France's "Battle of the Misses": Flesh v. Decorum

Tue Nov 30, 2010 1:10pm EST
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By Vicky Buffery and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - In her trademark black and white hat and severe pancake make-up, 78-year-old Genevieve de Fontenay has reigned supreme over the Miss France beauty contest for more than half a century.

But shocked by a series of nude photo scandals, the self-styled doyenne of decorum has set up a rival pageant in a moral crusade against current Miss France owners, the reality TV company Endemol which she accuses of cheapening the contest.

The dispute is gripping France, where despite a popular history of intellectualism and demure dressing, the masses are as hooked as the rest of the world on the skimpily dressed celebrities made famous by reality TV and beauty contests.

The battle will come to a head this weekend, when de Fontenay's "Miss Nationale" is picked in a modest ceremony in Paris, a day after the official Miss France contest is broadcast on prime-time under the patronage of veteran actor Alain Delon.

"Miss France's image of dignity and respectability has been flouted," said de Fontenay, a fashion model in her youth who took the reins of the pageant in 1954 alongside her now deceased partner Louis Poirot-de Fontenay.

"I've decided to do something different, and public opinion is behind me," de Fontenay told Reuters by telephone.

A striking beauty in her day, the now heavily made-up de Fontenay is a familiar figure in France, and well-known for her public rants against society's moral decline.

Her battle with Endemol dates back to 2002, when she sold the rights to the Miss France contest to the reality-TV giant, which is owned by Silvio Berlusconi's media empire Mediaset.   Continued...

<p>Malika Menard (C) reacts as she is crowned Miss France 2010 in Nice, southeastern France, December 5, 2009. Malika Menard is flanked by by Genevieve De Fontenay, President of the Miss France committee (L) and Sylvie Tellier, director of the Miss France company. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>