Few people are so persistently and thoroughly examined lately as the President’s wife, Carmen Iohannis.
There is no public appearance or attendance to an official or unofficial event by the First Lady that would not turn into a source of endless comments in print or online media.
Nothing about the way Ms. Iohannis appears in public escapes the careful analysis by sudden fashion commenters; her hairdo, the outfits she wears, the length of her dresses, her shoes and her sandals, her bags, the way all of these are suited to one another or not and so on.
When the dress was too short, it was not good; fashion critics were very eager to trumpet their outrage. When it was too long, they did the same. If the dress had a flower print, it suddenly became o topic for heated controversy. So did the French manicure of the First Lady, or the thickness of her bracelet, or the way she held her clutch in her hands – as some people have noticed – “just like her class book in school” in her photo with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain also became opportunities for national debate.
It can be easily noted that, during the last seven months since the Romanian President’s wife has started to appear in the spotlight with increasing frequency, suddenly everyone discovered their hidden talents of fashion designers, fashion editors or fashion analysts.
Frequently, the analyses of Ms. Carmen Iohannis’ garments were granted more coverage by the publications or by social media than the actual analysis regarding the significance of visits made by the Presidential couple abroad or in Bucharest by important guests and the impact on Romania’s relations with those countries.
Anytime Ms. Carmen Iohannis makes an appearance at her husband’s side at an event, suddenly the respective event and its meaning are shadowed. Anything that seems to matter is the First Lady’s outfit. All of the sudden, wannabe fashion experts all over the country get seated in front of their keyboards and start analyzing the First Lady’s wardrobe, while composing fashion reviews of the “what’s hot and what’s not” genre. Probably, the time they grant to the writing of these reviews even exceeds the one required by the famous authors of the fashion column in glossy magazines such as Vogue and Elle.
Once her husband won the Presidential elections, Carmen Iohannis enjoyed, from the very beginning, a great deal of popularity granted by the media. Or, to put it more accurately, she appeared in the center of public opinion attention during the great wave of popularity that propelled her husband in the middle of attention.
A highly pleasant presence, of an impressive elegance in attitude and behaviour, with cultural passions such as ballet and piano, Carmen Iohannis can only inspire admiration and respect. Both as an outstanding teacher, as she is endearingly loved by her students at “Gheorghe Lazar” High School in Sibiu, where she teaches English, and due to the support she has always granted her husband, a fact wonderfully emphasised by the President himself in his autobiographic book “Step By Step”.
“She has always supported me at full extent in public and private life”, Klaus Iohannis wrote in his book. “We are still a pair of people in love, because it is not an art in falling in love, but in maintaining this love for a long time”, the President also writes in his book, that includes plenty of paragraphs dedicated to “the woman of his life”, a woman he had met while he was 22 and they were both students.
It is no doubt that after many years that the previous First Ladies of the country – Nina Iliescu, Nadia Constantinescu and Maria Basescu – were discreet, low profile presences in the public space, the fact that Ms. Iohannis is so active, visible and present at events could only draw attention.
Actually, since the beginning of her husband’s term, she expressed the intention to be an active First Lady, as long as she managed to divide her time between completing her attributions as a teacher for the high school where her students love her so much and the intention to stand by her husband and support him in performing his tasks as a President.
Her declarations regarding the intention to be an involved First Lady have generated discussions in the public space a few months ago about the necessity to found in Romania the institution of the First Lady, based on American pattern, discussions that were abandoned due to the lack of an adequate legal foundation.
In the meantime, Ms. Iohannis was faithful to her promise and divided her time between Sibiu and Bucharest. She divided herself between two challenges and completed them both in an outstanding manner. She lived up to her attributions as a First Lady, accompanying her husband in a few official visits, and all in the while, she fulfilled her attributions as a professor. “She is a really good teacher, she loves us as if we were her own children”, one of the students of the High School in Sibiu declared, quoted by the Spanish publication “El Mundo”, that dedicated last week, while the Romanian Presidential family attended their official visit to Madrid, a wonderful article dedicated to Iohannis family and their wonderful, 32-year long romance.
With or without a formally established institution of the First Lady, there are a series of aspects that must be emphasised about this attitude of active and involved First Lady, practiced by Carmen Iohannis, instead of granting obsessive attention, every time, EXCLUSIVELY to her outfit choices and eventual mistakes she made.
The Nine O’Clock correspondent who attended the press delegations that have accompanied the Head of the State in some of his visits abroad could notice every time that Carmen Iohannis overwhelmingly impressed both official circles, where she did not need a translator, and the communities of Romanians, during the meetings.
Tremendously natural, open and friendly, endowed with special charm, the First Lady made no efforts and yet, she fascinated all her interlocutors. Regardless of whether it was high level protocol or informal encounters.
Appearing in official pictures, besides leaders of the world and their wives, she surely managed to add a fresh tint to Romania’s international image from this point of view as well. Also, by friendly and open socialization with anyone during the meetings with Romanian communities abroad, regardless of whether they were residing in Germany, Italy or Spain, to mention just a few of them, the First Lady opened a new chapter, by the side of her husband, in this direction: by showing them respect, consideration and genuine care for Romanians living abroad. The Presidential couple visited Romanians based beyond the borders of the country, listened to their issues and requests and praised them for the contribution they brought to the development of economy and society, both in their home country and in the country of adoption.
Just as Klaus Iohannis is learning to be a President and sometimes ends up doing something awkward at times, so is Carmen Iohannis learning to be the First Lady and she will certainly have her share of awkward gestures as well.
Finally, is there anyone who does not make mistakes and is perfect? Awkward gestures were witnessed in many official situations, in the cases of powerful world leaders or their First Ladies.
What matters the most is that Ms. Iohannis is making a permanent and devoted effort to grant a beautiful and honouring performance in her quality as First Lady, and this is one obvious thing, worthy of praising. In order to avoid fueling the gossip by wannabe fashion experts, she even sought specialized advice by well known stylists and image advisers.
She will probably continue to have her objectors and critics for the rest of her term as First Lady, especially regarding her wardrobe: that her dress is too short or too long, that it has a poorly chosen print, that the texture of the silk is not adequate, that her sandals have a strap that is too thick, and so on.
Or claiming that “she is travelling too much abroad and goes shopping a lot, instead of caring for Romanian orphanages”, as she was accused in the last few days by an honourable lady in the Diaspora, in an open letter.
As far as I know, there is no text book about how to be the First Lady in Romania, mentioning, by example, how many foreign visits one is allowed to make, to accompany the President. And what is the limit number of orphanages and other social settlements that have to be visited.
Perhaps Carmen Iohannis herself will be entitled to write such textbook in a few years to share her experience.
Until then, she is just beginning to discover how it is to be the First Lady, and she is learning it… “Step By Step”, to quote the title of the famous book written by the President.