Are Designers Ignoring Melania? Let's Keep Tabs

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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
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).
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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
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.”
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Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: GASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/Bloomberg.
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 WWD, 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."

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.
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Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images.
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, Harper's Bazaar, and The New York Times. He does not have a formal press team, nor an official Instagram account.
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Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.
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.
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Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images.
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 WWD 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."

Ferrari 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 Vogue article about the look on January 19.