Chirac's dowdy wife suddenly hip later in life

Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:29am EST
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By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French first lady Bernadette Chirac has transformed her image from a dull, dowdy and dutiful wife into a glamorous fashionista who pokes fun at her fuddy-duddy hubby and is adored by the hippest Parisians.

Jacques Chirac's petite wife, now 77 and previously best known for her bouffant hairdo and impeccable breeding, has a new following among France's uber-hip clubbing set and has become a fashion muse, inspiring a range of "Bernadette" T-shirts.

Since the Chiracs left the Elysee palace in 2007, Bernadette has cut an unexpected dash on the French social scene, overshadowing her increasingly frail husband in the public limelight and speaking more freely than ever before.

"He's not much fun, you know. He's never really been one for going out, it's a shame," she said of Chirac, one of France's longest-serving presidents, in a recent interview on French television.

Her transformation from strait-laced matriarch to dancefloor darling has won her points with youths who grew up seeing her on television at official events as the dowdy and unsmiling wife playing a backseat role during her husband's 12-year presidency.

"I think she's great. She's really young at heart and determined to stay that way," said Marc Delattre, 21, the designer behind an arty "Bernadette" T-shirt featuring a sketch of Madame Chirac in a pink coat and trendy aviator sunglasses.

Delattre said he was inspired after seeing photos of Bernadette in the exclusive VIP Room nightclub in the Riviera resort of St Tropez, alongside fashion heavyweights such as Chanel designer Karl Lagerfield and LVMH-owner Bernard Arnault.

"It was like seeing my gran going there, it was surreal," he told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>Bernadette Chirac, wife of former French President Jacques Chirac, leaves the Musee du Quai Branly after an awards ceremony for the Prix de la Fondation Chirac in Paris November 5, 2010. REUTERS/John Schults</p>