STRASBOURG, France — The meeting between Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at the Palais Rohan was anticipated as a fashion faceoff between two stylish first ladies. Instead, the two women looked remarkably similar.
For Obama's equivalent of the Jackie-Kennedy-takes-Paris moment of 1961, each wore a stylish but proper coat with a soft bow at the neck and low-heeled shoes.
Obama, her hair coiffed into a bouffant that would have made Jackie proud, wore a black silk jacquard coat flecked with fuchsia flowers by American designer Thakoon Panichgul. Bruni-Sarkozy wore a grey lambskin coat by Dior. Both women removed their coats inside to reveal coordinated dresses — Bruni-Sarkozy's in gray, and Obama's in fuchsia.
Considering that both women have been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy, people might have been surprised by the sobriety, especially's Bruni-Sarkozy's gray. But in the year since her marriage to President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Italian-born pop singer and former model has proven to be far more refined in her look than trendy.
In terms of her appearance, Obama has exerted herself far more for the G-20 summit and NATO meeting than she did for the inauguration, perhaps because the stage is bigger. Since she stepped off Air Force One in London on Monday in a yellow Jason Wu dress, her wardrobe has been subjected to intense media scrutiny, the kind of coverage typically reserved for supermodels. Her outfits have included a teal blue Jason Wu dress with a kooky cardigan — she took some hits on blogs for that — and a soft Isabel Toledo skirt at Buckingham Palace.
In the four days of her first European trip as America's first lady, Obama has hugged terminally ill cancer patients at a London hospital, chatted with author J.K. Rowling over wild Scottish salmon and urged 200 girls at a London school to aim high.
But none of that, not even the meeting with the queen, came close to finally appearing in the same camera lens with the former Carla Bruni, the former Victoria's Secret model now dominating the French political-fashion scene. The two have been relentlessly compared in the European media.
"Carla Bruni may have seduced every man she met last year, but this year Michelle Obama charmed us all," raved the British Guardian in an article headlined, "How Britain was wooed by Michelle Obama." The London Times was nastier. "Carla who?" it queried.