IF there’s a lesson to take from Melania Trump’s stuttering first few months in the White House, it’s that, in this new era of First Lady fashion, low-maintenance is out. The latest proof? Brigitte Macron, the 63-year-old wife of French presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron, and the woman who could fill the gaping First Lady-shaped hole at the Élysée Palace.
The French literature teacher is all anyone can talk about across the Channel for a variety of reasons, most scandalous of which is that – zut! – she is 24 years her husband’s senior and was his drama teacher at school. And as the campaign for the Élysée plays out – Macron is poised to face National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential run-off on May 7 – Brigitte could be the eye-catching partner who swings the vote. She is certainly his closest advisor, as evidenced by his appearance on stage hand in hand with his wife at his election headquarters in Paris on the night that he reached the run-off, an American touch that’s uncommon in French politics.
Quick recap: a precocious Macron fell in love with Brigitte Trogneux when he was 17. They grew close when they rewrote a school play together. Having been sent away to Paris to finish his studies at Lycée Henri-IV – an attempt by his parents to put an end to the relationship – he eventually persuaded the mother-of-three (her daughter was in his class) to leave her husband and, in 2007, 12 years after their affair began, to marry him.
More exciting for the style-watchers, though, is that Ms Macron is turning the tables on the Chic Bobo aesthetic (read: slim-cut navy tailoring, low-heeled shoes, shiny-but-not-obviously-coiffed hair) that has long classified the wardrobes of French women d’un certain âge in the political sphere in favour of a high-maintenance look that’s based on an “allure rock”, according to L’Express. The trappings? A deep tan, a peroxide-to-honey blonde hair’do, an expensive designer handbag and car-to-carpet heels.
The French, of course, have always liked a high-maintenance First Lady. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who was better liked than her husband, knew a grey Christian Dior suit and improbably shiny hair topped off with a pillbox hat was a no-brainer with the public. But while Bruni-Sarkozy always played it demure, Ms Macron favours the kinds of allure-enhancing clothes one might associate with Mrs. Trump – who, in an interesting inverse of the Macrons’ gender-age dynamic, is 24 years her husband’s junior. Macron, too, is the kind of woman who wears a skirt – gasp! – several inches above the knee, and wears it without tights.
The French have applauded her for it in the press. Delphine de Canecaude, a successful Paris-based art director, told L’Express: “She’s rock’n’roll. Not for a second does she say, ‘I’m 63, so I cannot wear short skirts.’ Twelve-inch heels, sleeveless dresses, leather trousers, she dares everything.” She added: “She is a mega wonderwoman.” So, while critics zero in on her husband’s unconventional politics – Emmanuel Macron, 39, has never run for any kind of election before, and after a brief spell as economy minister formed a new centrist party, En Marche!, last year – others are looking at the unconventional style of his wife.
Why has Ms Macron been dubbed the French Jane Fonda? They certainly share the same toned limbs, bright white teeth, and salon-honed hair. A typical Brigitte campaign outfit might comprise skinny jeans, a white double-breasted coat, and a Louis Vuitton Capucines bag. She’s good on eye-catching, photo-op-friendly details: jackets with zips, necklines featuring shiny metallic sequins, bug-eyed black sunglasses. As for event-dressing? She favours short, A-line dresses that emphasise her slim waist, Bardot up’dos and Gianvito Rossi shoes with risqué transparent PVC panels.
For all that, however, Macron displays deference to the lynchpins of the French fashion industry. She has a Louis Vuittonweakness that manifests itself in an array of navy, beige and pink Capucines bags, a front row seat at its fashion shows, and an obvious attachment to her black Revival ankle boots. She sits front row, too, at Christian Dior, and frequently sports an Hermès watch and a Moncler padded jacket. And she’s not immune to that most-aped Parisienne style tic: the outfit-enhancing colour-block scarf. In short: she looks fabulous.
Sometimes, the effect is a little too fabulous – she is accused of eclipsing her husband. French political wives are expected to blend in. But as Macron himself told RTL, if he takes the Élysée, she will be at his side: “She will have the role that she always had with me, she will not be hidden, because she shared my life, because her opinion is important, and because the presidential position carries something of a personal dimension. She has always been by my side; she’s my equilibrium.” Now, that’s refreshing.