Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld Takes New York

  • Clad in head-to-toe black, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld opens the wrought-iron-and-glass door to his prewar apartment building just steps from Fifth Avenue.

    “I am so sorry that the elevators are broken,” he apologizes in his husky French accent, as he heads back to the service elevator, pulling its old-fashioned gate closed with an insouciant shrug.

    His fifth-floor apartment, starkly white and ferociously tidy, is full of contemporary art, and little else. A rectangular mirror in the living room is decked with a metal skull and a fan of colorful party invitations. A New Year’s card from his godfather, the photographer Mario Testino, is addressed to “très cher Vlad,” giving a small glimpse into Mr. Restoin Roitfeld’s privileged, insider status in the fashion stratosphere.

    Three hefty watches, by Chanel, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, perch carefully on a side table. A quick peek into his fridge reveals bottles of Veuve Clicquot and ketchup, while a stack of airplane sleep masks sits on the kitchen counter.

    Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, 26, has just flown in from Europe. And while the peripatetic life and the Upper East Side address might telegraph louche playboy, his environment also suggests that Mr. Restoin Roitfeld is a highly precise person. On his modern glass desk, two tidy stacks of euros and dollars and two credit cards are aligned in a hyperdisciplined manner.

    In his closet, stacks of white, black and gray clothing are folded exactly. Slim tuxedo jackets, starched white shirts, precipitously skinny jeans and supple leather jackets predominate. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld, taking a page, perhaps, from Karl Lagerfeld’s style playbook, is a man who likes a uniform.

    Since his mother, the überstylish Carine Roitfeld, stepped down as editor-in-chief of French Vogue last year, she’s taken steps toward becom-ing a global brand in and of herself. Her book, Irreverent, a 190-page visual autobiography stuffed with pictures of her genetically blessed family, was released by Rizzoli this month. She has gone on to collaborate with Mr. Lagerfeld and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy and has lent her singular creative direction to Barneys’ fall windows. Meanwhile, Mr. Restoin Roitfeld’s older sister, Julia, a petite, cat-eyed brunette, has continued to charm and fascinate Manhattan’s society press.

    Every decade, New York sees the rise of a new, glamorous, ubiquitous, whispered-about family. Now, undeniably, is the Age of the Roitfeld. There is even a website, “IWantTo

    BeaRoitfeld.com,” which chronicles the comings and goings of fashion’s latest first family.

    But Mr. Restoin Roitfeld is now branching out on his own, intent on gaining credibility in New York’s notoriously finicky art world. Since forming his company, Feedback Ltd., in 2008 with business partner Andy Valmorbida, Mr. Restoin Roitfeld has convinced difficult artists to trust him with their work and curated sold-out exhibitions.

    With his hypnotic green eyes, high cheekbones and masculine nose, he has the kind of Bryonic good looks that are just slightly obscured by his 5 o’clock shadow and studiedly unkempt hipster hair. It’s easy to see why the girls like him.

    Born and raised outside of Paris, he moved to the U.S. at 17 to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he met his best friend, shipping heir Stavros Niarchos, dated model Lily Donaldson and still managed to find time to complete a major in international rela-tions and a double minor in film and business.

    After graduation, he worked as a P.A. for one of Paramount’s top producers. “My family had always worked in film and it’s what I thought I wanted to do.” (Mr. Restoin Roitfeld’s maternal great grandfather was the Russian producer behind the 1954 film The Count of Monte Cristo.) At the studio, he read torturously bad scripts, writing up reports that were never read and ferrying members of the crew back and forth on film sets. To say the least, it wasn’t his thing. “I was miserable,” says Mr. Restoin Roitfeld. “I had always grown up around creative people but this was too political and it was all about the money.”

    Mr. Restoin Roitfeld’s next move demonstrated a wisdom beyond his years. “I knew I didn’t have the talent [to become a fashion designer or an artist],” he says simply, “but I wanted to work with creative people.”

    Mr. Restoin Roitfeld got his start helping a friend, the Italian artist Marco Perego, put on a show in the Paris in the summer of 2008. The pic-tures sold in less than two hours, and the work came as a “revelation” to him.

    His first serious break came when New York art dealer Rick Librizzi introduced him and Mr. Valmorbida, the Australian imported food heir, to artist Richard Hambleton. “Hambleton had been one of the bigger names in the ’80s. He was a contemporary of Keith Haring,” says Mr. Restoin Roitfeld. “But because of his drug use, basically the guy shot himself in the foot. He did so many drugs that he was too crazy for anyone to trust and to want to work with.”

    Mr. Valmobida and Mr. Restoin Roitfeld were persuaded to put on a show, which they did with backing from Armani during Fashion Week in Feburary 2010. The duo have since added Parisian painter Nicolas Pol and a graffiti artist named RETNA (who developed his own language of hieroglyphics. With Feedback Ltd., RETNA painted the tail of a private jet for a VistaJet sponsored world tour).

    In February, the burgeoning company will open a show during Fashion Week, presenting the work of the recently signed Ivory Coast artist Ouattara Watts.

    For a curator who has seemingly hit the ground running, Mr. Restoin Roitfeld’s has had little formal training in his field. Although he pro-fesses a love for museums and galleries, he has never studied art in a formal setting. He doesn’t feel this will hold him back. “It’s like anything in life: the only real way to gain experience is to do it,” he says with certainty.

    Mr. Restoin Roitfeld is clearly driven. He is “obsessive” about his work, he says. “I think about it 24/7. This is the only way that a business will grow. You have to be obsessive about it. It’s a passion. It’s work, but at the same time, it’s pure pleasure.” He credits his work ethic to his parents. “They are obsessive about their work too.”

    He is also refreshingly cautious when it comes to conducting his business. Instead of pouring money into a glitzy gallery that would have provided too much pressure and overhead, he’s decided to stick with a small office and put on shows when, and if, Feedback Ltd. has the money to do so. “Also, I had the feeling that I didn’t want to be stuck in one place going to the same gallery every day. You have to be global and be visible around the world,” he muses.

    Although Mr. Restoin Roitfeld is friends with everyone from Dasha Zhukova to Charlotte Casiraghi, he claims he has still had to hustle like anyone else starting out in the art world to get to know dealers and artists and get invited to art fairs. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld points out that “Jeff Koons is not knocking at your door to show him. No one wants to work with you unless you have the experience.”

    Still, Mr. Restoin Roitfeld feels invigorated by the New York ethos. “There is no city where they will give more of a chance to young people than in New York. In Europe people are a lot more snob.”

    The meritocratic spirit was inculcated in him during boyhood summers spent at sleep-away camp in Fresno, Calif. It’s very hard to picture this soigné young man being forced to run around a soccer field in a pair of regulation Umbro shorts, but Mr. Restoin Roitfeld visibly relaxes when recalling these fond summer memories. Being dropped into such an alien environment didn’t ruffle him. “People get excited when the French person arrives in camp,” he remembers.

    He’s considerably more skittish when talking about his love life. Mr. Restoin Roitfeld has been linked to a litany of women, including Karo-lina Kurkova and Lindsay Lohan, but his current squeeze of two and a half years is a freelance stylist named Giovanna Battaglia. She’s five years older than he and they are now living together. “She moved in in January last year,” he says. “She travels a lot, though.”

    Marriage, he adds, is “not something that is important to me but if it was important to someone I loved, then I wouldn’t be against it. Obvi-ously, my parents don’t put pressure on me to get married and I’m very young.”

    Armed with charm, chat, connections and drive, Mr. Restoin Roitfeld is poised to become a market player. He hopes his youth is an asset. “If I was going to [launch a business like this], I wanted it to be a little bit more fun and a little bit more open but still making sure that the presenta-tion was 10 out of 10.”

    Still, he worries about his ability to spot the next big talent and hopes that with each triumphant show, skeptics will concede that he’s earned a greater degree of respect. “It’s about knowing what you’ve discovered has actually succeeded and has led somewhere. And that everyone who bad-mouthed us from the start [may] have to admit this was a success.”