Could First Lady Melania Trump be the next Collaborator-in-Chief?
The former model knows fashion — and not just from a matter of what suits her, according to Alice Roi, a friend of 10 years who collaborated with Trump on the navy cashmere and wool coat she wore to the National Prayer Service Saturday at the National Cathedral.
“She definitely knew what she wanted. She knows clothing well and she’s very direct. She has a wonderful, chic sense of style. That’s something no matter what you put on her she kind of exudes. It’s very guiding for the designer because you know exactly what to do to get in line with her right away,” Roi said. “She knows what she wants even before she sees it. And it’s always with really, really good taste. That makes it easy because you don’t have to talk somebody out of anything.”
Here, Roi talks about working with the new first lady.
WWD: Do you think that comes from her work as a model or her mother’s work in design?
ALICE ROI: I really have no idea. It could come from her work as a model. Some people just have it — lucky them.
WWD: Do you expect to keep collaborating together?
A.R.: 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: Was it 1999 when you started your company?
A.R.: Yeah, it’s coming up on 20 years. Now I have two children and the world is very different. When I started it was all about magazines and placement. There was no social media. You had to sit there biting your nails until The Times came out on Sunday morning. I always worked from the neighborhood where I grew up, Gramercy Park.
WWD: Is there an experience that would illustrate to people who only know Melania from photographs what she’s really like?
A.R.: At her baby shower at FAO Schwartz, what you bought went to charity and the money that you spent also went to charity…She’s almost beaming because she is such a lovely person and extremely thoughtful. She always takes time to do the right things, thank you letters…I’ve had many conversations with her about school and children. She’s really a miraculous person.
WWD: Do you think she will champion American design?
A.R.: I do. In the past few days even there’s sort of been a theme that a lot of people have been posting, sort of her infatuation with simplicity without making it look dowdy. Sometimes simple can mean big stupid coat, big stupid suit for a first lady. But she is meticulous, impeccable, simple and not glitzy. At home, she might wear black cigarette pants cropped, with a black shirt with a wavy peplum and black heels, a slight nod to the Fifties.
WWD: Do you have a sense for how this will affect your own business?
A.R.: What I’m really pleased with is looking at the bigger picture — seeing the forest, not the trees. When I see pictures from the last few days, they all have a very simple, stark, incredible fashion message. It’s becoming almost like a run-of-show…She really looks the part. I seldom try to figure out the future. I don’t do things for that reason. I do them because I believe in them and feel for them. I have no idea where this will lead me. I’m trying to be here now and just enjoy the experience rather than focus on what may happen.
WWD: Did you imagine your career would lead to something like this?
A.R.: I really never imagined it but I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences. I was on Charlie Rose, I dressed the first lady, I’ve been nominated for a few awards, I’ve dressed amazing celebrities, I did a collaboration with Uniqlo so I spent some time in Japan. I’ve really been all over the world and dealt with all different sorts of situations. As a New Yorker, only a New Yorker could handle that but I’m also very honored to have such opportunity. This felt bigger, more important. Seeing the architecture of the church and her walking in felt like a cinematic moment, very surreal, a nod to tradition but the patent leather [belt] made it so modern. I sound so designer-y right now talking about patent leather and church and politics — only a designer would do that. It kind of gave me the chills because there was an importance to it. For me, that really resonated with the theme of unity at the multidenominational service, which was probably the best part of the weekend to take away.
WWD: Did you have a specific Catherine Deneuve film in mind that inspired the coat?
A.R.: There’s something about the Sixties with those very traditional peacoats with double-breasted stiff wool fabrics that I wanted to nod to but I also had to recognize Melania likes soft, luxurious fabrics. The coat was mostly cashmere. When you’re making a reference like that you have to make reference that it’s modern day so there was the shine of the patent, and the coat had no buttons and the belt didn’t have any clunky hardware. Everything was clean and modern and simple as can be. But the base behind it was the traditional peacoat with a Northeast feel you get from “The Graduate,” “Love Story,” and “Belle Du Jour.” All those films that make you want to stay in the Northeast and be a proper gal. I love foreign films, old films but as a designer I get inspiration from watching a plastic bag in the wind so that’s not saying much.
WWD: Will you collaborate again with Uniqlo?
A.R.: I haven’t spoken with them in a while but I am doing a collaboration with one of my favorite Nineties hip-hop brands called Cross Colours [due out this spring], which was the epitome of my childhood and teenage years. It also has a very positive message — all colors, all cultures, it’s a very unifying theme. As a designer, I have always struggled with the uptown-downtown feel because you can’t grow up in New York City without that.
WWD: Does your mother still own The Inn at Irving Place?
A.R.: She does and that’s been really interesting as a designer. People talk about those crazy quilts of life and I really have one. But I think that what makes life interesting for me and for everyone [is] to sort of accept and embrace everyone and everything and find love in that. And also to find love in how that all looks together. That is sort of my specialty.