Friday 23 February 2018

Queen Carla’s exit: Hideous suit, rictus grin, silver strands...

Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni leave the Elysee Palace after Francois Hollande was sworn in as President
Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni leave the Elysee Palace after Francois Hollande was sworn in as President

Hannah Betts

A PALL has settled over Europe in a manner that has nothing to do with its ongoing economic crisis. For Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has slipped her mantle as France’s leading lady, and with her goes the gilt and glamour of all Gaul.

The woman who usurps her is an uninspiringly sane and admirable individual promising relatively scant entertainment value for those of us thrilled to rubberneck the great Sarko car crash. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

The iconography of Queen Carla’s exit spoke of a colossal loss of mojo. Where she achieved her ascendancy as consort as a braless gamine, slinking foxily about in sheath dresses and so many fitted frocks, so she exited the public eye in a hideously unflattering Mom suit, face apparently bulging with fillers.

Once she was the woman whom the world’s political Wags feared to stand next to, the lissom lovely whose incarnation in grey Dior (pictured) so entranced the Duke of Edinburgh as she conquered us rosbifs. On Tuesday at the Élysée Palace, as she clutched the paw of her husband – dowdy, her face rictus with an unhingedly fixed grin, the odd silver strand visible – she appeared a woman crushed.

To be sure, we’ve all had days like it. Not least those women who, like Carla, are new mothers – Sarkozy Jnr was born seven months ago. But, then, we are not her supreme Carla?ness: Vogue icon and rock-star arm candy whose heyday saw couture-clad nymphs-and-shepherds fantasies conducted to the beat of her psychobabbling acoustic anthems. How the mighty are fallen.

As ever, she reminded us of Marie Antoinette, only this time at the latter’s courtroom demise in October 1793. Then, the former queen was “prodigiously changed”, said the newspaper Le Moniteur: bereft of her finery, an unrecognisably white-haired woman with sunken features, head high, whose glassy composure suggested a trance.

The analogy between Bruni and the ill-fated queen first appeared in an article by Point de Vue in October 2009. Both women, it argued, are famed for their love of fashion and image-manipulation, comparing Marie’s portraitist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun with Carla’s Annie Leibovitz. They both issued from inherited wealth, relished music and performance, and boasted faddish dietary tastes – Madame Sarkozy’s regime making her more “Let them eat quinoa” than cake. Both were also the subject of sexual speculation and fantasy.

Like her forebear, Carla’s narrative was rich in detail at once epic and banal. And so we had her muzak that boasted of 30 lovers, her insistence on Sarko’s unpatriotic eschewing of cheese and wine, and the revelation that she had engaged a fitness guru for her stroppy spouse, who focused on the presidential perineum.

The latter revelation invited a scrutiny way beyond mere navel-gazing, as Sarkozy shed two trouser sizes, allegedly based on control of this oft-neglected region. His trainer remarked: “The perineum is the floor of our body and if it’s not kept in shape, it is as if you had a house with no floor. You can become incontinent, your organs descend and you have bad posture.” Intriguingly, she added: “Problems of premature ejaculation are often due to the perineum.”

Carla was the author of all such mythography. Such a heroine was a match not only for our fantasies, but for Sarko himself: the dwarfish, testosterone-crazed tyrant, who – although globally satirised – existed somewhere beyond parody. With his nepotistic endeavours for his son “Prince Jean”, droit de seigneur-ial selection of wives while officiating at their nuptials (as he did with his second wife, Cecilia), lashing out at “scum”, aka off-message members of the public, and fanciful self-insertions into events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sarkozy was everything we Brits wanted in a French premier and more.

And now they are gone.

Valerie Trierweiler, partner of the newly minted President François Hollande, shows some promise. There is the sexual intrigue of the Ségolène Royal/Hollande/Trierweiler love triangle. The new first lady put her partner on a diet in a bid to shed his nickname of “Flanby” – a tremulous dessert. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld has declared her “very handsome, very elegant”, and on Tuesday 'the Rottweiler’, as she has been dubbed, flashed a shapely thigh. However, sadly for us Carla devotees, Trierweiler is altogether too intelligent, principled and too busy to provide us Brits much by way of comic respite.

And what of the ci-devant Queen Carla? Will she stand by her man? Is there really another Sarko scion, or was it merely a vote-winning bundle of blankets? Is this au revoir – or just ave atque vale?

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