Chantal Biya: a leading lady for all reasons

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to Cameroon's President Paul Biya (L), as Biya's wife Chantal applauds, at the international airport in Yaounde. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • She rarely wears the same outfit twice and is easily the most glamorous First Lady

Chantal Biya, the 38-year-old First Lady of the Cameroon has grabbed the attention of the style world.

Her outfit when she and her husband, President Paul Biya, 76, received Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, singled her out as a leading African lady of fashion.

Her elaborate headgear, quite obviously ordered for the occasion, was decorated with crosses and was as sophisticated as it was expensive.

One American style writer described it as combination of a miter (a type of headgear now known as the traditional, ceremonial head-dress worn by bishops) and a head wrap.

Boston Globe style writer Christopher Muther was quoted in blogosphere as having said: “Carla Bruni-Sarkozy? Michelle Obama? Neither of these glamorous first ladies can compare to style icon Chantal Biya, the first lady of Cameroon... Chantal even showed up the Pope’s miter with her jaunty head wrap, which was adorned with tasteful crosses for the occasion. No further deliberation is necessary; it’s time to declare Mrs Biya a saint of style.”

President Biya’s second wife is a fashion icon in the West African country. Among Cameroonian women, Mrs Biya is famous for her hairstyles. Her signature style is called the banane, and is used for formal occasions.

The first lady has popularised other styles that are collectively known as the Chantal Biya.

Various fashion critics write that it is impossible for Cameroonians to recall having seen their First Lady with the same outfit in public twice.

Mrs Biya, was born in Dimako, Eastern Cameroon, to French expatriate Georges Vigouroux and Miss Doumé pageant winner Rosette Ndongo Mengolo.

She married President Biya in 1994 at the age of 23. Mr Biya’s first wife, Jeanne-Irène Biya, died in 1992.

“There are Cameroonians who can vow that they have never seen the first lady wear the same dress twice,” Peterkins Manyong once wrote in Cameroon’s The Post.

It’s a good thing then that Cameroon has oil.


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