As the presidential race heads into the dog days of summer, the daughters of Sen. John Kerry and President Bush are poised to make fashion statements on the campaign trail. Just don’t count on them to swing any votes with their style.
Aside from providing some all-American eye candy, these four strong-minded, single women will be toeing the political party line. The Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, are freshly minted college grads from the University of Texas and Yale University, respectively, and have postponed entering the workforce to stump for their dad. John Kerry’s elder daughter, Alexandra, is expected to campaign over the next few months now that she’s graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory. And his younger daughter, Vanessa, a Harvard Medical School student, is working on her father’s behalf and isn’t wearing her scrubs as much as her colleagues.
Vanessa Kerry told WWD via e-mail, “I am acting as a voice for him. I have full confidence his proposals for creating jobs, improving health care, encouraging service to the country and creating a safer global community, as well as his character are what will truly influence and win over the voters.”
The 27-year-old blonde Vanessa, who made a cameo in one of Kerry’s current commercials, said, “I think our role is one of being an extra set of eyes and ears for Dad and the campaign….This is going to be a close election and I feel that, by spending the months leading up to the election out on the campaign trail, I am doing my part in communicating how my dad will make this country a better place.”
But, while politics may be in the forefront, the style battle is bound to be a focus, too. And, in the case of their daughters, it’s shaping up to be a showdown between Barbara Bush and Alexandra Kerry. The First Daughter spent last summer as an intern for fellow Texan Lela Rose, and much to her delight, was largely unnoticed traipsing around the Garment District.
Alexandra Kerry, meanwhile, also understands the power of impressions. The 30-year-old Brown University alum caused a commotion at the Cannes Film Festival last month by her presence alone. The six-foot actress and filmmaker was photographed in an off-the-shoulder sheer black dress that appeared transparent under the camera flashes. The Kerry camp cried foul, blaming the bulbs. U.S. papers ran a censored photo of the revealing ensemble. Whether accidental or intentional, such missteps can be detrimental to a candidate, one Beltway insider said.While their fathers are playing it safer, hawking the ever-present trucker hats on their Web sites, the girls are even more current with their designer duds. The Bush twins have shown up at their share of fashion shows and have been known to pal around fashion parties with their cousin, Lauren Bush, an Elite model. Alexandra Kerry turned up for a recent shoot for W magazine, wearing her flip-flops and her favorite label, Marc by Marc Jacobs. The elder Kerry told a stylist she loves Sofia Coppola’s and Naomi Watts’ casual style.
Vanessa Kerry said she prefers “generally very simple and casual clothes,” and wears flip-flops “on any occasion permitted.” John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, try to offer Vanessa fashion tips here and there, “but that doesn’t mean I listen,” she said. Designers aren’t lining up to loan her dresses for formal events, but friends try to dress her with their clothes, Kerry said. “Some campaign events require a more formal look, but I always try to balance comfort with a bit of my own personal style.”
Ronald Kessler, author of the forthcoming book, “A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush,” (Sentinel/Penguin, August 2004), said the Bush daughters are “basically good kids,” especially in contrast to former first daughter Amy Carter, who liked to crumble soda crackers on the floor of Air Force One to watch the stewards pick them up. Having the girls in tow “helps with the overall image” of a candidate and “creates the impression of the happy American family,” he said.
Offspring can attract media attention, but they won’t swing voters, according to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. At most, vice presidential candidates affect 1 percentage point, and first ladies influence half a percentage point to 1 percentage point, but candidates’ children have “absolute zero” impact on the vote, he said.
Sabato said he has never come across a voter or read a piece of research that suggests otherwise.
A wedding in the White House, however, would be a vote of confidence for the country, according to Letitia Baldrige, who has served as an adviser to several first ladies, including social secretary to the White House and chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy. Neither of the Bush nor Kerry daughters appear to be on the threshold of marriage, but that could easily change over the next four years.“I lived through the days of the Johnson girls and the Nixon girls getting married. A wedding in the White House lifts up the country, helps with morale, encourages other people to get married, and it certainly helps the wedding business,” Baldrige said.
In the meantime, having the Bush and Kerry daughters more involved with campaigning is “wonderful and a very appealing thing to do,” she said. “I’m sure it helps get votes — not thousands. They’re young and good-looking, but they’re not involved with the political side.”
Without a doubt, Barbara Bush is driving the fashion bus for the foursome. In addition to Lela Rose, she interned at Proenza Schouler and has landed front-row seats at Zac Posen. At Yale, the First Daughter was known to share her denim freebies with friends.
Barbara Bush seems to have been interested in fashion since she was young. In an interview with WWD in March, First Lady Laura Bush mentioned how her daughter, Barbara, made her eighth grade graduation dress. “She learned how to sew….Her mind just works that way. She understands construction and a lot of things, not just garments.”
Taking their designer know-how to new heights, Jenna and Barbara Bush have posed for the August issue of Vogue, but they won’t be cover girls, according to a Vogue spokesman. So as not to prelude that fashion splash, the girls have waved off any interviews. Considering the family’s loyalty and close-knittedness, it’s no surprise their cousin, Lauren, also declined to comment.
Lela Rose, who has known the twins for eight years, credited the First Lady for allowing her children to be true to themselves. “Laura Bush really lets them run their own course. These girls are who they are,” Rose said. “They have been pretty true and consistent with their style. They are not feeling the pressure of being the President’s daughters to have to look a certain way.”
To that point, Jenna Bush was spotted wearing cargo shorts and tank tops while on a 112-mile pilgrimage trek in Spain last week. Barbara Bush opted for a cropped, faded jean jacket to top off her white eyelet dress on Easter.“I don’t think Jenna cares as much about fashion. She likes to have a really cool piece, she likes to be involved and to know about it, but I think she’s fine with whatever is there sometimes,” said Rose. “She’s really interested in traveling and her style reflects that.”
Rose introduced her well-known intern to Jimmy Choo shoes, “which she loves.” For the most part, the recent grad “has a pretty broad range of taste,” mixing different designer labels and putting things together in her own way. The designer provided the twins with dresses for the Vogue shoot and with cocktail dresses for the Christmas party they hosted at the White House last year. Rose also has handed out the occasional fashion tip for state visits and career advice, but most conversations are simply catching up with them as friends.
Donna Karan knows and likes the Kerry girls very much, but thinks both camps are stylish. “They’re all young, they look great and they have a wonderful sense of style,” she said.
The designer jumped to Alexandra Kerry’s defense in regard to the sheer number she wore at Cannes. Having had the misfortune of a similar experience, Karan said, “I don’t believe she was wearing something transparent. The flash of the camera made her dress look transparent.”
Bob Mackie agreed. “That happened to Cher when she wore some rollerblading outfit covered with rhinestones. You couldn’t see anything. But then someone hit her with a flash and it looked like she wasn’t wearing anything.”
As for the president’s girls, he said: “The Bush daughters kind of look like the Nixon daughters to me — preppy, groomed girls — except they like to tip it a bit. I’m waiting for them to bust out a bit. I think it’s going to happen soon.”
Oleg Cassini seconded that. “The Bush girls have the potential — if they want to — to become very fashionable. Certainly, they could be as good as those Hilton girls. The Hiltons are pushing fashion into a ridiculous position with the support of the media,” he said. “The Bush girls have the potential to become very elegant. Do they want to is another question.”Nicole Miller gave both sets of sisters the thumbs-up, but the Bushes earned extra points for being “more fun and flirty,” compared with the “more conservative” and “serious” Kerrys. The designer said each dresses appropriately for their respective ages and “their personalities are visible in their style of dress.”
But Miller isn’t banking on their good looks to sway voters come November. “I don’t think it registers with voters,” she said. “They’re going to appeal to one half or the other — unless one of the daughters does something unbelievable or outrageous.”
With the paparazzi zooming in on them, that seems unlikely, especially at partisan-sponsored festivities in the run-up to the November election. The Kerry daughters haven’t yet RSVP’d for the block-party bash to be held at Louis Boston during the Democratic National Convention. But they have clued in the American Recording Institute, the evening’s sponsor, to the bands they like.
Arnold Scaasi met First Daughter Barbara Bush a few years back, when her mother was having a fitting at his salon. “She was very vivacious and attractive. She dressed exactly the way kids of 19 dress,” he said.
But don’t look to Scaasi to dole out any fashion pointers to the offspring of either party.
“I never advise people about the way they dress,” he explained.
Kay Unger, whose son, Max, attended Yale with Barbara, said, “Both of the Bush girls have their eye on fashion. It should be very interesting to watch them evolve fashion-wise in their new roles these next few months. Barbara Bush has definitely shown her personality through the clothes she wears.”
But the Kerrys are holding their own, she said. “These girls probably would never have been the center of so much attention, especially having not much to do with the campaign. But ever since Alexandra’s famous May appearance in Cannes wearing that sheer black gown, both of them have been suddenly in the spotlight….It looks like Barbara Bush and Alexandra Kerry are the two to watch out for in the fashion world this year.”
By the time the final confetti falls, observers say, the Bush and Kerry daughters will have dressed up the dais, but they won’t rock the vote. Yeohlee took a more analytical approach: “The Kerry girls look very intellectual and the Bush girls look very sporty. Personally, I would rather focus on the issues of Bush and Kerry than their girls.”First in Fashion
As a youngster, Caroline Kennedy was known to interrupt JFK’s press conferences wearing her mother’s pumps, but many first daughters have been more than happy to escape the limelight.
When your father is leader of the free world, living in the White House isn’t always the greatest perk. Having kept a low profile for nearly four years, the Bush twins are expected to be more visible at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and on the campaign trail now that they’ve graduated college.
Even presidential fathers are aware of the pressures their office can place on their offspring. In 1988, George W. Bush tapped one of his aides, Doug Wead, to compile a study about what becomes of presidential children, according to Laura Bush biographer Ann Gerhart. Wead later turned his research into a book, “All the Presidents’ Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America’s First Families.”
At Monday’s unveiling of former president Bill Clinton’s portrait in the White House, President Bush told Chelsea Clinton, “The fact that you survived your teenage years in the White House speaks to the fact that you had a great mom and dad.”
Clinton has transformed herself from a kinky-haired, bespectacled 12-year-old into a chic New York-based consultant who pulls in a six-figure salary at McKinsey & Co. And the paparazzi have swarmed her every step of the way.
She’s not alone. From the young Kennedy in her robin’s egg blue coat and patent leather Mary Janes to Susan Ford in her wraparound skirt and kelly green espadrilles, the press revels in first daughters’ stylishness — or lack thereof.
Alberta Ferretti's "Rainbow Week" sweaters are back. The designer closed her #MFW show with a few day-of-the-week sweaters, which first debuted on the catwalk last January as part of the pre-fall 2017 collection. #wwdfashion (📷: @delphineachard)