What was your reaction to the inauguration?
I had never seen anything like it. One to 2 million people, that was quite extraordinary. What’s also extraordinary—admirable but also a little worrying—is the extreme hope of many people in Obama. In Europe we tend to be much more cynical and realistic about what political power can do or not do. I’m pretty sure that Obama will be as much changed by Washington as he will change Washington. There are people in the US who see him as a kind of redemptor for the sins of racism and slavery and a messiah for again bringing America to the forefront of the world. While I hope he will do a lot of big reforms and good things, America will not change overnight. So what will be the reaction after the disappointment settles in?
Did the world’s reaction to his election surprise you?
No, because we had seen during the campaign that there was great hope in Obama. Even people who burn American flags are not really anti-American. For many reasons, people have a kind of romantic view of America. Because of Hollywood, because of history, people want to love America, around the world and even, I think, in the Middle East. But they were confronted with the reality of American power and with George W. Bush. They were confronted with what they felt was both the stupidity and the wrongness of American power. So then the reaction becomes terribly negative. Now this guy Obama has brought America back to life—at least the idea, the hope, the dream of America. So it’s powerful.
Do you think the new First Lady will help make Washington a more fashionable city?
Not really. In France, discussions about fashion would be about aesthetics and reflections about personality, style, et cetera. Here, for instance, there was a lot of discussion about Michelle Obama’s inauguration outfits, but the discussion focused on the fact that designer Jason Wu was a Taiwanese-born American, there was a Cuban-American designer, that they were American-made dresses and she didn’t go out and ask the French or Italian designers. There’s a certain protectionist, America-first attitude, a certain parochialism. Maybe it’s Washington—because everything is seen through a political prism. Or maybe it’s America.