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PARIS — It helps to have friends in high places.
A coterie of fashion folk headed to the Elysée presidential palace on Thursday to watch Karl Lagerfeld receive the Legion of Honor, and ended up holding an impromptu garden party with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, former model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Speaking in the venue’s imposing reception rooms, Sarkozy drew laughs from guests including Alain and Gérard Wertheimer, Maureen Chiquet, Bruno Pavlovsky, Michael Burke, Peter Phillips, Sidney Toledano and Delphine Arnault by commiserating with the multitasking German designer. “A world where there is an election every six months — I feel for you: Horrible, horrible, horrible,” Sarkozy said, referring to the cycle of fashion shows.
Moving to Lagerfeld’s insatiable work ethic, the famously hyperactive president — dubbed “Speedy Sarko” by the press — glanced over at his wife. “I’m taking advantage of the fact that Carla is here to send a message. The notion of speed is relative,” he said.
Taking Lagerfeld by the arm, he continued: “Frankly, I really enjoy your company because next to you, I feel calm, quiet and a bit of a drudge.”
Lagerfeld’s medal was a one-of-a-kind creation made to order by the French Mint and Chanel’s high jewelry workshops as a surprise for the designer, who for once was lost for words. “I am much better at making small talk than at giving speeches,” Lagerfeld said. “If it wasn’t for 99 percent of the people in this room, it would all amount to nothing. So in fact, this is for me but it is also for all of you.”
As guests mingled afterward, Bruni-Sarkozy flung open the doors to the garden, normally off limits except for the annual Bastille Day reception on July 14. “Wonderful,” murmured Amanda Harlech as she whipped out her BlackBerry to take souvenir photos.
And while the couture-clad guests enjoyed Champagne and puffed on cigarettes outside, Sarkozy retired to a corner of a terrace to discuss matters of state with his advisers.