Altering his interests from the film industry to fine art, this modern art mogul with roots in high fashion transcends the intersections of many fields, in the name of creativity.
In February, I found myself at an art opening in a warehouse on Washington Street in New York City. The show was an exhibition on the work of artist RETNA, as part of “The Hallelujah World Tour.” The moment I walked in and took a look at the art on the walls and the ever-mixed crowd of New York’s art savvies, prominent personalities from both the art and fashion industries, and the few celebrities catching everyone’s attention, I knew I had stumbled upon a trendy new movement in the art world.
Three months later, I received an invitation to an exhibition in the same warehouse; this time, for artist Nicolas Pol. Still impressed by my first visit to a show in this space, I made sure to arrive promptly and found the chance to have a quick chat with Vladimir, the man behind it all. The brief conversation rapidly turned into an opportunity for an interview of the man himself, in our Chelsea photo studio a couple months later during New York Fashion Week.
Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, the man behind this new movement, was born in the early’80s in Paris, where he attended the Ecole Active Bilingue, Paris’ prestigious English- and French-speaking school. Being the son of the renowned Carine Roitfeld, stylist and former editor in chief of Vogue France, he has — from a very young age — been confronted by some of the world’s most recognized fashion and art personalities, an exposure that has forged the way to his becoming an art mogul. He moved to the United States when he was 17. Passionate about the movie industry, he went to USC and film school in Los Angeles and worked in the industry as a PA for a year, following his grandfather’s footsteps, before shifting toward becoming an art dealer.
Along with his business partner Andy Valmorbida, Vladimir represents artists Nicolas Pol, Marquis Lewis (RETNA), and Richard Hambleton, and he has recently added Ouattara Watts to his roster. His very particular method of setting up shows has been identified as “pop up” galleries, which consist of throwing museum-style exhibitions in large industrial spaces. He has set up “pop up” galleries for his artists with great success in Milan, Paris, London, and New York among others.
Why the shift from what you had started in film to the art business?
I was very miserable in the film industry in LA because it was all about the money; everything was extremely political, and there was very little proximity to artists and creativity itself. I knew it wasn’t the right position for me. I needed to be closer to artists. I’ve always had a very strong interest for any kind of modern art, contemporary art, fashion, photography, etc. A very good friend of mine in New York named Marco Perego was a young artist in 2008. We were talking on the phone, and he knew that I wasn’t happy in LA, so I said, “Listen, why don’t we work together? I could work for a few months trying to put on an exhibition with your work. I could learn with this experience if you give me your trust.” Just like that I moved out of LA in December 2007/January 2008, moved to NYC, and started working with Marco for a few months. I did a show with him that opened in Paris in the summer 2008. The whole project was a revelation for me on every level, and from there I knew this was what I wanted to pursue.
Tell us about this new movement.
When I went to exhibitions when I was younger, I always saw it as a very intimidating industry partly because it is extremely closed to outsiders. I didn’t understand why the art couldn’t be brought to a larger audience. The idea that Andy and I had was to make art shows more fun – not so intimidating – more about gathering people from every industry. Fashion is one component of it; the art world is probably the strongest, but also film-industry people, younger people, older people, Wall Street, a kid with a skateboard, or a very wealthy collector. It’s about creating that fusion of people, that mix, creating an atmosphere that is very fresh, new, and creates an excitement that attracts a broad audience to actually attend new art shows, and also to give a change to people that never thought they would be able to attend an art opening. I think it’s a cultural movement.
How was it starting from scratch in the art business?
I didn’t want to have a gallery to begin with. When you first start in this industry, you are not ready for galleries, simply because you can’t sustain the cost every month. You don’t have the experience at all to sustain a whole business. As a result, I had to do something where I didn’t have all those costs, so I decided to concentrate more on working with the artists on the creative and promotional side to sell their work without worrying about having something continuous with a wider variety of artists. I wanted to be free and do shows whenever I wanted and whenever it was best suited for a show to make the most noise for the artist. The thing that Andy and I did was make our business completely integrated. We work on every single level with our artists; from finding the money, to the artist, to the space, to setting up the show, to curating and selling the show.
How did you attract the artists on your roster?
When you start out, you have to first look at your close circle of friends and meet with people that know who you are and what you are capable of – people that trust you. You don’t have Jeff Koons knocking on your door asking you to put on a show. You have to prove yourself; show that you are capable, that you work hard and that people can rely on you. Then everything builds up. People give you one shot to prove yourself, and then opportunities start happening. Rick Librizzi, the father of a good friend, and Andy, who has been living in the Chelsea Hotel for 30 years, have vast knowledge of the art world, and know where to find the forgotten artists like Richard Hambleton, who happened to be very close to Librizzi. He said, “Guys, you’re young, you’re going to school, but you’re missing that artist who has credibility. Bring someone back to life. This is what will actually prove to everyone that you are capable of building something.”
So, how was your first encounter with Richard Hambleton?
It happened two and a half years ago; I think we went to his studio in the Lower East Side two or three times before Richard opened the door to us. We were completely astonished. It was like a scene in a movie, a movie from the ’80s … he leaves his apartment about once a week, and has lived there for 25 years. Things built up from there; we began working with Richard, and he started taking me to art studios and giving me his trust.
You were called “The French Fashion Prince” by the Observer in 2009; what in particular from your childhood influenced you to follow the art path instead of fashion?
I wouldn’t separate fashion from art; growing up in a creative environment with creative people around me, I knew I wanted to work in an environment where I had proximity to creative people, since I didn’t have the talent to be an artist myself. I thought the film industry was something I would want to pursue because growing up, hearing your granddad and everyone around you talking, the movie industry seemed like the most exciting one. At the same time, I have always loved fashion. I’ve seen a lot of fashion from a very young age, considering my mother’s profession, but I knew that fashion wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career; although I believe fashion is a very interesting industry.
Giorgio Armani sponsored your Richard Hambleton tour. How did you first incorporate fashion brands into your art business?
It goes way back to a show that I went to about Murakami presented by Louis Vuitton in LA. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I thought right away that this was how art should be presented. About 3 million people came; it was a very eclectic crowd. Seeing so many different people brought together by the art was very powerful. That’s how I want my shows to be. When I was doing my first show for Salim Langatta, I contacted Louis Vuitton, and they gave me a small budget of $50,000 for a space. After that show someone from Armani came to me and said that if I ever wanted to work with another fashion company, to contact them. That’s when I sent them Richard Hambleton’s work.
THE GROUND ISSUE #2