Mrs Macron inaugurates new look for France

At her husband Emmanuel Macron's inauguration as President of France, Mrs Brigitte Macron made a statement with her Louis Vuitton outfit

PARIS • On Sunday when Mrs Brigitte Macron strode up the red carpet at the Elysee 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 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-size 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, Mrs Macron managed to make a statement about her independence and refusal to fit into 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.

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It was quite a strategic opening.

While there was some online chatter about the colour of the ensemble recalling Mrs Melania Trump's Ralph Lauren dress-and- jacket at her husband's inauguration as American President, it seems to some fashion observers that the two could not be further apart.

Mrs Trump's choice, after all, called to mind nothing so much as the past: Mrs Jackie Kennedy and Camelot. Mrs Macron's look spoke to the future and to how she is redefining her role.

Mrs Brigitte Macron in her knee-baring Louis Vuitton outfit with its matching military- inspired jacket being greeted by French outgoing President Francois Hollande. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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 him), 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.

It is one that reaches across generations and just says "no" to the classic knee-length skirt suits of the bourgeoisie - and to any historical 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 she is being cheered as an icon of "French style" as a result. Equally interesting is the icon of French style she has enlisted in her cause.

Louis Vuitton is a brand with which Mrs Macron has been allied with since Bastille Day of 2015 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, Mr Bernard Arnault; part of the country's most successful export sector - yet one that has rarely been adopted by the political elite.

Mrs Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, tended to wear Christian Dior in her official appearances.

Mrs Bernadette Chirac, wife of former president Jacques Chirac, was partial to Chanel. Mrs Macron, by contrast, has attended Louis 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 the clothes.

She casts herself as an ambassador of French creativity, as opposed to simply an acquirer of it.

By doubling down on that relationship and seeming to formally inaugurate Louis Vuitton as her go-to brand, Mrs 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-fertilisation.

Simply consider artistic director Nicolas Ghesquiere's statement after the fall 2017 show - that he wanted to use fashion to demonstrate the value of breaking "every boundary possible".

Now the brand and Mrs Macron can further chase that goal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Mrs Macron inaugurates new look for France'. Print Edition | Subscribe