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PARIS — Across the world, women are becoming a force in local politics, including the French capital, where the two front-runners for the March 2014 contest both have strong political — and fashion — credentials. Though election day is months away, it promises to bring Paris its first female mayor in history.
“I just learned that Reta Jo Lewis is a candidate in D.C. That’s good news,” says Socialist contender Anne Hidalgo, surveying what is shaping up to be a globally historic year for women in city leadership. “With Christine Quinn in New York and a woman Democrat contender in Los Angeles, it’s kicked off.”
A native of Spain who gained French citizenship at age 14, Hidalgo is already deputy to outgoing mayor Bertrand Delanoë, and a popular figure among Parisian “bobos,” the catchphrase for the bohemian bourgeoisie. She has been closely associated with Delanoë’s landmark, eco-driven projects: the city’s free bicycle share, Vélib’, and its electric car rental service, Autolib’. More recent attempts to reduce car use include turning the Seine’s banks into parks. Hidalgo’s election promise is free Wi-Fi throughout the city.
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Hidalgo will face off with right-wing candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, better known as NKM. The 40-year-old Kosciusko-Morizet was an environment minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hidalgo, 54, has a high fashion quotient, occasionally combining subliminal messages with her designer labels. Earlier this spring, the Carven shirt with a Paris map print that she wore on French TV channel Canal Plus created an instant online buzz.
Yet her everyday style — consisting mainly of French contemporary brands — is in line with the Socialist government, keen to telegraph “normality” and discretion.
Here, Hidalgo talks about her politics and daily life.
WWD: I understand you have strong ties to the U.S.?
Anne Hidalgo: My sister lives in Newport Beach, Calif., where she founded a company. I visited her when she first went to the U.S., on the East Coast. It was in the Eighties, we took a road trip from Maine to the Everglades [Florida]. Then, for work, I went to the U.S. several times, including to meet with Michael Bloomberg and Amanda Burden [the director of the New York City Department of City Planning].
WWD: What do you wear when you are on official visits?
A.H.: When you are representing Paris abroad, there is a form of responsibility. [Fashion] is a key industry for Paris. Not only on the artistic level but economically. It creates jobs. We still have all these crafts in Paris: milliners, embroiderers, feather specialists, seamstresses.
WWD: Are you keen on fashion?
A.H.: My mother was a seamstress. As a little girl, I would spend my time drawing sketches. I would have fittings at home. I would wear lots of colorful tights!
WWD: What’s in your wardrobe now?
A.H.: Agnès b., Sonia Rykiel — on top of it both are women, which I really appreciate — and Apostrophe.
WWD: What’s the story behind the Paris map-print shirt?
A.H.: It is from Carven. I was digging in the shop when I found it. There is a matching jacket, too, but I thought it would be slightly over the top to wear both! When I went on Le Petit Journal’s set, the anchor was making fun of me for wearing it, saying I am so cliché. I am: I told him if I could ever find an Eiffel Tower dress, I would wear it. After the show, I got tweets from two young Parisian designers [Sandra Maestrini and Amaia Arana who founded the label Zazazou] who said they have an Eiffel Tower dress for me.
WWD: Is fashion part of your election platform?
A.H.: With Vélib’, we proved Paris was able to reinvent the urban lifestyle. By putting Paris in motion, it has boosted the luxury sector, drawing both designers and buyers. Paris was losing ground with the rise of New York and London around 2000. Paris became a center stage for fashion again. I want to continue on that track. For instance, I want Paris Fashion Week to be a key rendezvous for all Parisians. All public places — schools, museums, theatres — should be involved and take part. If I am mayor in 2014, I will implement it right away.
WWD: Do you see yourself in a role à la Michelle Obama, propelling designers?
A.H.: It is important and I love it. The designers do an incredible job. It’s good to make it visible, without being showy. I am an elected official, not a model. I like a subdued style, not bling-bling.
WWD: How have you juggled career and family?
A.H.: I have three children, 11, 25 and 27. Two marriages, hence two batches. (Laughs.) I didn’t have my family nearby, nor the means to have domestic help. I did like many Parisian women do: a network of girlfriends. We would call on each other and manage. That’s how you learn life.
WWD: How do you define a Parisian woman?
A.H.: She is very active. She is very independent. She doesn’t give up on anything. The birth rate is the highest in France and the employment rate for women is the highest too. She can count on her girlfriends.