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Profile: Restoin Roitfeld

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Vladimir Roitfeld.

By Julie Baumgardner

While the great debate in higher education still rages, history has seen a slew of innovators who were never schooled in their fields they went on to change—Abraham Lincoln, John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates are prime examples. While Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld went to college (the University of Southern California to be exact), he neither studied art history nor business. In fact, the spawn of fashion scions Carine Roitfeld and Christian Restoin earned his degree in film.

“I consider myself to be very new to this business,” Roifeld confesses. Yet make no mistake, the 29-year-old has been a force in the art world, especially as of late, since opening his project space on the Upper East Side last year, even though he’s been staging one-off happenings since 2008. “The way I started was kind of unconventional,” he says. “Five or six years ago, there weren’t that many pop-up exhibitions going on.” And certainly his famous last name may inspire some to whisper slurs of slander and nepotism, but “all of [his] energy is focused on the space.”

Roitfeld, who slumbers on the third floor of his 78th Street townhouse live/work space, is adamant that he’s not a gallerist but rather a devoted dealer to his artists. “I’ve had to learn to try and build a program,” he explains. “I did not want to open a gallery. I enjoy flexibility and freedom, and I like to show different things.” Come March, Roitfeld unveils an  eight-week exhibition of Berlin-based painter Shannon Finley, whose colorful geometric abstractions have also caught the eyes of those in-the-know.

In a world of “Do what you love, love what you do,” Roitfeld makes the case that passion begets professionalism. “It’s super-competitive, but at the end of the day, it’s what drives you,” he says. “There is really nothing else that I would want to do [other] than what I’m doing,” he admits, reflectively. Gratitude must run in the family—after all, when his idolized editrix mother, Carine, who famously abdicated her throne at Vogue Paris, it took her little time to land on her feet. Why, some may ask? Well, in the words of Karl Lagerfeld, who said to her: “You are quite modest.”

Fastidiousness is also a Roitfeld trait. This past year, not a month went by that Vladimir didn’t have a show he curated in place—and not just at his domain. In continuing with his pop-up roots, Roitfeld co-curated “Merci Mercy,” with Vogue darling Christine Messineo at 980 Madison Avenue (where powerhouse Gagosian has its main space), as well as collaborations with the galleries Lehmann Maupin in New York and Cardi Black Box in Milan. Whether it’s the younger artists he champions, such as Nicolas Pol or Clare Rojas, or the bigger boldfaced names, like Peter Lindbergh or Tom Wesselmann, Roitfeld has invigorated his space with a variety of shows that suggest a confident dexterity across the art market and the art history landscape.

“We’re a small operation, so we have close relationships with the artists we show,” he says. For a dealer-curator one-two punch, one would assume he too has a taste for acquisition. “You have to collect,” he says. “I only started collecting about a year-and-a-half ago—not established artists but up-and-coming ones and the new generation.” He won’t say which ones, though. With much to be wary of in shady backroom dealings and price-fixing pieces, Roitfeld is shrewd enough to keep mum. And for someone whose ken comes from the school of life, it seems he’s learned the lessons of the trade never found in books.

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