This story was originally published on January 26, 2017.
If there’s one tradition that hasn’t been uprooted in this Trump presidency, it’s the one surrounding the First Lady’s wardrobe. Most first ladies have historically laid low when it came to broadcasting strong political views, opting for subtle cues, instead. Michelle Obama was the primo example of that. We’ve written before about the innumerable ways that she
used her clothing to communicate values, like inclusivity, globalism, and supporting small businesses. Those efforts often translated into lucrative opportunities for the designers whose work she wore, too. During the Obama presidency, any time that the fashion industry and FLOTUS converged, the benefits were felt across both The White House and the retail floor.
How First Lady Melania Trump and the fashion industry converge in this new world order presents a complicated problem for Melania, who wants to be seen as stylish, and the fashion industry, which wants to avoid controversy. As a former model and fashion insider, Melania is the very picture of a put-together first lady, and she is
personally liked by some designers and critics. But her connection to an administration that the fashion industry has by-and-large denounced has created tension between them. Designers and the brands they represent are questioning whether it’s worth it to promote their own clothing if and when she wears it. Given the foreseeable fallout — brand credibility, the potential for boycotts — the stakes are high. Which leaves them with another possibility: not engaging with her at all. For the next four years, we'll attempt to measure whether this non-engagement becomes an enduring aspect of her tenure, by keeping tabs on whether designers and brands decline to self-promote when FLOTUS wears their wares.
To understand why this is such a big deal for brands, it helps to understand how a first lady usually receives the clothes she wears in the first place. For official events like state visits or balls, designers often offer clothing as a
gift, which the first lady would accept on behalf of the U.S. government. After she wears them, all gift pieces are stored by the National Archives as historical artifacts — not in her closet.
First ladies also do not “borrow” clothing the same way that celebrities do for red carpets, since that could lead to questions of ethics, becoming a liability for POTUS. Anything that isn’t a gift is typically purchased out-of-pocket — and not using federal, tax-collected funds. Nevertheless, any First Lady Moment is typically a big press moment, and PR agencies will immediately blast out press releases about her outfit to fashion media following an event.
Judging from appearances on the campaign trail and her short time as FLOTUS, it seems that Melania has had a far smaller circle of designers willing to work with her on custom “gifts” than Michelle Obama. She worked with former Carolina Herrera creative director Herve Pierre on her
inaugural gown and Ralph Lauren on her Inauguration Day suit. She has also tapped into indie designers, like Alice Roi and Norisol Ferrari for other daytime events. During the campaign, she purchased the majority of her clothing, which has left certain liberal designers, including Roksanda Ilincic in tough positions. While some designers have answered questions from the press for articles about their pieces, the brands themselves have opted out of sending the typical PR email blasts and have avoided sharing images on their social media accounts. This stark lack of press — a black hole — is unprecedented in modern coverage of a woman in the White House.
Melania's public persona is largely that of a blank slate. The populist view of her is that she
has no opinions about politics (aside from the ironic one, like “ people shouldn’t bully ”); that she might not even want to be first lady. Her greatest fault is staying married to someone who has many.
Because of Melania’s intimate connection to Trump and his politics — and because she’s never given
any reason for us to think otherwise — it’s impossible to separate what Melania stands for from what Donald does. And in many ways, fashion designers are finding that they have to wrestle with the same kind of guilt by association. When Melania purchases designers' products and wears them, it sullies the image: At worst, it can come across as a passive endorsement of Trump’s politics. At best, it’s confusing for brands that make progressiveness and inclusivity part of their mission. Either way, the easiest tactic for brands to take is one that Melania herself has perfected: staying silent. Read More
To see if Melania’s fashion PR black hole exists in the first place, and if so, how big it grows, we’re going to keep tabs on what she wears during her husband's administration and whether the brands themselves actively disengage with self-promotion. We consider emailed PR blasts as publicity, as well as tweets and Instagrams from brands' official accounts. Where appropriate, we will note if designers and brand representatives have given interviews to media about the looks, which we do not consider self-promotion, but is important to note nonetheless. Ahead, take a look at the changing relationship (or lack thereof) between the First Lady and the fashion industry.
May 24, 2017 — Press About Dolce & Gabbana Coat
On Wednesday morning, the official Dolce & Gabbana Instagram account retweeted Stefano Gabbana's personal account praising a series of Dolce & Gabbana looks that Melania has worn during this trip. Stefano has been railing against "haters" and those calling for a boycott against Dolce & Gabbana, and seems to be relishing in the attention paid toward the brand during this diplomacy tour. This marks the first time that a major brand has celebrated, not just acknowledged, that Melania is wearing their clothing on their public-facing accounts.
The black lace dress and matching mantilla are in line with dress customs when meeting The Pope.
Photo: Vatican Pool/Corbis/Getty Images. More
May 23, 2017 — No Press About Roksanda Ilincic Dress
Roksanda Ilincic's public Instagram and Twitter accounts only post brand-shot photos, and in line with their brand, did not promote Melania Trump wearing one of their paneled dresses at the Tel Aviv airport. They also did not send out a celebrity press release either.
Melania chose a to wear a white Roksanda Ilincic dress with bell sleeves to the Republican National Convention last year. Publications noticed that the dress quickly sold out after she wore it, though her selling power doesn't seem to have swayed Roksanda Ilincic's decision to stay quiet.
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images. More
May 22, 2017 — No Press About Michael Kors Pantsuit
It's clear that Melania favors Michael Kors for smart separates, and she chose a white belted Michael Kors Collection blazer to wear to visit the wailing wall in Israel.
The brand did not post on Twitter nor Instagram, and did not send out a press release about the occasion, though they've been prolifically sending out celebrity dressing announcements from red carpets.
May 21, 2017 — Press About Dolce & Gabbana Suit
This look Melania wore to the inauguration ceremony for the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia was one of the Instagrams Dolce & Gabbana reposted from Stefano Gabbana's personal account. The brand did not send out a press release about this pantsuit.
May 21, 2017 — No Press About Ralph Lauren Dress
Melania chose a $1,590 military-inspired khaki dress by Ralph Lauren to visit the American International School in Riyadh. The brand did not post on their social accounts nor send a press release about the look.
May 20, 2017 — No Press About Reem Acra Gown
To visit the Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Melania wore a floor-length caped Reem Acra gown in fuchsia. Like the previous time she rose Reem Acra, the brand did not post on Instagram nor send our a press release, though they did email out dressing announcements about Mary J. Blige and Ellie Kemper from the same day.
May 20, 2017 — No Press About Stella McCartney Jumpsuit Or YSL Belt
For her first appearance in Saudi Arabia on President Trump's international tour, Melania wore a $1,495 long-sleeved black Stella McCartney jumpsuit and a $495 gold belt by YSL. Neither brand chose to promote this look on their Instagram accounts nor Twitter accounts, and did not email out press releases. However, Stella McCartney only promotes specific red carpet placement on their social media accounts where they've had complete control, and YSL has mostly been posting black and white shots from Cannes.
May 19, 2017 — No Press About Max Mara Top And Herve Pierre Skirt
While boarding Air Force One, Melania wore a white Max Mara sweater and an orange Herve Pierre skirt. While Herve Pierre still does not actively engage in PR, Max Mara does, and did not promote this look on social media nor send out a press release.
April 27, 2017 — No Press About Altuzarra Skirtsuit
Melania wore a $2,995 green-khaki jacket and matching $1,120 skirt to welcome Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his wife Juliana Awada to the White House. Altuzarra did not issue a press release nor post on social media about this look, but the brand has support anti-Trump voices in the past. Recently, it posted a photo of Samantha Bee hosting the Not The White House Correspondent's Dinner wearing a white Altuzarra pantsuit on its
April 17, 2017 — Some Press About Hervé Pierre Gown By now, it seems as if Melania has employed former Carolina Herrera designer Hervé Pierre as her official outfitter, tapping him for a custom pink dress for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. While Pierre still does not have an official press team nor social media accounts, he confirmed his involvement to The New York Times. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. More
April 7, 2017 — No Press About Hermes Scarf Melania wore a $395 Hermès Fleuries scarf to visit the BAK Middle School of the Arts in Florida. Hermès does not promote its red carpet placements nor send out dressing alerts, and did not break from its strategy in this case. Photo: MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images. More
April 6, 2017 — No Press About Valentino Dress To greet Chinese president Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan at Mar-A-Lago, Melania wore a $5,500 daisy-embroidered red Valentino dress. Valentino doesn't typically promote celebrity dressing credits outside of Valentino-branded events and parties, and did not post about Melania. However, Valentino also declined to send a press release about Melania, despite sending notices about Kate Mara and Justice Smith around the same time.
Notably, Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli's presented his New York-shown collection as one inspired by resilience: The clothes were "a symbol of optimism … delicacy that withstands even when it starts to dwindle." Shown a week before the inauguration, it seemed like a subtle jab at the incoming administration.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images. More
April 5, 2017 — No Press About Hervé Pierre Dress A lot was written about Melania's green Hervé Pierre dress she wore to greet Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania to The White House (the color is meaningful within Muslim tradition, and if you believe that it was a deliberate choice on Melania's part, can be seen as an act of diplomacy).
Designer Hervé Pierre's clothing is not available online or in stores, and he does not have an official press team nor social media accounts.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images. More
April 3, 2017 — Press About Dolce & Gabanna Jacket Melania chose a $2,895 Dolce & Gabanna tuxedo-like jacket and a black-sequined scarf to wear for her official White House portrait. The look recalled the sparkly Michael Kors suit she wore to President Trump’s first speech to the joint session of Congress.
“BEAUTIFUL,” Stefano Gabbana wrote on his Instagram
post, hashtagging #DGWoman, #melaniatrump, and #madeinitaly. The comments on the post both praised and denounced Gabbana for featuring her. Gabbana responded to certain people, writing “go to hell” in Italian, and leaving a string of poop emojis.
This is not the first time Gabanna has praised Melania on his personal Instagram. On January 2, before the Inauguration, Gabbana posted a photo of Melania wearing a black Dolce & Gabanna dress.
Dolce & Gabbana’s official Instagram and Twitter did not acknowledge her portrait, and the brand did not send out an official press release.
March 29, 2017 — No Press About The Row Coat To attend an event commemorating Women's History Month, Melania wore a white coat-dress by The Row, designed by two women (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). The Row is notoriously celeb-shy, and has always opted out of acknowledging red carpet or editorial credits (an Instagram of Zadie Smith in The Gentlewoman wearing The Row from September 2016 was a rare exception).
It's no surprise then that they did not send out any alerts or press mentions about Melania.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images. More
March 17, 2017 — No Press About Alice Roi Coat Melania returned to Alice Roi for a recent trip to Mar-a-Lago with a red coat-dress. Despite a comeback announcement in 2014, Alice Roi does not have current product in online stores. There was no emailed press announcement nor social posts about Melania's outfit (but the last dispatch from an Alice Roi account was three weeks ago, on Instagram). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. More
March 8, 2017 — No Press About Ralph Lauren Dress While women across the country chose to wear red, Melania wore a black Ralph Lauren dress to the luncheon she hosted to honor International Women's Day. While Ralph Lauren did not send a press release nor engage with the look on social media, the brand dedicated three posts on Instagram and one tweet to the day: "Happy to all of the mothers, sisters, daughters and leaders of tomorrow," it read. # InternationalWomensDay Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images. More
February 28, 2017 — Some Press About Michael Kors Suit Melania Trump chose a black, embroidered suit and skirt set to wear to President Trump's first speech to the joint session of Congress. Though Michael Kors did not administer a press release nor social media promotion of the outfit, Kors issued a statement to various publications that complimented Melania for her style, but made it clear that FLOTUS purchased the suit herself: “Mrs. Trump has been a long time client at our New York boutique. She has a keen understanding of what works best for her and her lifestyle. My embroidered black suit reflects the streamlined glamour that she is known for.” Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. More
February 18, 2017 — No Press About Alexander McQueen Dress The Alexander McQueen brand did not issue a press release about this fit-and-flare red dress Trump wore to a rally in Melbourne, Florida. The brand did not post on social media either.
While Alexander McQueen has been conservative about promoting when celebrities wear the label (it has mainly stuck to posts about
red carpet appearances that the brand has had a hand in styling), it has acknowledged instances where Michelle Obama wore the brand on Twitter. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images. More
February 15, 2017 — No Press About Karl Lagerfeld Suit Karl Lagerfeld's eponymous label did not send out a press release nor post on social media about the double-breasted skirt suit Trump wore to greet the Netanyahus at The White House.
Separately, Lagerfeld gave an interview in the
Wall Street Journal that mentioned Melania ("Mrs. Trump is a very nice woman and pretty handsome. Good body, no?"), but did not bring up whether he would be happy to dress her in either Chanel nor his own namesake label. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images. More
February 11, 2017 — No Press About Calvin Klein Dress And Cardigan Calvin Klein did not issue press releases, nor post on social media about the cashmere dress and cardigan set that Melania Trump wore to tour the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with the prime minister of Japan's wife, Azie Abe.
It should be noted that this dress is from Francisco Costa's era at Calvin Klein, and since the label went through a rebranding under Raf Simons, it has primarily focused on promoting its own campaigns over celebrity outfits.
Photo: GASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty Images. More
February 10, 2017 — No Press About Michael Kors Outfit Trump wore a Michael Kors button-up and white trousers to arrive at Mar-a-Lago with Shinzo Abe. The brand is typically generous with press releases on celebrity dressing and posting on social media, but did not engage in this case.
The same day, the sent a tweet celebrating a Michael Kors look worn by
Kerry Washington, who's been a vocal about her opposition to Donald Trump. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. More
February 4, 2017 — No Press About Dior Dress Melanie wore a bright-pink Dior gown to attend the Red Cross Ball at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Dior did not issue a formal emailed press release, and the dress did not show up in Dior’s various social media updates. Michelle Obama did not wear Dior during her time as First Lady, so we weren’t able to compare Dior's tactics about publicizing non-Hollywood celebrities.
But, take this as you will: Dior did recently repost an image of Rihanna in its “We Should All Be Feminists”
shirt, which many of their fans saw as an endorsement of Rihanna’s anti-Trump, pro-women stance. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images. More
February 3, 2017 — No Press About Givenchy Dress Givenchy has not confirmed whether Melania’s split-sleeved red dress is their design, but it’s widely believed that the dress that Melania wore to travel to Mar-a-Lago for Donald Trump’s first weekend vacation was Givenchy. If so, this dress marks a return to the European luxury designers she favored during the campaign (Melania favored American designers during the first blitz of outings surrounding the inauguration).
As such, Givenchy has not done any press about this moment either. As a point of comparison, the brand frequently publicized Michelle Obama whenever
she wore the brand. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. More
January 21, 2017 — No Press About Alice Roi Coat Melania wore an Alice Roi coat to the National Prayer Service at The National Cathedral. Roi gave an interview with which confirmed that she and Trump are friends, and are planning on working together in the future. Said Roi, "We’ve already begun to design other pieces together. We made a few more she hasn’t worn yet. I expect to dress her all the time." WWD,
That said, Alice Roi did not update her
Instagram since her last post on January 14, with images of Melania, even though she has posted pictures of other celebrities wearing her clothes. Her Twitter is not active. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/Bloomberg. More
January 20, 2017 — Some Press About Hervé Pierre Gown The former creative director of Carolina Herrera, Hervé Pierre, created the custom dress for Melania Trump to wear during the Inauguration ball. This is the first time Pierre has created an item under his own name, which he disclosed to , WWD , and Harper's Bazaar . He does not have a formal press team, nor an official Instagram account. The New York Times Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images. More
January 20, 2017 — No Press About Ralph Lauren Suit Ralph Lauren confirmed to multiple outlets that it dressed Melania Trump for the Inauguration (and also dressed Hillary Clinton), but did not comment further. The brand did not send out a press release, nor did it post on Twitter nor Instagram. Though the brand consistently posts photos of celebrities wearing its clothing, it has not traditionally engaged with press around members of politics.
Ralph Lauren has already seen a backlash, as some of its customers called for a
boycott. But, some outlets are reporting that Ralph Lauren's stock has risen since the inauguration. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images. More
January 19, 2017 — Some Press About Reem Acra Dress Melania chose a shimmering gold dress by Lebanese-born, New York-based designer Reem Acra to a dinner at Union Station the evening before the inauguration.
Although Reem Acra's PR agency, Purple PR, sent out blasts about celebrities who wore Acra to The People's Choice Awards just the week prior, Purple PR has remained largely silent about Melania, and sent no emails. The design house
instagrammed an image of Melania accompanied by the caption, "The First Lady of the United States. #ReemAcra," and received over a thousand comments both in extreme support and rebuke. In contrast, the previous post of a lookbook image received just 30 comments. The brand has been retweeting various articles featuring the dress, including an article by Allure that mistakenly attributed Reem Acra as the designer of a Norisol Ferrari coat. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images. More
January 19, 2017 — No Press About Norisol Ferrari Coat Melania wore an NYC-based independent designer brand, Norisol Ferrari, coat to the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Ferrari gave an interview, which supported Melania as a woman, but did not endorse the president. "I really saw a person who is being misunderstood who is being scrutinized. She’s a woman and a mother and I am pro-woman. I don’t believe that my political affiliation has any relevance in this appointment." WWD
instagrammed a graphic on January 12, 2017 that said "I Am Pro-Women," with the caption: “I believe together we can do anything,” and a variety of feminist hashtags, but has not instagrammed anything since. Ferrari did not send an official press release, but her quotes were included in an official statement sent by Melania Trump's office.
Ferrari's husband and business partner, Lawrence Lenihan,
retweeted a complementary article about the look on January 19. Vogue Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images. More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? Dolce & Gabbana Is The First Major Fashion Brand To Proudly Post About Dressing Melania Trump Michelle Obama Is Down With Athleisure, Too Get Ready To See Bella Hadid In These Sneakers Constantly