To dress Melania Trump or not dress Melania, with fashion & politics mixing, that is the question! As of late, a host of designers have been posed the question and stating what they would do. I am not a designer, but I have definitely formulated my own thoughts and opinions on the matter, so here goes. But first, a little background on how this all came to be.
Fashion designer Sophia Theallet, one of outgoing first lady Michelle Obama’s go-to designers, recently posted an open letter asking fellow designers to boycott and to not dress Melania. Ms. Theallet of course has her reasoning, mainly stemming from a dislike and disagreement of President-elect Trump and is forthcoming presidency. My initial thought on reading this was why she posted the letter? Was she asked to dress Melania? I haven’t yet read where the designer was asked to do so. Naturally, I would assume Melania and whatever stylist team she was working with would not first approach Michelle’s go-to closet of designers. I wasn’t also surprised that not every designer would want to loan out pieces to Melania as this recent election was certainly a very polarizing one. I then landed on an age-old saying — “there is no such thing as bad press.”
I do not doubt for one minute that Theallet is not a Trump supporter, but what better way to not only keep your name in the press, but to also increase the presence than calling for a boycott. Because of how much I do in fashion, I of course know Theallet and her work. In fact, a couple of times, I have featured her work as part of my best dressed lists, such as Anna Chlumsky at the 2015 Tony Awards. I don’t gather that her brand is as well known as that say of a Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors, but I imagine she has been introduced to a lot more people now. Additionally, because of the anti-Trump sentiments, specifically in Hollywood, she may get some new work opportunities. And following from this, now many designers, who have too not yet been asked to dress Melania, are weighing in. These designers are of course a bit more established, but with the question now floating about, any designer is of course going to state their opinions as well.
Those who have also said they would not dress Melania, Marc Jacobs — “I have no interest whatsoever in dressing Melania Trump. I didn’t see [Sophie Theallet’s] letter. Personally, I’d rather put my energy into helping out those who will be hurt by [Donald] Trump and his supporters.”
Derek Lam — “What a tough question to answer now that the election has been decided! I’ve been slammed on social media when expressing an opinion about the election outcome. I was warned by people that I should not make an opinion which could alienate a client. Having been duly warned, my response is, while I have incredible respect for our country’s political institutions, I find it challenging to be personally involved in dressing the new first lady. I would rather concentrate my energies on efforts towards a more just, honorable and a mutually respectful world. I don’t know Melania Trump personally, so I don’t wish my comments to seem I am prejudging her personal values, but I really don’t see myself getting involved with the Trump presidency.”
I believe Derek made a good point about alienating clients. This leads to one of my reasons as to why designers should make their own decision, but to not write the opportunity off so easily. And if a designer did choose to reject an actual offer to dress Melania, I wouldn’t be so quick to brag about the rejection. Like it or not, President-elect Trump did win the election. Of course he has his haters, but he too has supporters. Household names in fashion I think would not be so quick to risk backlash on a decision such as this. And that could happen. Those who have also said they would not dress Melania are Phillip Lim and Tom Ford. Although with Mr. Ford, what wasn’t quite so prevalent in the headline, was that he too wouldn’t dress Hillary Clinton!
But one designer who I think hit the nail on the head was the lovely Diane von Furstenberg. She said, “Donald Trump was elected and he will be our president. Melania deserves the respect of any first lady before her. Our role as part of the fashion industry is to promote beauty, inclusiveness, diversity. We should each be the best we can be and influence by our example.”
A major fear of those on the anti-Trump side has been all about issues with diversity and inclusiveness. The answer to combat this is not to act in the same manner. I would think leading by example would work better than boycotting. Again, I wouldn’t expect every designer would want to dress Melania. However, putting forth such strong desires to not do so in such a public forum is a bit hypocritical, especially when one is wanting or expecting a change in behavior and actions with this forthcoming presidency.
Tommy Hilfiger and Thom Browne both have said they too would dress the first lady and would consider it an honor. Whether one agrees with Trump being our next President, it is still such a huge opportunity for one to be given the chance to dress the first lady. Both established designers and those still working to build their brand are given the chance to do so. Established designers might have a bit more flexibility in their decisions to dress Melania or not, but I imagine they would consider their views a bit more carefully before decisions and severe expressions are made. Vera Wang was a bit ambiguous in her response, but I believe she would ultimately decide to dress Melania as she would want the first lady to support American fashion. And her “PC” answer is a bit more in line of what I would expect from an established designer. I must point out though, in response to Vera Wang, that it would be hard for Melania to demonstrate continued support of American fashion designers if those designers choose to follow Theallet and her call for a boycott.
But on the flip side, an independent or emerging designer would have to realize the potential in the opportunity. It could not only be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but also one that could lend to repetition, as in the chance to repeatedly dress the first lady. This sort of goes back to the “no press is bad press” sentiment. Could a designer receive some backlash for dressing Melania? Of course. But with that decision, you would also receive some support, and ultimately, it is press for your brand. And that is very important for emerging designers to accumulate.
Cynthia Rowley too made some great points — “In the midst of this heated debate, the question actually seems somewhat irrelevant. She can simply purchase whatever she wants, so how can we control it? Just because she’s shown wearing a designer does not mean that designer is endorsing her, her husband or any of their beliefs. Checking someone’s ethical beliefs before they’re allowed to purchase, sets up an exclusionary dynamic that feeds into the exact mentality that is preventing us from moving forward in a positive direction. Some people say fashion and politics should never mix, but when given the choice, I think you should address and dress your conscience.”
The first lady, just as any other lady must do, has to create a look for every day. Yes, there are certain occasions that might warrant a more special look. But Melania will be in the public eye daily. Most of her wardrobe will not be from designer loans. So in regard to some of the debate going on about dressing Melania, some of it is a bit moot.
I was happy to see that Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley spoke to the Daily Mail about the future First Lady, whom he styled for her 2005 wedding. He would be in support of designers working with Melania. He had nothing but positive things to say about her.
I did read what might have been some unsubstantiated gossip that designers have already not been working with Melania, but also Ivanka and Tiffany. They made purchases or wore Ivanka’s brand. However, this was during the campaign, and I expect things to be different now that the election is over. Just as many stars and actors said they would leave the U.S. if Trump was elected President, of course they didn’t and are not going to! But I imagine designers will too change their tune once the dust settles some. And those who may have not loaned pieces this year, might do so over the next 4 years!