Melania Trump’s style evokes Europe roots, not America First
Melania Trump’s style evokes Europe roots, not America First
In her first year as first lady, Mrs. Trump has often wrapped herself in the clothes of her home continent as several American designers publicly refused to dress her in what was a fashion industry-wide backlash against her unpopular spouse.
The first first lady to be born in continental Europe, Trump grew up in Sevnica in Slovenia, in the southern Balkans, just over 100km (62 miles) from the Italian border. Her first real taste for fashion came while living in Paris as a young model in the mid-1990s, years before she got US citizenship in 2006.
From designs by Dolce & Gabbana, Del Pozo, Christian Dior, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy and Valentino to daringly-high Christian Louboutin heels, the 47-year-old first lady’s touchstones have not only been Old World, but its most established — and expensive — design houses.
As the wife of a billionaire, Mrs. Trump can afford to spend into the five figures for a garment and seems unconcerned about how that squares with voters in President Donald Trump’s political base.
Since becoming first lady, Mrs. Trump has chosen Herve Pierre, a French-born immigrant, as her fashion adviser. Politics be damned: He’s helped her hone looks that emphasize the sleeve, eye-popping colors and big sunglasses, and show off her svelte, 5-foot-11 frame and thick, dark hair.
“In the news, we speak a lot of politics, so if for a moment we can forget about it and enjoy something else, why not?” Pierre told AP.
Mrs. Trump’s old-school, dressed-to-the-nines glamor and full fabrics evoke distance not only in how far the clothes have had to travel, but in perceptions that the first lady, who only moved to the White House in June and rarely speaks publicly, is reserved in her persona.
Not since Jackie Kennedy has a US first lady had such a European aesthetic as Mrs. Trump.
Although she wore Ralph Lauren to the inauguration and has also shown a penchant for US brands such as Michael Kors and Calvin Klein, many of her most recognizable looks have been foreign designed and assembled.
It’s a striking contrast with Michelle Obama — who famously used her first lady wardrobe as a way of championing often young American designers, and with Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, who stuck closely to US fashion brands.
Most of Mrs. Trump’s clothes are bought off-the-rack from a retailer without the design house’s knowledge that the garment is destined for the first lady.
This is highly unusual — and contrasts with Mrs. Obama’s frequent collaborations with designers.
Perhaps it’s not Mrs. Trump’s choice, given her husband’s unpopularity.
People from 17 fashion brands that Mrs. Trump wears declined to comment on the first lady when contacted by AP, even though she is among the world’s most photographed women.
It’s a deafening silence, especially given that it’s an industry Mrs. Trump actually worked in.
Walking the path of both a foreign and highly priced glamor presents its share of risks for any first lady. (Mrs. Kennedy was criticized for wearing Parisian stalwart Chanel.)
But in an “America First” administration, Mrs. Trump is particularly vulnerable to criticism as her husband assails immigration and plays to blue-collar supporters.
While the fashion press gushed over a brightly colored, floral D&G silk coat Mrs. Trump wore in Sicily in May, political commentators didn’t have such a rosy view of the garment’s over-$50,000 price tag.
It cost, they quickly pointed out, more than the average annual US household income. Mrs. Trump was criticized for a Marie Antoinette-style wardrobe as the president’s ill-fated attempt to repeal “Obamacare” was being considered, an effort that might have stripped millions of people of their insurance.
She was praised for getting it right when she wore $50 converse sneakers and $185 J Brand jeans (despite the $1,100 Balmain shirt) during a day spent digging around the White House vegetable garden with children.
Since the television age, the first lady’s wardrobe has invariably invited vibrant political critique.
It’s an impossible game to win.
Mrs. Obama was criticized for wearing $540 Lanvin sneakers at a food bank in Washington — despite twinning them with a more affordable J.Crew cardigan.
Rosalynn Carter was berated during the 1970s oil crisis for being too unglamorous when she wore an off-the-rack gown to the 1977 inaugural ball, after having worn it to a previous ball.
If there’s a message in Mrs. Trump’s fashion — it’s that she dresses to look good, in keeping with the expensive personal taste she’s acquired since marrying Trump in 2005. Political meaning isn’t part of the equation.
“She does not concern herself with what others think about her fashion and always stays true to herself,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, told AP. “Mrs. Trump wears what she likes, and what is appropriate for the occasion.”
Adds Pierre, via email: “She has and had already a very personal style in fashion, before she was first lady. As you can see she likes suits and structured dresses, I keep working her vision in mind.”
Sometimes, Mrs. Trump’s looks contain a veiled reference to the event she’s dressing for.
She wore an iconic piece of French fashion — a red Christian Dior bar jacket — for the Trumps’ visit to Paris in July.
But the references vary in degrees of subtlety and can sometimes be heavy-handed.
In May, Mrs. Trump passed up the traditional headscarf in Saudi Arabia in favor of a Ralph Lauren shirtdress in khaki. The dress evoked the Arabian Desert, and its military-style epaulettes and pockets suggested the garb of troops in the Middle East.
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the White House, Mrs. Trump dressed in a maxi-dress from Italian house Pucci. The gown’s wild print and bright yellow color might well have been chosen to capture the vibrancy of the subcontinent and the hue of its flag.
Mrs. Trump has a great passion for fashion, and alongside former Carolina Herrera design chief Pierre, has shown she’s not afraid of bold style statements even if it upstages her political ventures.
The bright pink belted Del Pozo dress with dramatic leg of mutton sleeves that she wore for an address at the United Nations seemed to take precedence over the actual speech she gave on the importance of protecting children’s interests.
When she departed the White House to visit hurricane-damaged Texas last year, her impractically high stilettos, though chic, upstaged the trip and set off a social media backlash. She changed into sensible sneakers before deplaning in Texas, but the damage already had been done.
Much like her husband, who has tried to undo much of Barack Obama’s legacy, many of Mrs. Trump’s fashion choices seem to be the polar opposite of her predecessor’s.
Her high-end European clothes contrast with Mrs. Obama’s buy-American wardrobe priority and the relatable image she honed by mixing high-priced garments with more popular brands.
Mrs. Obama was associated with sleeveless styles that showed off her famously toned arms — and promoted her get-fit initiatives as first lady.
Mrs. Trump’s signature style is the dramatic, often covered, sleeve.
A white sheath from British designer Roksanda that Mrs. Trump wore at the Republican National Convention gained attention for its striking bell sleeves. Mrs. Trump also garnered attention for wearing a bright red Givenchy cape dress with bold floppy sleeves as she joined the president for a trip to Palm Beach, Florida. In another twist on that style, Mrs. Trump sometimes wears coats, such as a pink number in October by Swedish house Acne, draped over the shoulders with the sleeves hanging limp. It does away with the hands — and adds to the subliminal message that her priority is to be a fashionable, but not hands-on, first lady.
Madrid-based fashion house Del Pozo has gained unparalleled publicity for its sculptural, pret-a-couture creations being worn by Mrs. Trump, but that hasn’t affected its communications policy.
The house told AP: “Melania Trump is a normal client that buys from a retailer in the US and we don’t comment on private clients. We’ve never had contact with her team.”
By contrast, designers generally were eager to talk about dressing Mrs. Obama.
Many may have heeded lessons from the unpleasant experience of a few designers who have supported Mrs. Trump publicly — such as Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Beirut-born Reem Acra. They all faced criticism on social media and would not comment to AP.
Stefano Gabbana told his online critics to “go to hell” when he revealed himself to be among Mrs. Trump’s most passionate supporters — posting a photo of her in D&G on his Instagram account to instant criticism.
And when Mrs. Trump wore Ralph Lauren at the White House, some even threatened to boycott the house.
For the fashion industry, it’s perhaps a case of once bitten, twice shy.
Associated Press writer Nancy Benac in Washington and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report
Fashion Forward Dubai pop-up store returns to Saudi Arabia
- FFWD will present a carefully curated selection of the best apparel and accessory designers from the region
- The pop-up is driven by Fashion Forward’s mission to promote, celebrate and develop the region’s leading fashion talents
DUBAI: Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), the Middle East fashion platform, returns for a second edition of their pop-up store in Saudi Arabia’s Rubaiyat department store in Jeddah from May 25 to June 15.
FFWD will present a carefully curated selection of the best apparel and accessory designers from the region including Anaya, Atelier Zuhra, Arwa Al Banawi, Baruni, Beige, Bint Thani, Hessa Falasi, Lama Jouni, Nasiba Hapiz, Sara Altwaim, Shahad Rehami and Sarah’s Bag.
The pop-up is driven by Fashion Forward’s mission to promote, celebrate and develop the region’s leading fashion talents. Endorsed by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and supported by Dubai Design District (d3), the initiative is dedicated to supporting the evolving regional fashion ecosystem in its pursuit of attaining commercial success and widening reach into new markets.
“Fashion Forward has decided to partner with the prestigious Rubaiyat for its second edition as we firmly believe in the synergy that this partnership brings to all parties involved. We were thrilled with the success of the designers in last year’s pop-up and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue nurturing our designers in growing retail markets, such as KSA,” said Bong Guerrero, CEO and co-founder of FFWD.
ANAYA: Named after the designer’s daughter and inspired by her creativity and drive to follow her dream of building a fashion empire for the power women of the new era. In 2010, Chathuri won the International Young Fashion Entrepreneur award from the British Fashion Council at London Fashion Week for her startup company ANAYA.
ATELIER ZUHRA: Atelier Zuhra was established in 2015 under business entrepreneur Mousa Al-Awfi, who supported her dream to build a couture atelier in Dubai and dress up women with glamor and perfection. Zuhra passed her dream to her daughter Rayan Al-Sulaimani, who raised the bar by scaling up the designs to a more sophisticated and outstanding quality.
ARWA AL BANAWI: Like her eponymous label, Saudi-born designer Arwa Al-Banawi is an eclectic mix of contrasts. Designed for the subtle woman, her aesthetic is both classically cool and feminine — earning her recognition from Vogue.com and a finalist position at Jeddah Vogue Fashion Experience.
BARUNI: Created by Fadwa Baruni, the Baruni brand is strongly led by regional and local cultural influences as well as the colors and textures of nature, developing a signature style for the Baruni collection.
BEIGE: Launched in 2017 by Muna Al-Othaiman, contemporary womenswear brand Beige fuses clean silhouettes with impeccable tailoring, evoking timeless modernity.
BINT THANI: Inspired by art and architecture since its inception in 2012, BINT THANI offers curated collections that amplify the brand’s DNA of feminine and wearable styles for an international, design-orientated customer.
HESSA FALASI: An Emirati brand established in 2011 in Dubai and inspired by Arabic culture, where traditional abayas are given a modern twist with a variety of high-quality fabrics, a kaleidoscope of colors in on-trend fashion.
LAMA JOUNI: Lama Jouni is a high-end ready-to-wear label created in November 2013 in Paris. The name of the brand represents the designer and founder of the company.
NASIBA HAFIZ: The woman who wears Nasiba Hafiz is not afraid to try new things and is not restricted by background, place or time. She has traveled the world and knows how to inject her heritage into a style that is particularly hers.
SARA ALTWAIM: Born to a family of art lovers, Sara Altwaim has a passion for everything artistic. She took up writing poetry as a hobby and fashion design as her life’s passion.
SHAHAD REHAIMI: Shahad Rehaimi’s Abaya collection is extravagantly unique and caters to trendy women. She aims to demonstrate every woman’s perfection through different fashionable styles.
SARAH’S BAG: Dynamic, passionate and determined, with an epicurean’s delight in beauty and art, founder and creative director Sarah Beydoun designs handbags and accessories that are known for their intricate craftsmanship, attention to detail and vibrant, high-spirited appeal.