Why Melania Trump’s White House Portrait Veers Off-Message
By Erika Harwood. Photos: Getty Images, Courtesy of Instagram.
Melania Trump’s official First Lady portrait was released by the White House on Monday. Those reacting online were largely unimpressed. Readers called out the overall airbrushed-at-the-galleria aesthetic, the First Lady’s prominently displayed large diamond ring, and the the shot’s similarity to Nancy Reagan’s official portrait. All in all: another Monday in Trumpland, sure to be erased by the administration’s next adventures in the news cycle.
But the clamor around the portrait instead rolled into midweek. On Tuesday, it came to light that the tuxedo jacket Trump chose for the sitting was not the work of an American designer but of Italian luxury house Dolce & Gabbana. Trump has a tendency to remain mum on what brands she wears, and in some cases, so do the designers themselves. However, Stefano Gabbana took credit for the First Lady’s silk-collared black suit on Instagram, thanking Trump for wearing it and adding a handful of hashtags like, #DGWoman and #madeinitaly.
While this isn’t the first time Trump has worn clothes by a foreign designer, it is perhaps the most noteworthy so far. Though she chose Michael Kors when she cast her ballot in November and Ralph Lauren on Inauguration Day, Trump, in her short tenure so far as First Lady, has not used the office as shrewdly as some of her recent forerunners to promote American designers. Michelle Obama wore two different U.S. labels for her portraits: Kors in 2009 and Reed Krakoff in 2013.
Wearing creations by foreign designers isn’t necessarily a faux pas for a First Lady. Obama frequently used designers from outside the U.S. as a sign of fashion diplomacy, promoting globalization or honoring countries she visited. Of course Trump, as the biography that accompanied the official portrait notes, is only the second ever foreign-born First Lady. She also once worked as a model and is familiar with the global design world. And even Jackie Kennedy shopped with Parisian couturiers. But the choice of an Italian-made garment for such an official occasion is particularly curious, given her husband’s constant promises to revive American industry, saber rattling on international trade deals, calls to “buy American” and overall U.S. exceptionalism.
As noted, Melania Trump has occasionally worn American designers, but more often than not, she has opted for European labels for her White House appearances and First Lady duties. Her husband’s inflammatory rhetoric on global trade and emphasis on American manufacturing creates a stark dissonance with those choices. If Melania Trump has made one thing clear in her time as First Lady, though, it’s that her husband’s politics haven’t migrated entirely to her closet.
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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