Meet Chanel Muse Caroline de Maigret

She’s the model whose insouciant style made her an icon. Now Caroline de Maigret is launching her own online platform — in partnership with Chanel, of course


Chanel muse Caroline de Maigret. Picture / Aldo Castoldi

Despite showing up a few minutes early to the Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie, I notice Caroline de Maigret’s tousled hair in the window of the Parisian bistro. As we exchange the requisite double-cheek bise, I clock an almost-finished plate of apple crumble in front of her.

Those familiar with her crowd-pleasing book, How to be a Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits — co-authored with three friends and filled with pearls such as “Wear a black bra under a white blouse, like two notes on a sheet of music” and “always be f***able” — will no doubt be delighted to find the model, author and style icon likes a pudding as much as the rest of us (no dainty French patisserie, this).

But then, de Maigret has never conformed to expectations. At 41, her maturity makes her a different kind of model from most — or from the one she was when she began her career in the early 1990s, having abandoned her French literature studies at the Sorbonne to live a more free-spirited life in New York.

When she’s not on duty as a Chanel ambassador, she mostly dresses in a way that registers as a chic afterthought — today, in a black turtleneck sweater, black jeans, Adidas trainers and a nautical-style Chanel jacket. Her fingers are sans rings and the dark polish on her nails is clearly a few days old.

It’s a cool, insouciant mix that readers of her new online platform will likely attempt to emulate. The bilingual CdMdiary by Caroline de Maigret soft-launched late last year and will continue to expand this year. Featuring a mix of restaurant recommendations, street-style pictures and music tips, it could be passed off as just another lifestyle blog except that it boasts “In partnership with Chanel” under the title.

Coco Chanel, she points out, “had the personality to want to change women’s movements, haircuts, ways of being. She was an entrepreneur.” The project is a joint initiative between the two parties, prompted largely by the fact that de Maigret has long been part of Chanel’s inner circle.

“It was very important to me that the platform shows that style comes from everything that builds you — that’s why I could not talk about fashion only,” says De Maigret. “What makes your style is your personality, the books you read, the music you listen to, the movies you watch.”

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Less than 24 hours before our meeting, former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon — a fan of Margaret Thatcher — beat Bordeaux Mayor and another former Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, in the country’s centre-right primaries to become the favourite for President.

With the spectre of far-right Marine Le Pen as a rival candidate, France arguably faces as critical a moment as the United States did leading up to Donald Trump’s victory.

“That’s why I went to vote — because of Trump,” de Maigret says before a prolonged pause (this year, for the first time anyone on a national register could vote in the Parti Republicain primary).

“I don’t really want to talk about politics. I’ve always talked about anything that touches on humanism — which is feminism or racial issues. So I’m allowed to say I’m unhappy with Trump. Regarding the French so far, we’ll see what happens.”

De Maigret’s father, Betrand de Maigret, is a distinguished politician and businessman who worked for 17 years beginning under President Giscard d’Estaing and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to set the euro into motion through his seat on the French finance commission.

The de Maigret name can be traced back to the mid-14th century. Her mother is Isabelle Poniatowski, a champion swimmer whose father, Michel Poniatowski, was also an illustrious French politician descending from Polish nobility.

As one of four siblings, de Maigret’s decision to go to New York in 1994 was partly to gain independence from her established Parisian way of life. She walked for everyone from Chanel (Lagerfeld first cast her in 1998) to Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen, shooting with the likes of Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier.

In 2002, however, she quit, returning to Paris and launching rock label Bonus Track Records in 2006 with her partner, musician Yarol Poupaud, who is also father of her 10-year-old son. The pair met a year earlier and never married but live together in Pigalle. Their work on Bus Palladium earned a Cesar nomination (the French equivalent of an Academy Award) in 2011.

Lagerfeld re-entered the picture that year, too, when the French magazine Jalouse proposed that de Maigret host an interview programme from a truck stationed outside the fashion shows. She was told she had 15 minutes with him; he ended up staying for 40.

The interview acted as the catalyst to a revived modelling career — a few days later, Lagerfeld nudged her to reconsider the runway, inviting her to walk the Chanel 2011 Resort collection in Saint-Tropez. After that “everyone started to invite me to their shows and they wanted to shoot me again, which was strange because I had not planned to come back to fashion.

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And they started to shoot me in the streets with my looks. I didn’t know about that phenomenon, and within two or three months I ended up in every single magazine”.

Why are we so fascinated with Parisian style, I ask. “Either it’s about having lots of make-up and looking too perfect, or having that nonchalance that shows you have a life.

“That freedom is exciting to a lot of people.”

Though her work takes her to London regularly she confesses the visits are usually in-and-out affairs — although she always tries to make time to hang out with close friend Alexa Chung. “She takes me around and we drink and then I forget [where we’ve been]. The British are the best in the whole world to party with.”

Despite her seemingly charmed life, there are signs of vulnerability. She works out regularly with a personal trainer, not for vanity but to maintain peace of mind.

“I had a lot of anxiety so I tried everything — from therapy, which was great, to yoga and running. And then I understood at 40 years old, exercising [my] body and making it sweat allowed my brain to burn [energy] because it was thinking all the time.”

And, despite her success, she says it took her “a very long time” to tell her son, Anton, that she was a model. “He knows I’m a music producer. He knows I work in fashion. He knows I wrote a book. He never knew I was a model but my therapist asked me to tell him.

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He was like, ‘You have to admit that job, because it’s fine’,” she says with a laugh. What held her back? ”It’s just there are so many other things I do, and when you say you’re a model, people think that you can’t do the other things properly, you know what I mean?”

She’s certainly disproving such perceptions. In addition to CdMdiary by Caroline de Maigret, her book, Bonus Track Records and her work in the fashion industry, she has begun working with the French arm of the United Nations.

“I’m so privileged in every way, from when I was born to now, and the chances I’ve had and my success. I owe the planet even more involvement.” Indeed, on her Instagram she frequently posts about human rights: “That’s what I love as well about social media — it gave me a voice that I didn’t have before because I was just a pretty face.”

Unsurprisingly, she has several more projects in the works, including her second book, which she claims will be a departure from the first, aside from her irreverent, sincere voice. “The only similarity would be the way I write — I need to make fun of myself. But it’s mainly about my neuroses and how I just live with them…”

Whatever they are, she wears them well.

— The Evening Standard

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