Men's fashion special Political leaders on display at summits are always dressed to the nines. But do they really have any sense of style?
Scaling the summit of style?
Here come the girls, or not. Plans for next month's G8 summit in Italy have been rocked by the pleas for a "wife boycott" from a trio of female Italian academics. In an open appeal to those such as Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown, the three psychologists have called on the wives not to appear because of the row blazing over the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's attitude to women. "As citizens of Italy, of Europe and of the world, we appeal to the first ladies of the countries involved in the G8... asking them to desert the Italian meeting, to affirm strongly and unambiguously that the de-legitimisation of women in one country offends women of all countries," they have said.
Except for feminists, Berlusconi's disputed indiscretions are just one more problem with regards to the thorny issue of SWAGs (summit wives and girlfriends). It's not just that this year's summit would be particularly offensive to women - it's that they all are. Think back, if you will, to 2006 and the first G8 summit on Russian soil. Unfortunately for the political wives, it was held at the same time as the Fifa World Cup in Germany, so while footballing WAGS such as Victoria Beckham sunned themselves in Baden Baden, they were compared to those deemed their "political counterparts", dutifully inspecting a Russian doll exhibition miles away in St Petersburg.
But while WAGs might purposefully totter about on a pair of Louboutins and sling a new Hermès bag over their arm to make the front page, SWAGs will not. How galling for the latter group, therefore, to find their dresses, hairstyles, shoes and relationships with one another pored over while their husbands discussed nuclear non-proliferation treaties and the like. You will, no doubt, recall some of the questions raised then. Had Cherie Blair flown her hairdresser over for the event? Why did Laura Bush always insist on wearing such boxy trouser suits?
A year later during the G8 summit in Japan, the situation was not much different. The husbands again were together for further cerebral discussions while their wives took part in an ancient Japanese tea ceremony and then learnt how to fold a kimono. Let's not forget that these are all intelligent women with IQs to rival their husbands. Shameful, really, that at such an event the line can be so neatly drawn between the sexes, with one half saving the world and the other modelling this season's skirt length. No wonder that at the G20 summit in London earlier this year, the two male spouses of political wives (the husbands of Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel) decided to stay away.
So, what if the wives do decide to stage a boycott? With the world's collective photo lens focused on L'Aquila, where the summit will be held, perhaps we'll be treated to a run-down of the styling and grooming tips of the First Men. Out of all the eight countries involved (America, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan and Russia), seven male leaders will be in attendance and one woman… Merkel again.
Sizing up the male political crew, it is safe to say that Obama would take centre-stage as the most debonair. Thanks to his committed gym attendance, he has a physique perfectly honed for the tailored suits from Hartmarx that he favours. After all, he's just been voted the world's most stylish man in a Thomas Pink survey of 3,000 celebrities (Brad Pitt managed a mere second place). Close to him in the style stakes, however, will be the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who has also been applauded before for his dark, sharp, Italian suits.
Things take a sad turn, however, when we come to look at Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, or in fact, at any of the remaining men due to attend next month's summit. Brown would no doubt be chastised for his baggy suits and the lack of any discernible grooming regime. Sarkozy, previously dubbed a "poor man's Fonz", has more recently benefited from his wife's advice on dressing. Out with the flashy gold necklace and watch. In with more elegant shirts and suits. But he would still fall down for his heeled shoes.
Of the remaining three, the Japanese prime minister Taro Aso has a penchant for 1980s-style patterned suits so could come in for a stinging; the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is known to wear the odd sweater vest, but will hopefully leave his at home for the trip; meanwhile, Berlusconi's shiny, double-breasted Mafia suits speak for themselves. Perhaps we should be hoping that the wives turn up to deflect attention after all.