On the Runway: Melania Trump’s ‘America First’ Inaugural Wardrobe
The gown was, according to a statement from her office, a “collaboration” between Mrs. Trump and the designer Hervé Pierre, a Frenchman who moved to New York in the early 1990s and eventually became creative director of Carolina Herrera, where he and Mrs. Trump met and where he worked on clothes for Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, though largely behind the scenes. He left that post last February. This is his first major dress under his own name (he does not yet have a full-fledged collection in that context).
It will eventually join the exhibit of first ladies gowns at the Smithsonian stretching back to Helen Taft in 1909.
Though rumors had surfaced earlier in the week that Mrs. Trump was working with Chanel’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld on her gown, in the end she used the opportunity — and indeed, her entire inaugural wardrobe — to do what her husband, standing on the steps of the Capitol building, said they would do: “follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”
After over 20 years in this country, Mr. Pierre counts.
Indeed, with one notable exception — Kellyanne Conway’s red-white-and-blue military-inspired coat at the swearing-in, which looked like she might have borrowed it off a toy soldier (it was her “Trump revolution wear” she told reporters) but in fact turned out to be a $3,600 design from the Italian brand Gucci — the inaugural weekend overall was a series of America First fashion moments, literally and metaphorically. And not just when it came to the women.
There has been a lot of speculation over whether the office of president will change Mr. Trump — encourage moderation of his Twitter account, for example, or his language. As yet that is unclear, but it does appear to have changed how his family dresses.
On Friday the president wore an overcoat and shirt to the swearing-in said to be by Brooks Brothers, the American men’s wear brand that outfitted 39 presidents before him. Lincoln, Grant, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama wore Brooks Brothers for their swearing-in ceremonies, and Mr. Obama even wore his overcoat again on Friday when he stood with Mr. Trump. For a man who often overtly rejected the Washington establishment and what came before in his speech, it was nevertheless a nod to tradition and history.
The day before, Melania Trump (who during the campaign tended toward European brands), stepped off the military jet that brought the Trumps to Washington for a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in a strict, double-breasted military-inspired coat by Norisol Ferrari, a small, independent New York designer who described herself to WWD as a “first-generation minority woman.”
Then, that evening at the donors’ black tie dinner, the first lady wore a floor-length nude sequined gown by Reem Acra, the Lebanese-born designer based in New York. And Ivanka Trump wore three different outfits from Oscar de la Renta, a tent-pole name of New York Fashion Week: a forest-green coat and matching dress to Arlington; a white-and-black gown to the donor’s dinner; and a white pantsuit to the swearing-in. (Oscar de la Renta himself dressed both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush for their husbands’ second inaugural balls; the brand is something of an inaugural go-to.) For the balls, she donned Carolina Herrera.
It was when Mrs. Trump wore a Ralph Lauren powder-blue double-face cashmere dress and coat to the Inauguration Day festivities, however, that it became indubitable that something strategic was going on.
It is not just because Mr. Lauren is a designer who has built an empire on the mythology of the American dream, or because he has outfitted the U.S. Olympic team and donated $13 million to help restore the Betsy Ross flag. And it is not because he had dressed four first ladies before, crossing political parties in service to the role. It is because the dress and coat he made for Mrs. Trump, in shape and shade, created an image that was redolent of nothing so much as Jacqueline Kennedy at her Camelot inaugural, with all the new beginnings and freighted history that implies. Whatever you think of the reality of that connection — and on social media, there was a lot of verbal eye-rolling — the outfit oozed appropriateness.
If it looked like something of a first lady costume, and it did, it also suggested that Mrs. Trump had studied up and was prepared to assume the starring role she played later in the evening. Just as Ivanka Trump’s trouser suit, which was designed by Fernando Garcia, one half of the new young creative duo at Oscar de la Renta, seemed a sign of the unofficial role she has often suggested she will pursue: women’s advocate.
White pantsuits, after all, became famous over the summer when Hillary Clinton wore one, also by Ralph Lauren, to accept the Democratic nomination for president, at least in part in acknowledgment of the suffragists, who chose white as one of their signature colors. Later, the white outfits were adopted as a uniform of sorts by pro-Clinton women as they went to the polls.
It was thus a fairly pointed (and, to some, poignant) moment when Mrs. Clinton appeared in a final white Ralph Lauren pantsuit to accompany her husband to the inauguration — a suit that had been made as part of her campaign collaboration with Mr. Lauren, but never worn. And it was probably not by chance that Ms. Trump selected a similar look.
The politics of clothing may be subtle, and may strike some as frivolous, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a requisite part of the pageantry that surrounds the presidency — especially on a day with more photo opportunities than speeches. They paint a picture of the family that now represents the country, of their ambitions, goals and values, at a moment when the world is watching. This time, the brush strokes swirled: not with accessibility, but with aspiration, and nationalism. A case of the emperor’s new clothes, or a harbinger of things to come? We’ll have to keep looking to find out.
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