By and  on July 5, 2007

PARIS — Claude Pompidou, the former first lady of France and a regular at the couture shows, died Tuesday at her home in Paris. She was 94.

Her eponymous foundation, which aids the elderly and handicapped, did not indicate the cause of death. It is understood, however, that she had recently sustained a fall.

"She was a very great lady and a wonderful friend," said Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who proudly sat at her side at the Dior fashion shows. "She was extremely interested in creativity."

Arnault praised Pompidou's devotion to charity work, and her exceptional support of the arts.

In particular, Pompidou was a major proponent of modern art, championing the construction of the museum in Paris that bears her surname. Among cultural figures in her inner circle were the painter Bernard Buffet and writer Françoise Sagan. She was also an honorary trustee of the Guggenheim museum in New York.

"She was so sweet," said Karl Lagerfeld. "She was tall, slim and elegant, so fashion was not a stranger to her. I must say, she looked good in Chanel, and in her bold Cardin dresses, too."

Lagerfeld said he was invited to dinner at her home recently, and Pompidou wore a long, navy wool crepe dress with flat shoes. "She was the chicest person there," he said.

Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior, said Pompidou was a fan of couturier John Galliano from the beginning, even when his collections were "not so easy."

"She had a real understanding of fashion," he said. "She was so open."

The widow of former French president Georges Pompidou — who died in office on April 2, 1974 — Pompidou brought a modern, less rigid image to the Elysée Palace with her penchant for abstract art, contemporary furniture and cutting-edge clothes. She made strong fashion statements in the Sixties, adopting avant-garde designers like André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin.

"She was very nonconformist," said Pamela Golbin, conservator in charge of 20th-century collections at the Museum of Fashion and Textiles here. "She was even wearing jeans when she would go to the country. She was very informal, but always extremely chic."Coqueline Courrèges, the wife of André, recalls Pompidou coming to them in the early Sixties and buying a white pantsuit.

"She was revolutionary in wearing pantsuits and short sleeves at the time," she said. "Right along with Jackie Kennedy and Françoise Hardy, Madame Pompidou had the most extraordinary elegance.

"She was the modern woman: elegant and artistic. She was truly her own person," Courrèges continued. "I remember we had long discussions about paintings and sculpture, because that was what animated Madame Pompidou; fine art and beauty of all kinds."

Although she shunned the media spotlight and expressed discomfort with public life, Pompidou was no stranger to fashion's front rows. She also hosted an annual dinner-and-movie fund-raiser for her foundation every September that kicked off the social season in Paris.

Services are set for Friday at the Eglise Saint-Louis en l'Ile.

— With contributions from Alexxa Gotthardt

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