I met Christine Lagarde a few years ago at the Saxon hotel. She was still the French minister of finance, arguably one of the most powerful positions in any government. She was dressed in that immaculate French way. The clothes are cut to reinforce the authority of the person wearing them. They rustle with power without screaming about it. I don’t know how it’s done other than to say she looked the part. More importantly she sounded the part – she spoke and everyone listened. Her mantle of perfectly groomed white hair and year-round glowing tan reinforced the image. Here was a woman in the prime of her powers.
So it was not a huge surprise when she became the managing director of the IMF and, as of this week, was nominated to become the president of the European Central Bank.
How to dress as a woman in a position of power is challenging. Make too much of a statement and you could find that even your footwear becomes the tool they use to lampoon you. Just ask Theresa May how she feels about leopard print now. Make too little, and it could become the whip the use against you – consider Hilary Clinton’s fractious relationship with dressing for the role.
I was thinking about this while watching the latest viral video where Christine Lagarde side-eyes Ivanka Trump, who is making a particularly lame gambit to enter the conversation between Macron, May and Lagarde herself. The three, to be fair, were engaged in total verbal flatulence themselves.
WATCH | Ivanka Trump appears to be snubbed by leaders at G20
You see Ivanka in a fetching pink dress with little flares at the elbow – opening and closing her mouth and looking innefectual. Lagarde eventually looks around to see what the buzzing in her ear could be. She takes in the sight of Ivanka and promptly looks away. It is not that Lagarde is not a great diplomat – she must be to have come so far in her career. It’s that she looked on the phenomenon that is Ivanka and made of it what everyone should.
Everyone else, male and female in that conversation, (whether you admire them or not) had worked hard to get there. They had paid their dues. Ivanka was just the upper east side princess in the room – and dressed like one to underscore the point. It was like an episode of Gossip Girl had suddenly been spliced with CNN. Lagarde looked at her as the carpet-bagging interloper she has decided to become by grabbing onto her father’s coat tails and riding side-saddle into the global discourse.
Social theatre at its best.