Carla Bruni, the former model and pop-singer wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, is overrated rather in the same way that the concept of French sophistication is overrated. The latter works best in the minds of the impressionable, or for those who haven't eaten in a restaurant in Paris recently. The chic for which the French are well known must still exist somewhere, although it's certainly no longer on the streets of the capital. There was in any case always something unconsciously retro about le style français. Like those groups of French teenagers who still insist on sitting on the city's stone steps, drumming guitars, earnest faces obscured by long hair (but long in the wrong way), French sophistication has the ring of the Seventies about it — of Regine's nightclub, naff music and the kidnappings of rich Eurotrash by revolutionary groups.
Welcome to Carla's world. It's one which fascinates many people, we are told. But who exactly? When she accompanied her husband on a state visit to Britain just after they married in 2008, there was certainly breathless, drooling coverage — but it was to be found in the broadsheets. With her understated, chic little Jackie O numbers and aura of unyielding good taste, she was never going to be a favourite with the tabloids, whose readers are simply not that interested in her. But the "serious" papers went wild for her, reflecting the priorities and tastes of what we might call the new establishment, the political class which has little time for, say, royal consorts of the old school, but is bedazzled by fame, fashion and mostly, by money. This is the elite which looks outward from these shores, which is internationalist in its bones, which considers the homegrown simply too provincial. It is the elite which makes deals on yachts off the coast of Corfu, admires perception over reality, and maintains a state of mind of perpetual counter-cultural rebellion. For the members of this club, Carla is obviously somebody to be admired, a modern-day role model, an icon, and all those other words which have been rendered meaningless by over-use.