The Cannes Film Festival has had its first few star-studded days yet it seems to me that the most pressing question thrown up thus far is not which movie will win the Palme d’Or. Nor is it what fabulous series of dresses jury member Uma Thurman is wearing on the red carpet or even how the restored version of A Clockwork Orange is received, but rather: is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, first lady of France, pregnant?
Unfortunately, she did not appear on the red carpet for the premiere of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the film in which she appears and which opened the extravaganza on Wednesday. So there was no new fuel for the fire begun by her strategic use of shawls a few weeks ago and her refusal, when pressed, to confirm or deny that she is pregnant.
Of course, the mere fact that the wife of the French president is actually in a feature film (and a foreign feature film at that – which movie industry, exactly, is she supporting?) is surprising. I mean, can you imagine Samantha Cameron suddenly popping up in a Richard Curtis flick? Michelle Obama in a Spike Lee joint? Thought not. A Berlusconi babe, of course, is a different story ...
But I digress. The point is, when it comes to pregnancy and France’s first lady, until an official announcement is made about whether or not Bruni-Sarkozy will join Samantha Cameron and Cherie Blair as First Mothers, we will have to search for clues where we find them and, as far as I’m concerned, that means cherchez les vêtements.
(Although if it wasn’t true, wouldn’t the couple just deny it? What’s the point of stringing this out? I can’t imagine the anticipation would do that much to help Sarkozy’s standing in the polls, especially if it turns out to be a false alarm. Sorry, there I go again.)
After all, Bruni-Sarkozy’s style up until now has been fairly consistent: neat Jackie-O sheath dresses or trim trousers and tucked-in blouses for day and bikinis on vacation, all designed to suggest, without over-emphasising, her model past and enduring model-figure present. Hence, the high alert when the shawls came out. There are certain signs that set people off.
Personally, for example, I have always assumed that when a woman folds her hands on top of her stomach, as opposed to over it, for example, that was a sign of pregnancy. I mean, the gesture tends to call attention to the curve of the abdomen and most non-pregnant women are not that interested in drawing attention to their curving abdomen. The sartorial equivalent of the hand-thing is, of course, the empire waist.
Just consider Samantha Cameron in numerous high-waisted dresses post-arrival at 10 Downing Street (indeed, the purple number she wore on moving day was a rather eye-catching example of the style). As a look, however, said garments tend to come later in a pregnancy, when there’s no hiding it, partly because they also scream, “Hey, check it out – my waistline has moved!” Empire waists are not really Bruni-Sarkozy’s style, however, either for day or evening, so if she suddenly started channelling the Empress Josephine, it might be a bit of a red flag. But my guess is that’s not likely to happen; certainly not until a state dinner at the very end of her term, if at all.
Besides, though I know maternity wear has become a nice little niche business recently, the truth is that most women don’t need to go there until about the third trimester, so I wouldn’t rely on waist-related maternity fashion to give the game away. Rather, there are subtler hints of what may be going on under a belt, if you know where to find them.
Tent dresses, for example, of the swinging sixties kind, are often a mother-to-be’s best early friend. I have a Pierre Cardin number shaped like a triangle that served me very well in my first five months. That’s when you go from having a normal stomach to looking like you’ve gained 10lb, but you don’t actually look pregnant. This is when people stare at you but won’t say anything in case they are wrong and expose themselves as thinking you are just fat, which is embarrassing. Victoria Beckham has been a notable tent mini-dress model, as demonstrated by her outfit at the royal wedding.
If Bruni-Sarkozy is pregnant, I would rather expect her to take the same sartorial path, as Jackie Kennedy also went through a tent dress phase; her modern heir could segue neatly from the current styles to another Jackie look without causing too many raised brows.
Then there’s the kaftan, currently having a major fashion renaissance as summer vacation-wear. It’s naturally voluminous enough to hide pretty much anything that goes on underneath (just check out old photos of Elizabeth Taylor). Kaftans could see Bruni-Sarkozy through the August shutdown. Also, oversize men’s shirts, such as the kind the first lady models in Woody Allen’s film, will provide subterfuge for a while.
All of which is to say: the upcoming costume display may not be film-related but, as far as reality viewing goes, it’s really something to watch.
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman