17 French Femmes Fatales

These women have established themselves as forces in the business world in both their native France and beyond

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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

The Italian-born model-singer added glamour to the role of First Lady when she married French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. Not content to be just a pretty face, Bruni-Sarkozy runs her own foundation to support education, and also stays active in AIDS research and animal-rights charities.

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Marine Le Pen

Le Pen has followed in the footsteps of her father to become president of the National Front, France’s right-wing extremist party. She finished third in France's 2012 election, behind François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

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Catherine Deneuve

The iconic beauty may be best known for her big screen work, but Deneuve is a businesswoman in her own right, marketing herself with a fragrance, cosmetic line, accessories and greeting cards.

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Christine Lagarde

As the former head of the French Minister of Economic Affairs, Finances and Industry, Lagarde earned praise for her work—the Financial Times ranked her the EU’s top minister of finance. Now, she’s in the spotlight again after being named the head of the IMF in 2011 following the indictment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

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Ségolène Royal

Royal was the first woman in France to be nominated as a presidential candidate for a major party. She may have lost to Sarkozy in 2007, but the single mother of four isn’t giving up—she recently penned her 10th book, “Cette Belle Idée du Courage” (“This Beautiful Idea of Courage”), and has not ruled out a return to politics.

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Liliane Bettencourt

Estimated to be worth $23.5 billion, Bettencourt, the heir to the L’Oreal fortune, is one of the richest people in the world. The heiress is as generous as she is wealthy: Her Bettencourt Schueller Foundation pours millions of euros each year into scientific education and research, humanitarian and social projects, and culture and the arts.

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Sophie Albou

The Paris-born designer got her first break working for Azzedine Alaia before starting her own menswear collection, Paul & Joe—named after her sons—in 1995. Since then, Albou has added lines for women, juniors, kids and more—even going overseas to America with lines for Target and Urban Outfitters.

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Mireille Guiliano

Before gaining worldwide recognition for her career as a writer, Guiliano built an impressive business empire as CEO of luxury goods company Clicquot, Inc. And she didn’t stop there. USA Today has dubbed her “the high priestess of French lady wisdom” for her international bestsellers, French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Women for all Seasons.

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Alexandra Cousteau

Born in America but raised in France, Alexandra Cousteau is the granddaughter of legendary explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. Her work as an advocate for conservation and restoration of water resources during the global water crisis earned her the 2011 Human Security Award at University of California, Irvine.

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Bernadette Chirac

Though her husband’s former presidency is currently shadowed by charges of corruption, the former first lady continues to promote fashion and artisans as a board member of luxury conglomerate LMVH.

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Anne Lauvergeon

Named the ninth most powerful woman internationally by Forbes in 2009, Lauvergeon, was replaced as CEO of France’s state-owned nuclear firm Areva SA in 2011. During her ten-year stint, she faced her share of trouble—including construction delays, arguments with customers and cost overruns. Earlier this year, she was appointed to the board of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. (EADS), and she is also a non-executive director at American Express.

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Aude Zieseniss de Thuin

In 2005, after noting a lack of women at the World Economic Forum, Zieseniss de Thuin founded what's referred to as the “Davos for Women,” a forum that provides a platform for women in business to share and debate their viewpoints on politics, economics, the environment and more.

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Dominique Hériard Dubreuil

Known as “the Grand Dame of Cognac,” Hériard Dubreuil serves as the CEO and Chairman of the Board for French alcohol manufacturer Remy Cointreau. With her background in public relations, Hériard Dubreuil doesn’t shy away from employing edgier tactics when promoting her products, such as Cointreau’s “Cointreauversial” campaign with burlesque performer Dita von Teese.

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Dominique Senequier

One of the first women to graduate from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, Senequier founded AXA Private Equity—now one of the largest private equity firms in Europe—17 years ago. In 2010, she headed a major milestone deal: the purchase of Bank of America’s $1.9 billion portfolio of investments. She resigned as a director of Hewlett-Packard in 2012, and was named one of 50 Most Influential Money Managers in October 2013 by Bloomberg Markets.

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Anne-Marie Idrac

An administrator for many years in town planning, environment and transport, Idrac became the French Minister of Trade in 2008; she served as chairman of the SNCF—the national railway—until 2010. After 35 years in government, she now serves on the boards of several companies and institutions.

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Catherine Bréchignac

As French Ambassador for science, technology and innovation, and former president of the National Center for Scientific Research, the nuclear physicist’s research over the last 40 years has been widely published and gained multiple high honors.

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Michèle Alliot-Marie

After vacationing in Tunisia in the midst of its revolution, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs received a lot of criticism for associating with contacts of the former Tunisian leader. The backlash led to her resignation in February 2011.

 

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