Carla Bruni Sarkozy: Au revoir to France's first lady of style

 

Carla Bruni Sarkozy may have her detractors but never let it be said that she doesn’t know how to dress.

She once was a model – a first generation super, in fact - and her effortless hauteur lit up the catwalks, not to mention the covers of any number of glossy magazines, for more than fifteen years before she married outgoing French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Since February 2008, less than a year after he was elected and three months after divorcing his second wife Cécilia Ciganor-Albéniz, Bruni Sarkozy has adapted effortlessly to her role as immaculate first lady, like an aristocratic duck might to water. Overnight, she ditched high fashion and even higher heels in favour of a discreetly expensive and comparatively demure (read serious) wardrobe. In terms of any style credentials at least, she has barely put a foot wrong.

Whether stepping of a plane on her inaugural state visit to London in 2008, perfectly elegant in head-to-toe haute couture, or gracing the cover of the Sunday Times magazine photographed by Juergen Teller, her face scrubbed clean of make-up and in nothing more attention-seeking than blue jeans and white T-shirt, the sight of her has proved enough to bring grown men to their knees. When, that same year, Christies New York auctioned a naked portrait of her taken by Michael Comte in 1993 at the height of her success as a mannequin, its value was estimated as between $3,000 and $4,000. It sold for $91,000.

Mme Bruni Sarkozy has natural good looks and poise in spades and that certainly works in her favour. More than that, though, her judgement regarding what to wear and when and how to wear it is faultless. If Jackie Kennedy, with whom she has most often been compared, was chastised for her failure to wear American labels, Bruni Sarkozy has consistently flown the French fashion flag for public appearances. Here she is smiling graciously in tailored grey Christian Dior coat, matching pillbox hat and paper flat pumps, there she beams happily in Chanel black jacket and white boucle wool dress or perfectly draped sapphire blue Yves Saint Laurent gown. That she exudes the class she was born with is a given, on- and off-duty, and always with grace.

Only heightening her appeal: lurking just beneath her groomed surface lies a less polite creature – a veritable tigress, in fact. She is a reputable singer/songwriter, actor, mother and woman who springs to her husband’s and children’s defence through good times and bad. The effect is potent to say the least. It’s not news that her tenure has brought with it a degree of controversy: rumours of extra-marital affairs, forthcoming divorce and, more recently, comparisons with Marie Antoinette following her admittedly somewhat deluded claims to live “a modest life”. In Undressed a little known 1998 documentary following the history of 20th century fashion, she demonstrated the difference between a “natural move” and a “model move” for the camera, explaining that the point of the latter was “to look down on people”. In the end, however, her power as a clothes horse par excellence is only added to by the humanity of any more earthly flaws.

This article previously implied that Bruni Sarkozy and Nicolas Sarkozy were a couple when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May 2007. This has since been amended, as they did not meet until November 2007, and married in February 2008.

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