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Britain Swoons for Fashionable French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy did most of the talking, but it was his wife who made the headlines.

On his first state visit to Britain, the French president discussed matters of international importance, sealed a string of big bilateral deals and hailed a new era of Franco-British brotherhood.

So what did Britain's media focus on Thursday? Pictures of model-turned-first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, alongside discussion of her chic Dior outfits, her effortless elegance — and her sensible low-heeled shoes.

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Even Britain's notoriously Francophobe tabloid press was entranced. "Carla, first lady of chic," proclaimed The Daily Mail. "Ooh la la, Madame Sarko," said The Daily Express.

Just don't suggest to Sarkozy that his wife outshone him.

A French journalist who asked Sarkozy on Thursday if he felt upstaged was immediately rebuked. The president suggested tartly that the reporter had a "curious idea of a couple."

Bruni-Sarkozy, an Italian-born pop singer and former model who married the French president in February, caused a mighty splash in Britain, a country where politicians and their spouses are more stolid than stylish.

When the couple arrived Wednesday, many newspapers were running a photograph of a nude Bruni-Sarkozy, taken during her modeling career in 1993 and due to be sold by Christie's auction house in New York next month.

Her appearance on the trip, in contrast, was one of demure elegance — and British commentators were charmed. Wednesday brought three daytime ensembles: all gray, all Christian Dior, and reminding more than one commentator of the late Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis.

"I think she looks sophisticated and she looks chic, which is much more important," said Nicole Smallwood of Marie Claire magazine.

For Wednesday's state banquet, Bruni-Sarkozy wore a midnight blue silk georgette dress from the same designer.

British observers noted the aptness of the choice. Dior is a French fashion house whose chief designer, John Galliano, is English.

On Thursday, Bruni-Sarkozy wore a gray trouser suit and a double-breasted purple knee-length coat — and, as she has throughout the trip, flat shoes. Bruni-Sarkozy, at 5 foot 9, is several inches taller than her husband.

When Sarkozy addressed Parliament on Wednesday, the assembled lawmakers and peers listened attentively — but many eyes were on Bruni-Sarkozy, sitting in poised silence at her husband's side.

"Crusty old codgers who spend their lives steeped in policy documents smiled for the first time in years," wrote Simon Hoggart in The Guardian newspaper.

Sarkozy was asked Thursday whether the elegies in the British press about his wife were excessive.

Of course not, said he.

"I was very moved by the welcome accorded to Carla," Sarkozy said.

"I can tell you that for me it is very moving and I think she has brought honor to our country, not just for reasons of external appearance, but because beneath that appearance — everyone understands that — is a woman of beliefs, sensitivity, humanity. And it is these beliefs, this sensitivity, this humanity that make up the elegance of Carla."