France's cultural clout resonates during Macrons' US trip

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump prepare to greet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron as they arrive for a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In fashion, food and even art _ the Macrons' visit to the United States could be summed up in three words: French, French, French.

PARIS — From fashion, to food and even art — the Macrons' visit to the United States has been a PR coup for France.

From the moment French First Lady Brigitte Macron put her well-heeled feet down on American soil Monday, clad in a hot pink cashmere coat by Louis Vuitton, France's cultural prowess has been touted at every turn.

Mrs. Macron's style-looks — all Louis Vuitton — were no less than French brand diplomacy for the world's most lucrative high-fashion house. A pale yellow dress at Mount Vernon was followed by an ecru-colored gown with gold brocade at the state dinner Tuesday night at the White House that was attended by a swathe of French cultural leaders — including Bernard Arnault, CEO of Vuitton's parent company, LVMH.

The three-day trip has showcased France's sizeable soft power — as a world leader in the luxury sector that famously punches above its weight in the cultural sphere.

The Trumps also rolled out the red carpet to French know-how. U.S. First Lady Melania Trump chose to trumpet French style by donning a stalwart of Parisian fashion, Chanel, to the state dinner. It was an active choice, not an obligation for Mrs. Trump to wear clothes by the visiting country, given that Mrs. Macron herself wore clothes by French, not American designers, during the Trumps' visit to Paris last July.

Often criticized for preferring European-made clothes in the face of her husband's "America First" mantra, wearing French on the occasion of the French state visit — a black Chantilly lace haute couture gown, hand-painted with silver and embroidered with crystal and sequins — has shielded Mrs. Trump from the usual criticism and won her rare praise for on-point cultural diplomacy.

Melania Trump's love of French style is no secret and goes back to living in Paris as a young model in the mid-1990s.

The dinner menu was also very French, celebrating Gallic gastronomic influences on American dishes such as Goat Cheese Gateau and Creme Fraiche Ice Cream. Donald Trump, who famously doesn't drink, even took a sip of the wine made from French plants harvested in Oregon.

Ahead of the dinner, Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, was clear in what she was most looking forward to — "Everything French!"

On Tuesday, the first ladies shared a rapport as they went on a visit to an exhibit celebrating French post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne at the National Gallery of Art.

The white, wide-brimmed hat Mrs. Trump wore for that art tour, which has turned out to be her most talked about style choice on the state visit, was also designed by a Frenchman, Herve Pierre.

The statement piece set the internet alight with comparisons to Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington-Colby on "Dynasty," Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope on "Scandal," and even to Beyonce's headwear in the video to the hit "Formation."

Pierre said it might have captured a French touch.

"Designing is too big a word for a hat so classical," he told The Associated Press.

"There is perhaps a certain French elegance in her look as a homage to France," he said, before adding "fashion doesn't always need to be analyzed! There isn't always a 'why,' a message."

The large hat may well have been designed by a man born in France, but it was certainly not designed to facilitate the French two-cheek kiss.

Donald Trump was forced to air-kiss his wife owing to the headwear piece's wide brim.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K

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