What Does François Hollande’s Election Mean For French First Lady Fashion?

It grieves me to see Nicolas Sarkozy leave French office, and why? Because I am positively enraptured by his wife (okay, fine, I’m also really worried about what this means for anti-Semitism in France). Her life (and Wikipedia page) reads like a dramatic novel: a nine-year-old heiress to a tire fortune moves to Paris to flee a wave of kidnappings by a revolutionary group active in Italy and later leaves her prestigious art school at age 19 to become a model. I’m sorry, is that a bit of an understatement? In the ’90s, Bruni earned an average of $7.5 million a year working for houses such as Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel, which landed her well among the ranks of the highest-paid fashion models. She dated both Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger at varying points during her career before quitting fashion in 1997 to become an incredibly successful pop singer in France.

Carla Bruni has always been influential, to say the least, but her worthy presence in the gossip pages was all but solidified in 2007 by her marriage to the newly divorced Sarkozy after a four-month courtship. The star underwent a sort of moral metamorphosis (before meeting Sarkozy, she had proclaimed herself as “forever left wing”) and has been tabloid fodder since, yielding criticism from every direction. Her luxe wardrobe sparked controversy as the nation succumbed to a recession, not to mention the publication of compromisingly risqué photographs from her modeling days. As far as First Ladies go, I daresay Bruni is — was — as scandalous as they come. She’s also the most chic, with a predisposition to innately glamorous, infinitely expensive dressing.

With her husband’s uncrowning, Carla’s four-year reign has come to an end, and who will replace her but a First Lady who may very well be the antithesis of the glitzy behind-the-scenes allure the Sarkozy rule became infamous for? Over the weekend, socialist François Hollande was welcomed as the new president of France, and with him his long-term girlfriend, the political journalist Valérie Trierweiler, whose differences from Carla are enormous, almost insurmountable. The penultimate of six children, Trierweiler’s mother worked the front desk of their provincial town’s ice rink to support her brood and her husband, who lost his leg to a World War II landmine when he was 13 (he later died when Valérie was 21). An academic, Valérie has hosted political interviews and talk-shows since 2005. It was this occupation that afforded her the meeting with Hollande, who she was introduced to during 1988’s parliamentary elections. Though they were both attached at the time (Trierweiler is divorced twice, with three children), they met again in 2006 and came forward publicly with their relationship in late 2010.

The French press calls 47-year-old Trierweiler “a normal woman” — indeed, her face bears natural lines and texture distinctly unlike Bruni’s vaguely plasticine facade. Most of her clothes do not bear illustrious branding or attention-grabbing details. Her wardrobe is refined but not over-the-top, with simple tailored outerwear, button-down blouses, and elegant trousers: indeed, she seems far more like the embodiment of preternatural Parisian good taste than Bruni, whose sartorial choices often sought to emulate those of another beloved president’s Chanel-clad wife. Florence Willaert, editor-at-large of the French edition of weekly women’s magazine Grazia, summed Valérie’s public image up neatly by describing her as “discreet, real, and a lot easier to identify with. She embodies the same message as her husband: a new proximity to the people.” Let’s hope that this change comes as a benefit to France and all of its citizens, but for now, let’s take a look back at Carla’s presidential sidekick style as well as a look forward at what’s to come. [Fashionista]