Hillary Pillory!

updated 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

YOU CALL THESE ALLIES? WHILE PRESIDENT Clinton was practicing summitry in Europe, the First Lady endured what can only be called her Fashion D Day. She suffered casualties at the outset, took constant sniping and, ultimately, won the war.

The first shot was fired in Rome, where the tabloids launched a no-hemlines-barred attack. "Gutsy, but no style,'' sniffed Italian designer Laura Biagiotti of Clinton's off-the-rack suits. "Fashion stayed at home." The Roman daily La Repubblica offered up as role model Italy's own sultry, long-legged Veronica Berlusconi, the wife of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The paper compared "Hillary the Hard" to "Veronica the Beautiful," a former topless actress. Hillary's babushka-like styling of the black lace mantilla she wore to meet Pope John Paul II was deemed "absurd" by La Stampa.

Our English allies proved no kinder: Evening Standard columnist Emma Soames tolerated the First Lady's clothing but faulted her for being humorless. "She comes off rather stern," Soames said. "You almost think she deliberately looks a mess for fear of seeming frivolous."

But the tide turned after Normandy. A Carolina Herrera lime green suit with black buttons proved a palpable hit. "She has solved the problem of power dressing," proclaimed the French newspaper the European. "She dresses powerfully and yet like a woman, and it's pretty." There was the inevitable comparison with the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, France's most beloved American First Lady ("You're no Jackie," quipped one political cartoon), but in the end, Mrs. Clinton's command of substance, not style, won her longest day. "You can tell that there's nothing about her role in this couple that resembles Jackie Kennedy's," said French TV anchor Christine Ockrent. "There's a generation of difference."

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