(BRISBANE TIMES) — Their glamourous lives earn them fawning spreads in western fashion magazines like Vogue. But at home they inspire dread, with tales of confiscating people’s homes and punishing servants with boiling water.

In December 2010, the French first lady Carla Bruni sat down to lunch under the gold chandeliers of the Elysee palace with Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian leader Bashar. As they sat demurely with their husbands around a butterfly-print tablecloth dominated by a pastel flower-arrangement, a photographer was ushered in to grab a picture for French celebrity magazines.

After all, this was a communion of fashion’s high priestesses: a former Italian supermodel turned folk-singer entertaining a Chanel-loving, London-raised, former banker and conveniently westernised Middle Eastern first lady.

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