If it weren’t for us, they’d be speaking German, goes the old one-liner. The us and they, of course, being Americans and most Western Europeans, though for my purposes here, the French. Conversely, if it weren’t for them, we’d be speaking British. The latter point was celebrated with zest at the White House last week in a tête-à-tête between two wigged-out men in waistcoats and knee breeches conversing as those intercontinental BFFs of yore, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, before a high-brow/dull-brow audience at George W. Bush’s state dinner for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
What has this to do with W‘s maiden fashion blog postings? Smartly brass-buttoned knickers aside, the renewal of the long dormant (or worse) Franco-American love affair holds within it all kinds of possibilities, some more important than others. Might not one have to do with matters of style? Photos from the event indicate a French female contingent that looked oh-so-much chicer than its American counterpart, even if Condoleezza Rice deserves kudos for daring to go glamorously short and red in Oscar de la Renta. Why can’t we take a lesson? In fairness, few legit government types, regardless of national origin, can compete with France’s young, gorgeous Rama Yade, who—forgive the stereotype—looks more suited the title of Screen Goddess than Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights. But is a state dinner the venue for so sensible a shoe as that worn by Wendy Paulson, wife of treasury secretary Henry Paulson Jr.? And might not fashion’s greatest diplomat, Oscar de la Renta, whose suave pragmatism transcends partisan politics, convince Laura Bush to lose some of the volume from his puffed-out shirt-gown?
If the French can open their minds to our work ethic, can we not open ours to their embrace of public-sector chic? (For that matter, would it be so wrong to plant a celebrity wringer or two among the guests, types with glam profiles north of Tom Glavine’s? Assuming, of course, any of the star contingent would accept this particular invitation.) It would be a two-step process: First, the D.C. set would have to develop style. Then, the masses would have to applaud it, a notion to which Americans, otherwise so fueled by wealth and consumerism, have historically been resistant. Dolley Madison, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan—all of the White House’s great fashion plates took hits from public and press, as did Teresa Heinz who, like Reagan, dared to look and act as rich as she is. Making matters worse, her candidate husband had a French connection. But those bad old days are gone. Now we love the French and the French love us. So how about muscling in on a little égalité and fraternity of the chic sort?
Rice by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque /Landov; Actors, Dati and Kouchner by ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images; Sarkozy and Bushes by AP Photo/Ron Edmonds; LaGarde and Yade by HADJ/SIPA; Paulsons, Billingtons, and Glavines by AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari