only a small number of restrictions. I never used any photos that my children shouldn’t see; that was my benchmark. The little girls wearing makeup were never naked; it said “No Smoking” under the pregnant woman; and why shouldn’t old people kiss? You must be allowed to play. Anything else is terribly boring. I’ve also painted white models black and later red, which (the French anti-racist NGO) SOS Racisme complained about.

Did women strip in every issue of Carine Roitfeld’s French fashion and style manifesto? Not really. Did an element of provocation hang in the editorial air? Always. Did Roitfeld cause an appropriate reader meter gasp on occasion?

Of course — it was her job as editor of VOGUE Paris.

Lara Stone lensed by Mario Sorrenti for Vogue Paris February 2011

At 94, the famous French sculptor Louise Bourgeois was making waves in Seattle a few years back, with the unveiling of her naked father and son fountain. This ‘decadent’ artist woman actually embroidered a handkerchief with the memorable reflection: “I have been to hell and back, and let me tell you, it was wonderful.”

X-Rated French Metro Station

In January 2008 I attended the erotic exhibit ‘Hell at the Library. Eros in Secret‘. A huge, multi-story X-mark lit up the side of the National Library, inviting all of Paris to partake in its erotic pleasures.

Can you imagine American tax payer funds being used to doll up a metro station, announcing the coming arrival of a sex exhibit? Just a decade ago, US Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered that the Spirit of Justice’s right breast be covered in the nation’s capital.

In Paris, the collection of 350 sexually explicit literary works, manuscripts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, film clips, book covers, even calling cards and cardboard pop-ups told a very different story about erotica through the ages.

Erotic imaginations continued to fuel European minds centuries ago, while witches, branded as lusty for a taste of Satan’s penis, burned at the stake. 

Tales of naughty nuns, lustful women, and detailed illustrations of men pleasuring the private parts of noble women defied the lie that only modern civilization is morally corrupt.

Conservatives in all religions say that feminists and independent women have joined the pornographers in destroying the culture with our skin-baring ways.

Consulting on a high-end erotic website a few years, I personally studied the locations of our viewers  based on ip addresses. Mesa, Arizona — upscale home of America’s largest Mormon community —  topped New York; Greenwich, Connecticut; and London.

Human’s pursuit of the erotic is ageless and Roitfeld understands this reality.

Carine Roitfeld‘s VOGUE Paris existed in alignment with the Paris French metro station, Louise Bourgeois and Hell at the Library. At times she used the pages of Vogue Paris as a lens to life behind closed doors, the sensual fantasies of a nation and a world interested in watching them.

Vogue Paris April 2011 Issue

Emmanuelle Alt cannot be judged on her first issue of VOGUE Paris, which was a bitter disappointment for me.

The April issue feels like Marie Claire or Madame Figaro, safe and secure and perhaps not as well executed. Madame Figaro can take a bourgeois concept like weddings, and present an editorial with artistic drama. There was little drama in the April issue of VOGUE, Paris.

Did I say demure? Yes, the debut issue was definitely demure. Vogue Paris, formerly the global beacon of sensuality, seems to be hopping on board with the Republicans, telling women to put away the hot pants and zip up like good girls.

Why is this abrupt change necessary? All reports about Roitfeld’s financial performance as editor in chief are that she produced significant revenue increases for the title, which has a circulation around 130,000, but much bigger global influence.

Even if Alt wants to pursue a more discrete sensual vision for her VOGUE Paris — which is her right– there are clever ways to do it, without resorting to prim and proper. There was no real twist in her first issue of VOGUE Paris, nothing out of line, not a bit of Diana Vreeland-inspired revolt — with one exception.

Only Isabeli Fontana, lensed by David Sims in ‘Wanted’ had an ounce of strong editorial character and drama. There was no nudity, but I loved the editorial, writing:

I don’t care about the fashion just this minute . I want to bottle Isabeli’s spirit in the fight to retain our rights as women in America, while the Egyptian women form their own political party before they all end up under burqas. I may pack this image in my pocket, given the fact that I don’t pack a pistol like Sarah Palin.

‘Wanted’, an American Western Grapes of Wrath Bonnie & Clyde editorial was a home run. Gisele Bündchenwas milk toast and Siri Tollerod downright chaste. I, too, am happy to see Hans Feurer in Vogue Paris, but Anja Rubik in ‘Immaculée Séduction‘ hardly looks like a Feurer woman. The very name of the editorial summed up the new mood of VOGUE Paris under Alt.

Hans Feurer images

I don’t buy the argument that VOGUE Paris must look like the work of fashion bloggers.

The challenge is one of editorial balance and VOGUE Paris should be in the lead, executing better than other fashion media and for heavens sake, fashion bloggers and independent artists, who are doing a great job in many cases.

VOGUE Paris must excel above indy talent or the magazine has a big hiccup long-term. Just this week I posted five works that blew me away artistically, including Andrej Pejic’s ‘Dark Narcissus’ by Alexander Hankoff.

Andrej and Alexander, and the entire creative team, delivered one of the strongest 2:20 minutes of my career in fashion. Indy talent is making their own publications, editorials and strong fashion statements. As a businessperson, I disagree that this is the moment for VOGUE Paris to go real and mainstream, because indy creative talent is raising the editorial bar quickly.

VOGUE Paris Doesn’t Need a Fashion Burqa

For me fashion and politics are inseparable, and I know that many French women don’t agree. Yes, Karl Lagerfeld calls his shades his burqa, but for millions of women, burqas are not a glamorous fashion accessory.

Reflecting on the April issue of Vogue Paris, I said ‘basta’. This is the country that has outlawed burqas and all other face coverings for women and men in public. What is with all this purity, even reflected in the titles of editorials?

I’m tired of the accusations that the French burqa debate is solely about Nicholas Sarkozy appeasing the nationalists.

For all the naysayers who argue that burqas are a matter of free choice, just today the Muslim Council of Britain said that not covering the face is a ‘shortcoming’ and suggested that any Muslims who advocate being uncovered could be guilty of rejecting Islam.

In a statement published on its website the MCB, warns: “We advise all Muslims to exercise extreme caution on this issue, since denying any part of Islam may lead to disbelief.’ Translated: Muslim women, get under your burqas and keep quiet.

The majority of Muslim women who make the case for wearing burqas are Western women converts to Islam who explain that it’s liberating not being a sex object all day long. That may be true, but don’t tell me that millions of women worldwide willing choose to wear their burqas. In Saudi Arabia, you can still be stoned to death for showing a glimpse of ankle.

Lubna Hussein speaks at press conference with French Minister Bernard Kouchner, Nov 2009

I’ve been involved in international women’s rights for some time now and the burqa debate is not new for me. When journalist Lubna Hussein, facing a flogging in Sudan for wearing too tight trousers, fled Sudan into Egypt under a burqa in a moment of poetic justice, where did she go? To Paris, where she was welcomed by the government and given refuge.

Eight Arab men came to me for help in Lubna’s case. I expressed concerns that perhaps my writing could hurt Lubna, because I embrace sexuality so positively. ‘No, Anne. We want you just the way you are,’ they said.

I understand and respect Emmanuelle Alt’s comments about the importance of boundaries, especially in today’s global world. BUT, I hope that she doesn’t shy away from the nudity too often, because the French are leaders in standing up for women’s sexuality. Yes, French women have justifiable complaints about their own culture, but France is miles ahead of the rest of the world.

The religious battle over women’s bodies is gearing up as never before and western women are being damned, too. While the Vatican investigates American nuns for being too permissive, Congress debates a new abortion-health care provision that will allow American women entitled to a legal abortion to die in an emergency ward, if the hospital or physician doesn’t want to perform an abortion.

The Utah legislature passed a law making miscarriage a felony, and thankfully the governor vetoed it without enough votes for an override. South Dakota backed down from a law that would have allowed a husband to kill his wife for assisting their daughter in getting a legal abortion, calling his crime justifiable homicide.

France As a Beacon of Sensual Liberty

Having spent endless time in France in my career, I know that French women are among the most well-balanced creatures on the planet. With significant freedoms and a spiritual attachment to religion, French women are leaders in international women’s rights activism.

Because she’s less defined in her own head by patriarchal forces than American women are, French women are freer to follow their own paths.

In writing these words, I don’t dismiss the challenges that French women still have in their pursuit of equality. But I feel strongly that French women must push the body politics issues forward against the growing religious forces that are determined to control women’s bodies permanently.

In all my years in France, I had only one episode that was sexually shocking in a country with so much sexual freedom. The vast majority of French women are discreet and already exhibit significant restraint in their relationships with sex, food and  everyday living.

Is French Culture Changing?

Karl Lagerfeld says that fashion is tired of nudity, but I say we must press on tastefully and with purpose beyond sexual titillation.

In November 2010, LVMH NOWNESS published a nude Eniko Mihalik in ‘Eniko Gets Her Rocks On’, so I don’t buy the argument that Bernard Arnault objects to nude provocation in VOGUE Paris. Did he raise a tastefulness question about the December issue? Perhaps.

I’ve rejected Terry Richardson’s photography always, and I know that Carine Roitfeld advanced him. We can’t agree on everything.

Richardson’s ‘every woman wants to be a porn star’ mantra is now openly rejected by young people and most people in fashion. Opposing Richardson’s pornified approach to sexy editorials is easy when other photographers are expressing nudity – not with a frat boy mentality – but with beauty and artistry.

At Yale University last October, pledges of Delta Kappa Epsilon’s fraternity that has produced five American presidents, walked towards the Yale Women’s Center chanting ‘No means yes, yes means anal. Fucking sluts. My name is Jack, I’m a necrophilliac, I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen.’

In Terry Richardson’s mind, this is just boys having fun, right? It’s a harmless bit of fun at women’s expense at America’s premier university, dedicated to cultivating our future masters of the universe.

In this global battle for women’s bodies, Carine Roitfeld is my rock of Gibralter, the editorial heroine of the fight that lies ahead for women everywhere and especially in America, where the Conservative tide is turning against women.

If American women lose our rights, I can’t imagine how Arab women will gain theirs. Roitfeld has been a torch bearer for women, and I want her vision continued — if adapted — under Emmanuelle Alt as editor of Vogue Paris.

Vogue Paris is now an international publication, one that could advance French influence and attitudes about women’s emancipation worldwide, especially if Conde Nast would consider the unthinkable and publish it in multiple languages online.

I don’t need Emmanuelle Alt to show me women’s everyday reality; I need her to show women a way out of it, expressing with reassurance what French women know about living, loving and pushing the sensual envelope at every age – because they really do.

There is no need for a significant course correction in the number of bosoms displayed in Vogue Paris.

VOGUE Paris has been a beacon of hope for thinking women, and I pray that it becomes even stronger in communicating the lifestyle of Smart Sensuality women who are sexy, intelligent, spiritual and at peace with our bodies, embracing a positive sensuality from food to flowers and yes, sexuality, too.

Emmanuelle Alt should not dismiss this strength in the character of French women with her own editorial burqa. Sensuality is not a sin, and French women are leaders worldwide in spreading this critical gospel.