Opening another chapter in her career and joining the global movement for greater racial inclusivity, Carine Roitfeld has named Lynette Nylander co-creative director and editorial director at large of CR Fashion Book, WWD has learned.
“If I want to be part of the issue, part of changing the system, then I need someone next to me with an authentic voice,” Roitfeld said, disclosing the hire in an exclusive interview, and describing the upcoming fall 2020 issue of the biannual title as one dedicated to community, culture and influence.
On her Instagram feed, Nylander bills herself as a writer, creative and editorial consultant, and a “funky homo sapien.” Freelance for the past three-and-a-half years, she has done editorial work for American Vogue, AnOther, Elle, Antidote, Dazed, Fader and Buffalo Zine. She has also done full-time stints as vice president of content at Alexander Wang, as deputy editor of Teen Vogue and I-D Magazine, and as managing editor of Industrie Magazine, according to her LinkedIn profile. Born in London, she studied fashion design and marketing at London College of Fashion and is now based in New York City.
While hardly a household name, Nylander was someone Roitfeld kept hearing about as she hunted for talent to help transform her media company at a tumultuous time in the culture and society.
Roitfeld was particularly impressed by a lengthy article Nylander wrote for Refinery29 in 2015 that called to task — in calm, constructive tones — a host of marquee fashion brands for wanton cultural appropriation.
“Collections were inspired by continents and countries and presented with none of their people,” she wrote. “Too often, fashion is not mindful at all, taking other people’s stories without giving them a chance to tell them….What the industry needs is representation, not tokenism, by prominent players.”
Enter Roitfeld, who offered Nylander the big job after several conversations over Zoom between Paris and New York.
“She opened my eyes, and she has a great voice.…I’m giving a lot of responsibility to Lynette, but I’m still there working together with the teams,” Roitfeld enthused. “I’m not stepping away.”
The women are racing to ready the fall issue to launch during Paris Fashion Week in early October, despite all the limitations on fashion shoots imposed by the coronavirus pandemic and August vacations in Europe, when many European brands and press offices shutter.
Interviewed at her sleek, sparsely furnished office on the Avenue Montaigne, Roitfeld was blunt that the months of lockdown in Paris, interrupting her usual frenzy of intercontinental travel and shoots, gave her lots of time to reflect, especially on the ramifications of the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, and other racially motivated violence.
An attempt to express solidarity by posting a photo of herself on Instagram embracing model Anok Yai landed her in hot water, mostly because of the all-thumbs caption: “Anok is not a Black woman, she is my friend, I missing!” Roitfeld was pilloried by the web site Diet Prada, and she admitted on Monday it was a painful episode for her and her family.
“I was really hurt,” she said, speaking about the controversy for the first time. “It’s really about my bad English sometimes — and it was not the right moment.”
Upon deeper reflection, Roitfeld realized the backlash against her was nothing compared to the pain Black people have endured due to inequality and police brutality. “I was not the one who got hurt; they got hurt — and I wanted to understand why,” she said.
Like many white Europeans standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Roitfeld binge-watched Jane Elliott lectures and Spike Lee movies and readily admitted she had much to learn.
“Before, I didn’t understand, for example, why you cannot put an Afro on a white girl. I would say, ‘Why? It’s just hair.’ But then you understand the Afro is a weapon. It was the weapon of Angela Davis during the first Black movement,” she said. “It’s about respect and understanding. You can’t just steal things.”
Yet Roitfeld has embraced all kinds of people over her storied career. In 2007, then editor in chief of French Vogue, she put Andre J., a transsexual, bearded Black party promoter and drag star, on the cover.
In 2017, at CR Fashion Book, Roitfeld was hailed as the first editor to put a model wearing a hijab on the cover, propelling the career of Somali-American beauty queen Halima Aden. Roitfeld subsequently cast Aden in fashion shows for Yeezy and Max Mara. The latter brand has consistently included Muslim models wearing head scarves in its fashion shows, and changed its backstage protocols so all models have privacy when undressing.
During the interview, Roitfeld was adamant that diversity and inclusion should not be seen as a trend, but as a base line. “This is about human people,” she stressed.
“I always pushed boundaries. This time, there are no more boundaries. It’s a new world,” Roitfeld said. “Times change and we have to go deeper. Fashion has a huge power. With fashion, you can really push and share a lot of ideas. We have the credibility and the power to change things more quickly than other industries.”
And in her mind, “if you want to change, the first thing is to share your magazine.”
While Roitfeld has long committed to discovering creatives and showcasing their talents in CR Fashion Book, she said the confinement allowed her to rediscover Paris, as well as a host of up-and-coming photographers, including ones from Germany, China and even Harlem in Manhattan. “We welcome a lot of foreigners in Paris,” she marveled.
(Famous for her high heels and pencil skirts, Roitfeld has also taken to occasionally wearing Birkenstocks to walk around Paris, and carrying a handbag, a mint-shade tote by Loewe, for her laptop and sunglasses.)
In its pitch to advertisers, CR Fashion Book said it will put community first in its fall 2020 issue, its 17th: “organic and eclectic tribes of people who act as a conduit for a brand story. It celebrates culture and storytelling that makes fashion appeal to new ways of living, and it uses its influence and reach to be a catalyst for change far beyond just the industry.”
Roitfeld said it’s too early to share specifics about the content, but said it would go beyond “just pictures” to justify having printed issues, and share its values.
“An issue is not just showing clothes. It’s reflecting an important time in fashion,” she said. “I want it to be deep this issue. I want something substantial. It’s not a trend.”
While acknowledging that the publishing business is challenging given steep declines in luxury spending and belt-tightening at fashion brands, CR Fashion Book continues its international expansion. The title is launching a Chinese language edition in partnership with the Beijing Koala Media Group this fall, with an initial print run of 25,000 copies.
Roitfeld noted the China version will carry some fashion editorials from the mother ship, but there will also be locally produced content, including covers featuring Chinese celebrities. CR Fashion Book is also publishing its fifth issue in Japan this October.
The main fashion title plans to continue publishing two issues a year. For the next issue, CR Man will be a smaller insert in the women’s magazine rather than a separate volume, Roitfeld noted.
A formidable force in fashion since the Nineties styling for Tom Ford’s Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and consulting for the likes of Missoni, Versace and Calvin Klein, Roitfeld transitioned into the role of editor in chief of Vogue Paris in 2001. She infused her punk-rock and sensual aesthetic into the publication during her 10-year tenure, before founding CR Fashion Book.
She also has her own line of perfumes and moonlights as style adviser at the Karl Lagerfeld brand, whose next big project is a spring collaboration with Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize.