PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande doesn’t look like a man who spends 10,000 euros ($11,000) a month on his hair.
Yet the deeply unpopular Socialist leader, who was elected on a populist mandate of taxing the super-wealthy, is embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over the exorbitant price of his hair care that detractors have dubbed #Coiffeurgate.
The topic was, well, so topical that he had to address it Thursday in his traditional Bastille Day televised interview — a moment Hollande had hoped to use to show a dignified front ahead of France’s next general election in May.
Hollande defended his spending on the presidential barber, reminding the nation that since being elected in 2012 as a self-styled “Monsieur Normal” and defender of the poor, he has cut his own salary by 30 percent, reduced the Elysee Palace budget by 9 million euros and cut its staff by 10 percent.
“You can reproach me on anything you like, but not on that,” he said, visibly uncomfortable with the subject.
Declaring that he was not the person responsible for overseeing his cranial grooming arrangements, Hollande said “concerning the hairdresser’s costs, we used to use external contractors until now, and I preferred that it was handled from here.”
Critics expressed surprise that a leader whose hair is thinning could spend so much per month preening, when a posh men’s haircut in Paris costs about 50 euros ($56). There was no suggestion that the money was being used for hair plugs or other surgical hair costs.
Detractors noted that Hollande was elected because comments such as “I do not like the rich” marked a strong contrast with the bling-bling image of his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who loved flashy jewelry and fancy restaurants.
The barber’s monthly paycheck also has to stick in the craw of French workers, coming on a day when Hollande was defending his government’s divisive labor law reforms, which have triggered crippling strikes across the country for weeks. The new laws make it easier to hire and fire workers and to expand a normal work week.
French media calculated that Hollande’s monthly hair maintenance is nearly four times that of an average French worker’s salary.
The Bastille Day interview — on France’s independence day — follows the country’s famed national military parade down the grand Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris. If polls are to be believed, this could be Hollande’s last Bastille Day as France’s leader.
The original story by the Le Canard Enchaine newspaper was confirmed Wednesday by French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, who awkwardly tried to defend his boss.
“Doesn’t everyone have their hair done?” he quipped, adding that the barber is present in France and on trips abroad. “He is always there.”
Other defenders included — surprisingly — Hollande’s ex-partner Valerie Trierweiler, with whom relations have been frosty since 2014, after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande’s secret affair with actress Julie Gayet. Trierweiler took to Twitter to say that Hollande initially didn’t know about the high salary for his barber, and was furious when he found out.
Hollande’s image has been important for his political persona since the once-portly politician drastically slimmed down ahead of his 2012 election victory.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP