Just why is it that we never see the French first lady, Brigitte Macron, commit a fashion faux pas?
How is it that this 70-year-old grandmother can, for example, pull off black leather trousers, really quite short dresses, or a swimming costume for a cover shoot?
With the King and Queen’s state visit in France this week providing yet another welcome opportunity for scrutiny of Madame Macron’s impeccable wardrobe, she always seems to exemplify faultless French chic.
In fact, we’re calling it – with those impossibly toned, glossy bronzed legs, the power blow-dries and endless outfit wins, she’s starting to seem like “Brigitte Barbie TM”. In a good way.
The explanation to the questions above can be found within the Mme Macron Venn diagram of style. The French first lady has at her disposal a long list of extremely cool and effortlessly elegant French style icons from which to borrow all manner of trademark looks and ripped-up rulebooks (French women adore a broken fashion rule).
This Venn diagram features some of the heroines of French-girl style, from film stars Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve to rock-chic fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, to the most iconic French fashion plate of all, Coco Chanel, with Brigitte Macron standing in the middle of it all, assimilating all of their signatures and making them her own.
Sensuality, age defiance, and lots and lots of leg are at the core of it. Who would have thought that you could say that about a first-lady Barbie?
So what exactly are the components of the ultimate Venn diagram of Brigitte chic?
1. Carine Roitfeld
Bare-legged, kohled eyes, teak-tanned – the superficial similarities between “Brigitte Barbie “and the former French Vogue editor-in-chief, Carine Roitfeld, are plain to see. (Note: that pulling off this formula requires innate French insouciance and je ne sais quoi in order to avoid looking like a superannuated Towie star, as we Brits inevitably would be given the same treatment.)
Of course, it wouldn’t do for Mme Macron – at least in her public-facing guise – to go the full rock’n’roll Roitfeld, all femme fatale black leather pencil skirts, lace tights and dresses slashed to the thigh. But Roitfeld’s influence is still clear to see: just a year younger than Brigitte Macron if the ex-Vogue editor says it’s fine for grandmothers – as they both are – to wear towering heels with (some way) above-the-knee skirts, douse themselves in bronzer, and scaffold their eyelashes with whacking great shelves of black mascara, who are we to argue?
2. Brigitte Bardot
Most wouldn’t even dare to take inspiration from the blonde bombshell that was Bardot – who are we, after all, to think there could be any physical connection? But, as we are so often told, French women are made of different stuff (not to mention, calorie-negative croissants).
They are just naturally confident in their God-given sex appeal – while we wear pants, they wear lingerie, while we wear PJs, they wear negligees.
None more so, it seems, than Brigitte Macron, the glamazon of first ladies – the woman who arranged to be photographed in a blue floral halterneck swimsuit on a Biarritz beach for Paris Match ahead of her husband’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Smooth, tanned legs, beachy, undone hair, and the victorious smile of a woman who’s bagged a handsome younger husband, there was a clear resemblance of a confident, carefree “Bardot does Cannes” – the original sex bomb; the epitome of feminine sexuality. This is surely Mme Macron’s unspoken cause, to remind women that they too can be sexy whatever their age.
3. Catherine Deneuve
Did any woman in French history have a better blonde blowout than the iconic French film star Catherine Deneuve?
If glamour, polish and sex appeal are your watchwords (as they evidently are with Brigitte Macron), why wouldn’t you take a leaf out of Deneuve’s playbook and infuse your hair with buttery blondeness, volume and lift?
Of course, expensive, high-maintenance hair is a terribly middle-aged French woman pursuit, because they all know that, as ably demonstrated by Mme Deneuve, big blonde hair is a fast track to voluptuousness when the body is perhaps less inclined (the Macrons, by the way, are understood to spend €62,000 a year on hair and make-up, as revealed in 2018 by the French Court of Audit). What’s more, a golden crown of bouffy hair creates a perfect frame for wearing more make-up than is strictly necessary.
But the Deneuve reference is not just concerned with big hair – or, indeed, their shared love of late Parisian designer Yves Saint Laurent (which the French first lady wore to welcome the king and queen on their state visit, and which Deneuve commissioned for her first meeting with the late Queen Elizabeth II – and which always, always lends an elegant, sophisticated simplicity). It’s about an attitude, one that is cool, sexy and a little edgy, with so much going on beneath the surface. It’s all tres, tres French.
4. Françoise Hardy
As any fashion historian will tell you, the French chanteuse Françoise Hardy set the benchmark for wearing leather with effortless chic. In fact, she famously “double leathered” with a black leather biker jacket and black leather trousers while sitting on the back of a motorbike, her luxuriant, fringed hair unfettered by any unsexy safety equipment.
Brigitte Macron might not be able to do the motorbike, but she can – and regularly does – do the skinny leather pants. Worn black like Hardy, with yet more of Mme Macron’s beloved sky-high heels, the French first lady ably demonstrates what Theresa May was just never going to grasp – that succeeding with leather, is all about sex.
You don’t achieve sex appeal by wearing leather, but rather, you pull off leather when you have an innate ability to deploy some sensuality. Sometimes you just have to leave it to the French.
5. Coco Chanel
There surely isn’t a French woman of any standing whose fashion sense isn’t informed by Coco Chanel. And of course, Brigitte Macron would not be doing her job as ambassador-in-chief of French fashion if she were not seen to be wearing plenty of Chanel.
But that’s not really the point here. It’s not just about being able to have an ample, Chanel-labelled armoury of classic design, good taste and French chic – as displayed this week when Queen Camilla and the French first lady visited Chanel, Brigitte Macron wearing a red boucle long line jacket from the fashion house (think, as ever, a strong shoulder, a nipped waist and flattering tailoring).
Non, it’s about “liberté”. Chanel’s fashion philosophy was about freedom of movement and independence so when Brigitte Macron teams a blazer with jeans (admittedly unlikely on this state visit but clearly in evidence on many a walkabout), you know who paved the way for that.
Chanel style is also about ensuring that you are the statement as opposed to your outfit. With Brigitte Macron’s style signature being legs, lashes and a distinct lack of apology for not dressing her age, Coco would surely be proud.