Geneviève de Fontenay, an iconic figure in the organization of beauty pageants in France, recently passed away at the age of 90. Nicknamed the "lady in the hat" for her inimitable fashion style, she left an indelible mark in the world of beauty, glamour, and French television.
Biography and Professional Career
Young Geneviève de Fontenay
Born on August 30, 1932 in Longway, Geneviève Mulmann, who claimed to be from Lorraine and was the eldest of 10 siblings, grew up with her brother Paul. Her father André was an engineer, a profession that led her to move to different regions of France. After studying at the hotel school in Strasbourg, she trained as a beautician in Paris, a decision that shaped her future.
Louis Poirot, Geneviève de Fontenay’s Husband
At the age of 22, she met Louis Poirot – a figure perceived by some as controversial – with whom she shared her life and had two children: Xavier and Ludovic, the latter died in 1984.
Although their relationship was not always easy, Louis Poirot played a key role in Geneviève known as de Fontenay’s career and in shaping her distinctive style.
Organization of Beauty Pageants
Geneviève de Fontenay became a dominant figure in the world of beauty pageants in France. She was:
President of the Miss France Committee from 1981 to 2010
Geneviève de Fontenay-Miss France: a 30-year story. Under her leadership, the Miss France contest gained prestige and influence. Her commitment and dedication allowed many young women who wished to distinguish themselves on the national and international stage.
President of the Miss Nationale Committee in 2011
After leaving the Miss France Committee, she continued to influence the world of beauty pageants by launching the Miss Nationale Committee at an advanced age, proof of her determination.
Honorary President of the Miss Prestige National Committee from 2011 to 2016
Despite her withdrawal from the daily management of the Committee, Geneviève de Fontenay remained a key figure in beauty pageants as honorary president.
Her career, marked by passion, integrity, and a desire to promote a certain idea of beauty and manners, remains inspiring for organizers of such events prevalent in certain regions of the world like Venezuela, Brazil, California…
Her fashion style, with her iconic hat and outfits always composed of a mix of black and white, became an extension of her personality, a signature that we will explore in more detail.
Geneviève de Fontenay without a hat?
Geneviève de Fontenay was never seen without her distinctive hat during her appearances. More than just an accessory, this hat became an extension of her personality, earning her the affectionate nickname of "the lady in the hat".
Her Black and White Outfits
Always dressed in black and white, Madame de Fontenay not only had a preference for hats; she was also known for her choice of systematically black and white outfits.
This monochrome look has remained unchanged since 1957 and has become synonymous with her understated elegance.
Was she inspired by Diane de Poitiers? By the great Coco Chanel often celebrated by Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld?
Origins of Her Style
It was her companion, Louis Poirot, who seems to have influenced this distinctive fashion choice. Standing 5’11" (1.80 m) tall, Geneviève had a slender figure, and Louis believed that the volume of the hat perfectly balanced her. This reflection led to the adoption of this iconic style, which transcended trends and eras, a choice all the more relevant as Geneviève had been crowned Miss Elegance.
She Maintained Her Style to Escape the Whims of Fashion
A model at Balenciaga from the late 50s, Geneviève de Fontenay maintained an immutable style, marked by her eternal hats, to escape the whims of fashion. This fashion choice, although distinctive, elicited varied opinions, but it became her emblem, refusing the fluctuating trends of the fashion industry.
The Strength of a Timeless Style in French Television
Geneviève de Fontenay adopted a style that does not bend to novelty and extravagance. This fashion choice, recognized by many French people, introduced a certain notion of timeless elegance into the national audiovisual landscape, suggesting that authenticity can have a place alongside ephemeral trends.
Reactions and Tributes from the Fashion Community
The fashion world often saluted her classic and distinctive style. From designers to media, many have expressed their admiration for her unmistakable look.
Geneviève de Fontenay in Popular Culture
Appearances in Comics and Television Shows
Beyond the world of fashion, Geneviève de Fontenay also made her mark on popular culture. She appeared in the comic strip Les Gendarmes and alongside Karl Lagerfeld in Oggy and the Cockroaches, thus showing her versatility and national appeal.
Collaboration with Other Fashion Figures like Karl Lagerfeld
Her collaboration with legends of fashion like Karl Lagerfeld underscores her aesthetic sense approved by the great couturier also fond of black and white with whom she posed as a glamorous duo in Gala.
Writing Prefaces for Children’s Books
Far from being limited to fashion, glamour, and beauty, Adèle’s grandmother also wrote prefaces for children’s books, thus highlighting her desire to touch and inspire all generations.
Geneviève de Fontenay will be remembered not only as a pioneer in the organization of beauty contests but also as an icon of French fashion. Her simplicity, elegance, and integrity will continue to resonate in the fashion industry and beyond, making her a timeless and unforgettable figure.
After her withdrawal from beauty contests
Continuation of public engagement: autograph sessions, etc.
Geneviève de Fontenay did not disappear from the public scene after her withdrawal from beauty contests. She continued to participate in TV shows, public events, autograph sessions, and meetings with her admirers.
Smiling, a bit stiff but affable, she liked to shake hands and willingly indulged in the exercise of the selfies.
Why did Geneviève de Fontenay leave Miss France? The Sylvie Tellier Affair
Geneviève de Fontenay’s withdrawal from Miss France followed a dispute with Sylvie Tellier. This painful episode for her, culminating with her noticeable absence at the centenary of Miss France, highlighted the ruthless world of the media. Even respected figures like Geneviève de Fontenay are not spared.
The Inimitable Elegance of Geneviève de Fontenay
The Symbol of the Hat and the Black and White Contrast
Geneviève de Fontenay’s characteristic style, notably her signature hat and her black and white clothes, evokes more than just fashion. The hat symbolizes dignity and respect, reflecting a nobility without title, while the black and white contrast can be seen as a visual expression of her values. Her adherence to this distinctive style testifies to a belief that true elegance lies in simplicity.
Her Statue at the Grévin Museum
Madame de Fontenay’s entry into the Grévin Museum attests to her place in popular culture. This adds to the image of a woman whose stylistic and personal integrity has had a profound resonance.
Media Icon and Controversies
Tributes and Impact in Aesthetics and Audiovisual
The death of Geneviève de Fontenay has aroused general emotion in France. From Stéphane Bern to Jean-Pierre Foucault, who "tips his hat" to her, to Sylvie Tellier, who evokes the story of a France, through former Miss France like Cindy Fabre and Iris Mittenaere, who praise her elegance and her emblematic role, the tributes are pouring in. Julien Lepers, former presenter of the Miss France election, summed up the sentiment by saying: "We will miss her".
Opposition to Children’s Beauty Contests
Fontenay was known for her firm opposition to beauty contests for children, a practice she found inappropriate. This position reflects her influence and ethical vision in the field of beauty in France.
Reaction to Johnny Hallyday’s Funeral
Geneviève de Fontenay also expressed her disagreement regarding Johnny Hallyday’s funeral. Comparing his burial to that of Victor Hugo, she stated, in rephrased terms, that she was shocked by the choice of a white coffin for Johnny, creating controversy. She compared it to Victor Hugo’s "pauper’s hearse", followed by 2 million people with a black sheet on the coffin, adding that usually only children have white coffins.
Adèle and her position on beauty contests
Her granddaughter Adèle, now a model, seems to share a hostility towards beauty contests, a sentiment that could have been influenced by a generational difference.
Authorities and Values
Despite her impact, some felt that her vision was sometimes out of step with contemporary realities, particularly regarding marriage for all and the #MeToo movement.
On the other hand, it is important to underline that she always defended a mixed vision of beauty, in contrast to the perspective of Donald Trump, then a shareholder of Miss Universe, who looked skeptically at France’s representation by a Miss from the black people…