‘Lady in the hat’: Miss France diva Genevieve de Fontenay dead at 90
Genevieve de Fontenay, who embodied France’s idea of feminine chic for decades at the helm of the Miss France pageant before falling out of step with modern views on women and gender, has died, her family said Wednesday, Aug. 2. She was 90.
Known as “the lady in the hat” because she was rarely seen without one, De Fontenay joined the Miss France committee in 1954, and in 1981 became its president, a job she held for more than 25 years.
During her reign, the former model for the Balenciaga fashion house turned the national beauty pageant into a company, sold parts of the business to enhance its exposure, and put it on track for commercial and TV success.
Her trademark brimmed hats and elegant outfits, usually black and white, made her instantly recognisable and a prime example of Parisian chic and glamour.
Her social views were conservative, and she tried to strip Miss France winner Valerie Begue of her title for allowing her pictures to be taken in suggestive poses for a tabloid.
She was also accused of racism towards Begue, who is from the French overseas territory of Reunion.
Nor did she accept another Miss France, Isabelle Turpault, posing naked for celebrity weekly Paris Match.
“I never allowed two-piece bathing suits,” she once said. “Showing your belly button in a contest is just exhibitionism.”
She also complained about advertising pictures showing “a pair of buttocks with a string in between” and said Miss France contestants should never present themselves as sexual objects.
“When you are a Miss, you are the contrary of laxness, of untidiness and of vulgarity, all these things that make me sad,” she said.
‘Everybody knew her look’
After leaving Miss France she started a rival pageant, Miss Prestige Nationale, in 2010, continuing to court controversy.
In 2021 she said that allowing trans women to participate in the Miss France contest would be “against nature,” a remark for which she was charged with inciting transphobic discrimination in June.
She also came out against LGBT parenting and joined protests against same-sex marriage which France adopted in 2013.
By the time she retired in 2017, she was seen as hopelessly out of touch with the social progress in modern France.
“A woman of character, she embodied a vision of elegance, a certain image of what France should be,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.
“Times changed, but she managed to remain in the hearts of many French people,” she said.
President Emmanuel Macron said De Fontenay had “won the affection of millions of our fellow citizens with her commitment and her personality.”
Calling De Fontenay “a figure of our popular culture,” Macron added in a statement: “Everybody knew her look and her eloquence.”
De Fontenay was born in Longwy, eastern France, the eldest of 10 children in a well-to-do family.
Her political views tended to be left-of-center. Among presidential candidates she voted for were Arlette Laguiller, a communist, and Segolene Royal, a socialist.
In 2004, she made her entry into the Parisian wax museum Musee Grevin. “I find it amusing to end up in a museum,” she said as her wax double was unveiled.
De Fontenay died on Tuesday, her family said. /ra