A true pageant fan may not need any introduction to Genevieve de Fontenay who was an iconic figure in France for decades together. She was the former president of the Miss France Committee and had been part of the Committee for almost 50 years! Yess 50 years!
It all started in 1949 when she was 17. She joined hotel management school in Strasbourg and during the course of time also got trained as beautician in Paris. In 1957 she was elected as “Miss Elegance” while she was working as a model at Balenciaga. She met Louis Poirot who was working as the general manager of Miss France Committee chaired by Guy Rinaldo. She became Louis Poirot’s assistant in 1962, with whom she had two sons. After his death in 1981 she took over the committee with her elder son Xavier. In 2002, they both sold the commercial and television parts of their company to the company Endemol France reportedly for an amount of 10 million Euros. However she continued to work as Deputy Director for the committee with a salary she demanded (5000 euros/month) from Endemol.
Later, things started to fall apart due to multiple many allegations and controversies surrounding the pageant. Following the publication by the magazine Interview of suggestive photos of Valérie Bègue, Miss France 2008, Genevieve wanted to dethrone her but Valerie had the support of people Reunion Islands. Due to the pressure of Bishop and Secretary of state for Overseas, Miss France Committee decided not to withdraw her title but she wasn’t allowed to compete internationally. She was replaced by her second runner up Laura Tanguy who was sent to Miss Universe 2008 and Miss World 2008. This along with some other events like Endemol inviting Miss France contestants to participate in a reality show “The celebrity farm in Africa” Created the rift between Genevieve and Endemol further and she decided to quit the committee in 2010.
Meanwhile Endemol appointed Sylvie Tylier, Genevieve’s Protegee as the new president. Sylvie was quoted saying “It’s a generation gap,”. She defended Endemol’s decision to hire Miss France contestants for reality shows, saying, “If it can let them make a bit of money, fill up their fridges, and have a bit more popularity, I don’t see what’s problematic about it.”
Ms. de Fontenay begged to differ. “One can’t imagine Miss France without Geneviève de Fontenay,” she said. “You know, no one asks Sylvie Tellier for her autograph; no one asks her for anything in the street. Me, I can’t take one step without people coming to ask to take photos with me, without people telling me”
Geneviève created her own rival contest “Miss Nationale” after parting her ways with Miss France Org. However her new contest came to an abrupt end in 2016 when she decided to end her career which ran for more than 50 years. Today she lives a modest life with her grand daughter outside of all the buzz and limelight. French media calls her “Lady with the hat” She has a unique dressing style which she followed from 1957 mostly black and white combo and hat! She may have outdated thoughts and concept of beauty pageants but she is who made Miss France what it is! One can’t talk anything abt Miss France without a mention of Genevieve. She is 89 now!