During his inaugural address in January, President Donald Trump declared, “We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.” Yet, it appears that the first rule does not apply to his wife Melania.
Since the inauguration in January, Melania Trump has worn more foreign fashion brands for public appearances and events than American. Her choices include a scarlet Givenchy caped shift and Christian Louboutin flats in Palm Beach; a Karl Lagerfeld double-breasted white skirt suit to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara; a swishy Alexander McQueen red day dress for the president’s rally speech in Florida; and a Valentino red silk dress when her husband signed a law to promote women in STEM.
Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian at the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, and author of a dozen books on first ladies, believes it has something to do with the fashion community’s backlash against all things Trump following his election in November.
“All these American designers came out saying they wouldn’t provide clothes for Melania if she asked,” Sferrazza Anthony said. “Those fashion designers were making a very public political statement.”
Melania Trump has already been pulled into several media maelstroms: her convention speech last summer that plagiarized Michelle Obama’s from 2008, her immigration history, and her comments about profiting financially from the position as first lady-all “false moves,” as Sferrazza Anthony puts it.
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Because of this, “Mrs. Trump is being careful not to stir up any more controversy,” he explains. And that means choosing to wear clothes by non-political designers, such as Ralph Lauren, who dressed her in a robin egg blue suit for the inauguration, or going foreign, since “foreign designers aren’t politically implicated in the United States at all,” Sferrazza Anthony says.
Wearing an American designed frock from a house whose designer or customers may not be pro-Trump “could generate enough negative publicity to seriously harm the brand.”
Indeed, when news broke that Ralph Lauren provided inauguration Melania’s ensemble-despite the fact that he also dressed Hillary Clinton for the inauguration and has never voiced his political leanings-his company received complaints from the public, and the hashtag #BoycottRalphLauren trended across social media. (When contacted for comment on Melania Trump’s fashion choices or pushback she has endured because of it, her Chief Strategist Stephanie Winston Wolkoff did not respond.)
Of course, Melania Trump is not the country’s first high-profile political wife to be pooh-poohed for not wearing American. After coming under fire for donning French couture on the campaign trail in 1960, Jacqueline Kennedy was firmly asked by her husband, the Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, to stick to American designers. She engaged Oleg Cassini, who made her French-inspired clothes, and ordered from Chez Ninon, a New York company that officially reproduced French couture.
The one exception came in 1961, during the Kennedys’ trip to France: she wore a made-to-order Givenchy gown of stiff ivory silk with a floral embroidered bodice to the state dinner at Versailles. She recycled the dress a year later for a congressional reception at the White House.
Michelle Obama, meanwhile, received a public lashing in 2011 for wearing a poppy red Alexander McQueen ball gown to the Chinese state dinner at the White House. The Council of Fashion Designers of America President Diane Von Furstenberg said she was "disappointed" by Michelle Obama’s choice. Designer Oscar de la Renta, who dressed many American first ladies over the years, stated the selection “was not well-advised.”
Obama brushed off the controversy, saying: “I like to patronize American designers, and the vast majority of the clothes that I wear are [designed by Americans.] But there are a lot of other designers that have cute stuff, too.”
On this, Melania Trump obviously agrees.
Dana Thomas is the Paris-based author of Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
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