24-Mar, 04:50

09:41, May 15 501 0

2017-05-15 09:41:02
On the Runway: Brigitte Macron Inaugurates a New Look for France

On Sunday, when Brigitte Macron strode up the red carpet at the Élysée Palace alongside her husband, Emmanuel Macron, for his inauguration as president of France, it marked not just the official transition of power but also the official advent of a new kind of first lady for the nation, and a new kind of political partnership. And it suggested that the Michelle Obama-sized hole that has been left in the art of sartorial communications and diplomacy since America’s former first couple left the world stage may be about to be filled — albeit in an original way.

In her knee-baring powder-blue Louis Vuitton dress, with its matching military-inspired jacket, Ms. Macron managed to make a statement about her own independence and refusal to fit in any established box (from political parties to age-appropriate dressing) without overtly rejecting the past and while underscoring her husband’s messaging in a multitude of ways. All without saying a word, though the images went global.

It was quite a strategic opening.

While there was some online chatter about the color of the ensemble recalling Melania Trump’s Ralph Lauren inaugural dress-and-jacket, it seems to me that in detail and effect the two could not be further apart. Mrs. Trump’s choice, after all, called to mind nothing so much as the past: Jackie Kennedy and Camelot. Ms. Macron’s look spoke to the future, and how she is redefining her role.

She has been doing it in myriad ways since her husband declared his candidacy for president, but while attention has largely focused on their unconventional love story (she is 64, 24 years older than he is), her unconventional wardrobe — at least for a political spouse of a certain age — has played a less observed part.

Skinny jeans, leather leggings, jackets (tailored and motorcycle-inspired), short skirts, New Balance sneakers and Louis Vuitton handbags, even the occasional hoodie, have formed the basic building blocks of her style: one that reaches across generations, and just says no to the classic knee-length skirt suits of the bourgeoisie — and to any historic diktats about what women older than 60 are supposed to wear. It may be the least of the breaks from tradition in which she and her husband are engaged, but in some ways it is the most accessible, which makes it powerful.

Especially because as a result, she is being cheered as an icon of “French style.” Though equally interesting is the icon of French style she has enlisted in her cause.

Vuitton is a brand with which Ms. Macron has been allied since Bastille Day of 2015 (coincidence? I doubt it), when she first wore one of its navy dresses at a public event. It is a tentpole name in French luxury — founded in 1854; owned by the richest man in France, Bernard Arnault; part of the country’s most successful export sector — yet one that has rarely been adopted by the political elite. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of his presidential term, tended to Christian Dior in her official appearances; Valérie Trierweiler, partner of François Hollande at the start of his, was famous for her Yves Saint Laurent Tribute stilettos. Bernadette Chirac was partial to Chanel.

Ms. Macron, by contrast, has attended Vuitton shows and worn the brand on multiple occasions, most recently on election night. And she has managed to defray the possible political cost of being so close to an elitist name, unaffordable to many, by — as the brand has made clear — arranging to borrow most of what she wears, including her Inauguration Day look, and then returning it (she does buy some of it). She casts herself as an ambassador for French creativity, as opposed to simply an acquirer of it.

By doubling down on that relationship and seeming to inaugurate Vuitton, formally, as her go-to brand, Ms. Macron made a tactical choice to elevate a different name in the game of image-ineering. One that, as the brand’s last collection made clear, happens to share her husband’s belief in the value of cross-border relationships and cross-fertilization. Simply consider the artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière’s statement after the fall 2017 show that he wanted to use fashion to demonstrate the value of breaking “every boundary possible.”

Coincidence? Again, I doubt it.

Just as I doubt that the epaulets on Ms. Macron’s inaugural jacket and its shiny double-breasted rows of buttons were a coincidence on an occasion that President Macron filled with military symbolism. Her outfit gave visual support to his message, which included driving up the Champs-Élysées in a camouflaged military vehicle.

En garde.