Macron, Zelenskyj and the leadership style

At first I dismissed it as a fake, absurd as the image was: French President Emmanuel Macron, unshaven face and wearing a hoodie with the logo of the CPA 10, a branch of the country’s special forces, holding a dossier of documents. Flanked by the classic detailing and gold embellishments of the state rooms at the Elysée Palace, his outfit choices looked completely off balance.

“Zelensky cosplay” screamed the internet as Macron’s fashion guilt towards the Ukrainian president became clear. Though my first thoughts upon seeing this aberration captured with a raised eyebrow and smirk were Jason Bourne The Pink PantherInspector Clouseau.

The images are not fakes but are part of a growing archive of images taken by Soazig de la Moissonnière, a former photojournalist who has been Macron’s chief photographer since 2016 and one of a growing number of photographers being used for candid shots of a politician’s career. First employed by JFK, who employed Cecil W. Stoughton to photograph him in office, the President’s personal photographer is intended to provide a public service: Pete Souza, for example, captured intimate moments with Barack Obama at the White House, images of which contributed to seal his image as a man of principle and compassion.

More recently, however, these on-site portraitists have become an element in a seemingly monstrous project of vanity. The images of de la Moissonnière have already done much to create memes around Macron’s war effort. Another equally pathetic series of images taken in the run-up to the Russian invasion shows him with his head folded in fear after an anxious diplomatic exchange, which Twitter users retitled #sadMacron.

Six weeks before a leadership election, Positioned as a key player in the peace talks, Macron has acquired a more gritty image. The casual sweats, the unkemptness, the disheveled masculinity: all motifs that Volodymyr Selenskyj owe massively. And probably Ukrainians must be touched that the President is such a fan-boy of their leader that he disguises himself while posing from the comfort of the palace.

But while Macron’s efforts to emulate Zelenskyy in his behavior are embarrassing, they speak for the politics of a war leader’s wardrobe. That Macron, with impeccably tapered pants lengths and immaculate white cuffs, has started unrolling sweatshirts speaks to a renewed desire among officials to get some of that Zelenskyi “everyman” chutzpah.

And while it seems ridiculous for heads of state to dress like someone actually sitting in a bomb shelter to bolster their credentials, the wartime hoodie has become a useful vehicle for heads of state to express their sympathy during this crisis. After all, Putin, who still insists Russia is involved in a “special military operation” in Ukraine, only wears suits. Putting on your paratrooper hoodie at least tells people that war is on.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy in t-shirt and hoodie instead of body armor © Ukrainian Presidential Press Services/AFP via Getty Images

Zelensky, on the other hand, has become a modern icon in his dusty struggles. And while his outfit clearly wasn’t a top priority when he planned it, one can only imagine the former TV star carefully studying his wardrobe choices.

Zelensky, an actor whose presidency has for years coexisted between the worlds of reality and fiction, has refined his public image in conjunction with a development on screen: in just two weeks he can already be captured in a pen and ink sketch, the unshaven man with a three-day goatee who always wears a khaki t-shirt and sometimes a zip-up hoodie. The pared-down look is a constant reminder that he represents the ordinary Ukrainian: there’s no fuss or fancy extras.

More importantly, he has defied allegations that he left his capital by walking around Kyiv without wearing any apparent protection. By forgoing the standard body armor one would expect from politicians in a war zone, Zelensky’s decision was extraordinarily bold. By insisting that the world see how vulnerable he is, he has grown into the world’s strongest and most charismatic leader.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, center, has promised to help Putin and has a fondness for Prada boots © Yelena Afonina/Tass via Reuters

It’s a startling contrast given the guerrilla fighting and gray uniform of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen Putin loyalist who announced last weekend he would be supportive the Russian attempt. However, the impression of his tough, fierce vigilance is somewhat dispelled by the delicious discovery that the man is wearing the AW19 season Prada combat boots that cost €1,500. By God, the vanity of some men is absolutely shocking. I know very little about combat, but I can tell you that trying to run in those gigantic cleated soles will be an absolute disaster.

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Adam Bradshaw

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