Wednesday 19 December 2018

The First Lady flomance

Forget the 'bromance' of Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, the real special relationship is between Brigitte and Melania, writes Rosa Silverman

Politically correct: Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump seem to have hit it off personally and fashion-wise. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Politically correct: Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump seem to have hit it off personally and fashion-wise. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron in matching white

'Brigitte Macron makes a splash the moment she arrives in the US," gushed the headline in Le Figaro. And indeed she did. The First Lady of France landed in Maryland on Monday in an eye-catching pink coat by Louis Vuitton, the Frenchness of which label was not lost on observers. It has not been the only thing to turn heads, however.

The wife of President Emmanuel Macron accompanied her husband on a state visit to America this week, meaning all eyes were on the two power couples: the Macrons, with their Gallic style and panache, and the Trumps, with their conspicuous wealth and - in Melania's case, anyway - beauty.

The trip has given Macron the opportunity to exhibit his country's special relationship with America in a series of photo calls destined to give Ireland the sinking feeling that its erstwhile best pal across the pond has found an exciting new friend.

But Macron and Trump make for an odd pairing: the young French reformer with his ardent Europhilia is hardly an obvious bedfellow for the populist, America First isolationist. And if the unexpected 'bromance' between President Trump and his French counterpart is intriguing, the Franco-American First Lady romance - or 'flomance,' if we may - is no less so.

Standing side-by-side outside the White House, Brigitte and Melania both dazzled in white, cutting a resplendent vision of First Lady soft power at its finest for all the world to see.

Never mind the Iran nuclear deal or the merits and demerits of involvement in Syria. No: we want to know all about the flomance of their wives. Here's how it works, and why it fascinates us so.

1. Brigitte's soft power

According to the most recent Soft Power 30 index - which ranks the ability of nations to achieve foreign policy objectives through attraction and persuasion - France is now number one in the world: "a four-place jump... due in no small part to the global frenzy around Emmanuel Macron's victory over the far-right Front National". The country's ascendancy in the rankings is no doubt helped by the First Lady at the president's side. Brigitte continues to make a positive impression on the world stage with her ageless elegance and evident adoration of her husband. "Emmanuel's only fault is to be younger than me," she said touchingly last year.

2. Melania's soft power

The menu for their state dinner was thoughtfully curated by Melania to reflect the ties - gastronomic and otherwise - between the US and France. The goat's cheese gateau coupled with buttermilk biscuit crumble, followed by spring lamb served with Carolina gold rice jambalaya, cooked in a style from New Orleans, (a city well known for its historic connections with France) was the culinary equivalent of a friendly handshake between two heads of state.

3. First Ladies of fashion

This was not the first meeting of Brigitte and Melania. Last summer, they were thrown together when the Trumps visited Paris, a trip that saw the wives hailed as the "First Ladies of fashion". It's easy to dismiss the importance of sartorial choices on these visits, or decry the excessive focus on what the two wives are wearing. But like the food selected for the state dinner, the clothes will have been chosen with equal care, and inevitably send out a message. On the French trip, Melania stepped out in a scarlet Dior skirt suit, a subtle gesture of solidarity with her French hosts. The other night she chose a sleeveless Chanel gown, again opting for a French label.

4. The Trumps' marriage

Melania (47) is married to someone very much her senior: a man who, some reports have suggested, sleeps in a separate bedroom; a man who has strongly denied rumours of an affair with an adult film star. Other Trump-watchers have observed Melania's apparent reluctance to hold her husband's hand in public, in contrast to the Macrons' notorious Public Displays of Affection. We can probably assume such things will not be discussed by the two First Ladies this week, however.

5. Common ground?

At first glance, Brigitte and Melania might seem unlikely to enjoy one another's company. And yet, last year Brigitte had this to say of America's First Lady: "She is a woman who is very concerned about education, about doing things well. It's touching." Given that Brigitte is a former teacher, Melania's passion for education will surely help endear her.

6. Franco-American relations

In the American War of Independence, France fought with the colonies against the British. The Franco-US friendship since then, however, has hit a few bumps in the road, one of which has been the negative perception of Americans in certain sections of French society.

There has been hostility among some of the French to what they see as American encroachment into their way of life - 'le hamburger', though popular in modern France, has not been to everyone's taste.

If Brigitte has ever been influenced by such open hostility, her inscrutable, stateswoman-like demeanour with the Trumps gives no sign of it. Realpolitik demands that her husband play nicely with The Donald, and therefore his wife must do likewise with Melania. As John Kerry once told Boris Johnson: "It's called diplomacy."

Irish Independent

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