Every now and then, someone comes along who singularly captures the mood of the moment. From their look to their lifestyle, they somehow embody the zeitgeist. This season, that woman is Julia Restoin Roitfeld: art director, model and new mother, whose brand of timeless French Brigitte Bardot style chimes perfectly with the sexy 1960s aesthetic seen everywhere at the AW13 shows. It’s little wonder she is the star of two international campaigns this season: first for Givenchy, alongside her mother, former French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld, and actress Amanda Seyfried; second, for hot New York jewellery designer Eddie Borgo. Even the campaigns seem to sum her up: the Parisian ingénue who went to Manhattan and had the whole city fall in love with her.
But it’s not just her beautiful face and eye for style that make Julia the poster girl for the new season. She is also the embodiment of the successful modern working mother, finding ways to be creative and fulfilled while being present in her child’s life. Julia’s latest venture is Romy & The Bunnies, a website she describes as ‘a style guide for mothers and expectant mothers’, which she launched in March to the delight of her well-connected crew of supporters. Named after her one-year-old daughter – and with the visual finesse of a boutique fashion title – it is the perfect showcase for her artistic talents. And with plans to develop it into a lifestyle brand (‘I look at Martha Stewart as an example’), if there has been evidence of her mother’s influence in her career to date, she was obviously listening to Papa, Christian Restoin, too. As the founder of fashion label Equipment (he sold the business in 1998), ‘he may have had a clothing brand, but he would only talk about business,’ she says.
We are sipping peppermint tea in the sun-dappled courtyard of The Maritime Hotel in Chelsea, New York, where she tells me the idea for the site came out of a conversation with Carine. While she claims not to have cared ‘at all’ about work while she was carrying her daughter, if anything, motherhood has been the perfect opportunity to reframe her career. ‘I was taking some time off from work after Romy was born, and my mum was like, “How can you marry your experience with your new passion, your baby?”’ The site regularly features mothers with sensational careers (model Helena Christensen and stylist Rachel Zoe were some of the first women she interviewed), Julia more than holding her own among them. She also claims to be in her ‘best shape ever’ since giving birth to Romy in May last year (the happy event was announced to the world via Twitter by NYC fashion insider Derek Blasberg, who added a note of congratulation to ‘the chicest granny ever!’). Today, Julia’s glossy but undone brunette hair frames a face devoid of make-up, helping her seem younger than her 32 years.
If French women are all about ‘effortless chic’ – that seemingly innate ability to dress simultaneously for oneself and for men, and to stop traffic with a sultry glance – then Julia epitomises that stereotype. Dressed in a peasant top, classic black flats and a denim miniskirt, her ‘diaper bag’ is a Chanel shopper.
At the MATCHESFASHION.COM photoshoot the day after we meet, she is swaddled in a white robe and chats away to Carine on her iPhone while her nails are painted the perfect shade of barely-there beige (a custom blend, just for today). She is exuberantly excited about a patent-black skirt by Jonathan Saunders; ‘It’s a total must-have for autumn/winter. I love the whole modern take on the 1960s next season, but that skirt… I need to find it right away!’
It’s important to add that coming from Julia, the term ‘must-have’ has nothing to do with trends. In fact, ‘please don’t ask me about trends,’ she says, almost as soon as we sit down at The Maritime. ‘I’m into buying clothes that make me feel pretty, that flatter me, but I have never cared about having the latest thing, or buying into the “right” brand.’ If anything, the biggest lesson she learned from her mother when it comes to fashion, is that ‘she’s really true to her own style. When she goes shopping she makes brands fit her look, rather than the other way around.’
Which is not to say Julia doesn’t love to shop. ‘I’m addicted to online shopping,’ she confesses, with a slight roll of the eyes, her Parisian accent as thick as whipped cream, but her voice pitched sweet and high, like a girl’s. ‘I do it while Romy’s sleeping, when I’m in the office… I’ll see something on Facebook, or a blog and just click through and buy.’
Back to her childhood, one can only imagine the scenes of dressing-up box heaven growing up with Carine – but Julia insists she had no idea just how influential her mother was until she arrived in New York at Parsons, having transferred her Design and Management studies from Parsons Paris. ‘My tutor asked, “Are you Roitfeld, as in Carine Roitfeld?” When I said yes, he asked if she would come and do a lecture for the students. I remember she was just starting to get big and she was so intimidated. But afterwards everybody was like, “Wow, your mum is so cool”.’
As a child, Julia says she loved her Disney dresses (‘my mum had to keep buying my Minnie Mouse dress in bigger sizes as I got older’), while Carine preferred to dress her children – Julia has one younger brother, Vladimir, an art curator – in vintage finds picked up on her early styling trips to Japan, when she was working for magazines like now defunct cult title The Face. ‘She never dressed us in labels, she didn’t want us to be defined by brands – ironic but true!’ But once a stylist, always a stylist – ‘we were only allowed vanilla ice-cream, never chocolate or berry, in case our clothes got stained.’
Unlike today’s fashion-obsessed generation of teenage blogging queens, Julia was more into music than fashion, growing up. ‘My adolescent years were all about BritPop, bands like The Stone Roses,’ she says. ‘I wore my underwear popping out of my jeans like All Saints, and was obsessed with the London look. I was really into Adidas Gazelles.’ She did manage to star in an ad campaign for A.P.C. aged just 14 (and delights in telling me that she recently – post-Romy – got back into the jeans she was given as payment: ‘I had to call and tell my mum!’), but rather than scanning magazines for fashion tips, ‘I would cut them up to make collages,’ she says, hinting at her future career as an art director. As for labels: ‘the only thing I was aware of from the world of high fashion was Kate Moss in the CK One campaign, because it was my perfume.’
It was only when family friend Tom Ford took over as creative director at Gucci in 1994, ‘that I started to become aware of big brands. The “G” logo was everywhere, and that sparked my interest in catwalk fashion.’ Mario Testino, then in the fledgling stages of his stellar career, was another regular dinner guest chez Roitfeld, ‘and I used to love going on his shoots with my mum, because there was always this great, fun energy. I realised he was becoming big when he shot the Spice Girls for US Vogue [in 1998] I remember my brother had his photo taken with Scary Spice and I was speaking to Posh, who was actually really nice. I was like, “Mario’s working with celebrities – wow!”’
Her friends – fashion insiders like casting director Natalie Joos, V Magazine editor Stephen Gan and the stylist Julia Von Boehm (‘who lives in my building and has two kids and always looks super sexy!’) are happy to have her back. ‘For a while, people were like, “C’mon, get your life back – you’ve been a mum all summer!” I was like, “I’m a mum for the rest of my life now…”’ Enter some new additions to her social calendar. ‘We had a playdate with Miranda Kerr the other day, and she is just flawless. Definitely an inspiration.’
Of course, balancing a vibrant creative life with motherhood is another trick she learned from Carine. ‘She was pregnant very young, when her career wasn’t her main thing. Styling only really took off for her when my brother and I were more independent, but she still took us on every school holiday, came to every show. She was very present. She showed me that it was possible, and also that there will be plenty of time to build my career later in my life as well.’ Which sounds as close to having it all as it’s likely to get.
Visit Julia Restoin Roitfeld’s website Romyandthebunnies.com
A few times in my life I've had moments of clarity where the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think. - Tom Ford