PARIS — "Modern" is a word that comes up frequently when describing the style of France's new First Lady, Cecilia Sarkozy.

That's because, like her husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is often photographed in jogging attire, Sarkozy gives the impression of a woman short on ceremony and fussiness.

To wit: The new First Couple did the unexpected in the often-xenophobic world of French fashion — they wore Prada. The onetime model and her husband went to the Prada boutique on Avenue Montaigne to select and purchase their outfits for the inauguration ceremony last week. He wore a dark suit from the Italian brand and she chose a cream dress in duchess satin from the spring-summer collection that retails for 1,435 euros, or $1,950.

The choice was further example the First Lady isn't about to change for the sake of politics.

"I'll still drive my car and do my own shopping," Sarkozy told WWD on Monday, stressing that, despite her arrival at the Elysée Palace, "I do not intend to change my style or my life."

Sarkozy, 49, who moonlighted as a fit model at Schiaparelli and Chanel during her law studies, has most recently been a strategic adviser to her husband when he was France's minister of the interior. And while she has yet to announce her upcoming projects as First Lady — "I just got here," she demurred — she will support French fashion, albeit in her own way.

"I'm interested in all sorts of creations, not only fashion," she said. "I'm invited to fashion shows but I don't go, and I do not plan to go more now so as not to favor one designer more than another. While I do not have a strategy yet about how to support French fashion best, it is not by going to a fashion show that one supports fashion best. There are other ways."

As for her personal style, Sarkozy said she prefers to wear pants during the day. "I like Ralph Lauren, I think it suits me well, but I also wear dresses in summertime," she said. "I like fashion theses days. There are very pretty things at Yves Saint Laurent this season, and I also like Chloé, Balenciaga, Gucci."To be sure, French designers and fashion watchers are cheering what they see as a breath of fresh air.

Virgine Mouzat, the fashion editor at Paris daily Le Figaro, likened Sarkozy's allure at last week's inauguration to Jackie Kennedy's. "She's tall and athletic," said Mouzat. "She looks modern."

Mouzat said it had been years — perhaps since Claude Pompidou — that France has had a First Lady with striking style. "The evening of Sarkozy's victory, in her Lanvin sweater, she was the picture of easy elegance."

Nathalie Rykiel, creative director at Sonia Rykiel, also likened the Sarkozys to Camelot. "It's the first time that France has had a First Couple with charm and allure à la Kennedy," Rykiel said. "She looked great at her husband's inauguration, even if we'd like to see her in French fashion. She's interesting because she's a real woman, with a real life, and real love and real stories."

That Sarkozy chose an Italian brand over a French label for her first high-profile moment did not evoke great outcry here.

"Why not? She's allowed. France gets the TVA [value-added tax] so it's good, no?" joked Karl Lagerfeld. "I hope she at least bought it in Paris and not in Milano."

"We are really ecstatic that they chose Prada for their first step," said a Prada spokeswoman, confirming that both Sarkozys are regular clients.

Fashion insiders here were hardly surprised by the choice: The Sarkozys are close friends with Mathilde Agostinelli, the Italian house's public relations and press manager for France, who was at Cecilia Sarkozy's side on election night earlier this month, when Nicolas Sarkozy, a center-right candidate, triumphed over socialist hopeful Segolene Royal with a vow to break with the country's ruling elite and get the country moving.

Agostinelli deferred queries about the Sarkozys to their press attachés, but described her friends as "people with their feet on the ground."

"I must say that this dress worked wonderfully — both glamorous and formal without being too straight or boring or overdressed," said Christian Lacroix, who pronounced Sarkozy's look as symbolic of "radical and positive change" in France.Lacroix said he has met Sarkozy only a few times. "I was impressed by her modern allure, blue eyes, silhouette, elegance, neat simplicity and discretion," he said, adding that "mystery and distance are part of her charm."

A spokesman for Dior confirmed Sarkozy is a faithful client who possesses "an elegant and modern style." He added she is regularly invited to attend the house's couture and ready-to-wear shows.

France's couturiers have long courted its first ladies. Bernadette Chirac, while most closely associated with Chanel, has also attended Lacroix, Dior and Scherrer shows in recent years. Pompidou remains a regular client at Dior and rarely misses a runway outing by its couturier, John Galliano.

According to Pamela Golbin, conservator in charge of 20th-century collections at the Museum of Fashion and Textiles here, Pompidou created the most memorable French fashion statements in the Sixties, wearing trouser suits and adopting avant-garde designers like André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin.

By contrast, Sarkozy seems to favor a functional, comfortable and graphic wardrobe. "She's not going to make a huge fashion statement, certainly not one that is overtly fashionable," Golbin said. "She's more about elegance and discretion." — Chantal Goupil, Robert Murphy and Miles Socha

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