When a fashion designer says that he or she would be honored to dress the First Lady, it usually doesn’t make news. That was before Donald Trump was elected president. Now, many counted among fashion’s designer elite are rushing to declare that they will have nothing to do with the president-elect and his family. Many designers have made it clear that they have no intention of dressing Melania Trump. Tom Ford—who has dressed Michelle Obama as First Lady—claims that Melania is “not necessarily my image” and Sophie Theallet, a French designer who has also dressed Mrs. Obama, announced in an open letter on Twitter that she refuses to dress Mrs. Trump, as a “stand against all discrimination and prejudice.”
But designer Carolina Herrera said that she would “of course” consider dressing America’s new First Lady. One wonders how the progressive fashion elite, who just this past October celebrated 35 years of Carolina Herrera with a lavish party in New York City, will take the news. How will the designers respond to Carolina’s possible participation in an administration accused of “discrimination and prejudice?” Will they take to Buzzfeed (now the outlet of choice for outraged social justice warriors) to denounce anyone who associates with the Trumps? By dressing Melania, will Herrera face charges of collaboration with team Trump, the supposed arbiter of “racism, sexism, and xenophobia?” (As for Mr. Ford’s “image” remark, anyone who has seen the fashions of Tom Ford—or his latest film—could hardly claim that the beautiful, statuesque Melania has an inappropriate aesthetic for perfectionist Tom Ford).
It’s not a surprise that the fashion elite has responded to Trump with partisan histrionics; by and large, it is an industry that believes only liberal views can be fashionable. The Center for Responsive Politics found that many of the fashion elite gave personally to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for president, including Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Tory Burch, and Diane von Furstenberg—to the tune of more than half a million dollars total. Marc Jacobs, Jason Wu, and Thakoon even designed special Hillary-themed fashion merchandise for the election.
However, it is more than a little ironic that these largely progressive figures—having spent the last decade demanding conformity and acquiescence to their leftist ideals—suddenly feel compelled to invoke the prerogative to deny service to the First Lady. After years of publicly shaming small business owners and others who refused to participate in same-sex weddings, for example, they now claim that their personal political beliefs are quite sufficient to justify their choice not to offer their services to Melania Trump at the White House.
The joke might be on them. They will miss a remarkable opportunity to witness their work worn by one of the most powerful promoters of fashion in the US: the president’s wife. Dressing first ladies is an honor, as Herrera, who has dressed her fair share of fabulous and fashionable women, including the iconic Jackie Kennedy, knows well. Another designer, Tommy Hilfiger, would be “proud” for the honor:
I think Melania is a very beautiful woman, and I think any designer should be proud to dress her.
Perhaps the pride associated with the prestige of dressing the First Lady is why, when asked about dressing Melania, a handful of designers offered guardedly positive responses rather than political posturing. Hilfiger also said to Women’s Wear Daily: “I don’t think people should become political about it. Everyone was very happy to dress Michelle [Obama] as well. I think they look great in the clothes. You’re not gonna get much more beautiful than Ivanka or Melania.” Thom Browne put it best: “Out of respect for the position of the first lady of our United States, I would be honored to be considered to design for any first lady of the United States.”
“My work is about beauty,” Carolina Herrera told AP in an interview in honor of her 35th anniversary as a fashion designer: “I want women to feel elegant and glamorous and chic—why not?” If beauty, elegance, and glamour is the mission of Carolina Herrera’s work, then we should leave politics aside and allow her to do what she does best: Design beautiful, elegant dresses for women—even if those women are married to men with whom the designers disagree in the political realm. As Herrera astutely noted to Business of Fashion, the convictions of fashion’s anti-Trump crowd are likely to fade once the Trumps are in the White House and the power and glamor of having access to the First Family increases: “I think that in two or three months they’ll reach out, because it’s fashion,” she said of her fellow designers. “You’ll see everyone dressing Melania. She’s representing the United States.”