I’m sorry to be fixated on Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, but thankfully I’m not the only one. The greatest news—in fashion, anyway—is that we now have a baby icon, a possible replacement for Jackie O and Princess Diana. The fashion world has something to shriek about: the new first lady of France.
Carla is the new Collider of Chic, like a scientific superconductor exploring the realms of the big bang. Nine out of 10 French people consider her elegant and modern, according to a recent poll in the newspaper Le Parisien.
And almost everyone else seems entranced too. The British went practically bonkers over her when she set down in London, where she even had the sourpuss Prince Philip and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the dour Scot, smiling from ear to ear.
Let’s be honest: There’s been a famine of chicness for a long time, with no one to look up to apart from the (very) occasional Hollywood/Bollywood star. In politics alone, we’ve had Cherie Blair, Angela Merkel, Laura Bush (who never looks bad), Nancy Pelosi (who looks done up), Condoleezza Rice (who at least makes an effort) and, of course, Hillary Clinton, who looks better than she did in the White House, but who knows what might happen as time drags on.
When I talk about this with people who think they’re well-informed, they criticize me for being frivolous. My response is that we are living in pretty dreary times, and politics is the dreariest thing of all. What’s wrong with having a little glamour around us?
Of course, Bruni-Sarkozy doesn’t always get it perfect. When she arrived in London in her squashed pillbox hat and her John Galliano for Dior belted coatdress reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy, things didn’t start off that well. But she recovered as the visit went on, and in a Dior purple coat and trousers, she looked herself. In short, when she goes with sportif, unpretentious fashion, she is tops. Her hair looks natural, she wears little makeup and there is always a bit of a glint in her eye. (It no doubt helps that she was a model, so she knows how to wear clothes effortlessly. Just look at her Dior.
Madame Chirac also wore Dior, but that’s a different glass of Bordeaux. Of course, the former first lady remains by far more beloved than Bruni-Sarkozy—the Le Parisien poll found that 81 percent of people believed Madame Chirac best represented their country, while only 43 percent thought that of Bruni-Sarkozy.)
So she will certainly have an influence. Dressing up à la the Fifties and Sixties like the super-rich is over. The overstarched styles of the Queen and Camilla may be fine for the royals, but for the rest of us, it’s an anachronism.
Bruni-Sarkozy seems to make everyone come to life around her. When her husband finished speaking before the British Parliament, she gently patted him on the back and smiled—even if Sarkozy did go over the line in another speech when he said that Britain is looked up to as an economy in great shape. The day he made that statement, it was reported that the UK has the highest personal debt around. One young woman interviewed on CNN said she owed $50,000 and didn’t know how she was going to pay it.
Then, when the Sarkozys went on a boat down the Thames and were necking, I’d say that was a bit yuck yuck. Seriously, though: When was the last time the world cared so much about a French president and his first lady? Even America is taking notice. As Maureen Dowd wrote recently in The New York Times, “Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France and a strong supporter of the United States, recently observed that President Bush has done such a number on our image in the world that no one will be able to restore the luster.” She went on, “In terms of style, the Obamas could give Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a run for her euros.”
Maybe Michelle Obama would, who knows? One thing is clear from Carla the Collider’s arrival on the scene: A chic first lady can definitely help. Remember, John F. Kennedy called Jackie his secret weapon.
And after all is said and done with the return of glamour, thanks in part to Bruni-Sarkozy, I only have one thing to add: At last we have a model first lady—and one who can sing too!