“Focus on what I do, not what I wear” was the takeaway from Melania Trump, at the end of her first solo trip abroad as first lady last week.
Addressing reporters in front of the Sphinx in Egypt Saturday, FLOTUS took issue with a question about the controversial pith helmet worn the previous day on a safari in Kenya. “You know what? We just completed an amazing trip. We went to Ghana, We went to Malawi, we went to Kenya, now here we are in Egypt.” she said. “I want to talk about my trip and not what I wear. That’s very important, what I do, what we’re doing with USAID, my initiatives and I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.”
Her six-day journey to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt covered 14,680 nautical miles, but –— like it or not — many observers zeroed in on her fashion choices. Most controversial was the white pith helmet, which was a fiery topic on social media due to the fact colonialists and military personnel wore similar styles while commanding colonial armies in Africa.
During her remarks, the first lady indicated that she isn’t always in line with her husband, noting that she doesn’t always agree with his tweets and voicing approval that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was heard. But after also saying that she was glad that the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had also been heard, that the FBI investigation was done and that the Senate voted, FLOTUS declined to respond when asked if she believed Ford, asking to move on. She also denied that Trump referred to African countries as “s–tholes” around her.
In speaking publicly about timely issues — something that she had not been prone to do — the First Lady indicated that she can be her own private Idaho. Her travel wardrobe also hinted at a more balanced approach. From start to finish, most of her ensembles were neutral-colored and considerably more subdued than some of the show-stopping shades she has worn for international events. Given the terrain and the distance to be covered during the photo-ops in Africa, Trump left behind her numerous red-soled Christian Louboutin stilettos at the White House in favor of more walkable Manolo Blahnik heels and Chanel ballet flats, as well as boots and for one flight, sneakers.
The first lady also left the U.S. wearing a suede trench coat from contemporary label Vince, and turned up in Africa wearing a variety of other American brands such as Chufy and Ralph Lauren. Celine and Chanel were European ones that she sported in Ghana and Egypt, respectively. For a Sarakasi dance performance in Kenya, FLOTUS donned a tan button-front dress from Thierry Colson with a wide belt.
Executives at a few of the companies said they knew nothing of her plans, suggesting the various selections must have been purchased at retail. Her predecessor Michelle Obama’s stylist worked with an assortment of designers, who never knew for certain in advance when their options might be worn. But once she did, many jumped on the free publicity, posting on social media, blasting press alerts or flagging the looks on their home pages. In this tetchy political climate, designers in the U.S. and abroad have not done the same with Trump. Executives at Vince, for example, did not respond to requests for comments. That was also the case with staffers at Ralph Lauren.
Traveling all day, Trump’s stylist Hervé Pierre was unavailable to comment Monday.
Chufy’s designer Sofía Sanchez de Betak said via e-mail Monday that she had just found out that the first lady had worn one of her designs. She arrived in Cairo Saturday having just left Kenya in a green printed dress from the designer’s “Memories of Kenya” collection. De Betak said she didn’t have much data yet regarding how media coverage affected her site’s traffic and business. “We were never contacted by her team — she must have bought the dress at a store!” de Betak added.
In a phone interview Monday, Colson said he was surprised to hear that Trump had worn one of his dresses in Kenya, and thought the friend who had told him was joking. Once confirmed, he was a little concerned to post an image of her on Instagram Friday night, since she is “a really controversial person largely in America with what’s going on politically…I was excited at the same time because it’s the first lady of America. It’s not like it’s nothing. It’s just the behavior of her husband.” After some in-house debate and deciding to post it, the online reaction was “a bit violent,” so he erased the post Sunday. “But I thought she looked more free in the dress and more happy. She’s a beautiful woman,” the Paris-based designer said.
Describing the dress choice as “perfect for the situation,” Colson said he “loved the picture that he had posted of her surrounded by all the people in different colors, including members of Kenyan tribes.” His site’s traffic jumped to nearly 900 Friday, compared to 377 Thursday, which is more the norm. His Instagram Discoveries increased from 1,900 to 2,700 in that same period. But comments like, “We thought you were a really cool brand. We’re never going to buy your dresses again” made him reconsider, and eventually take down the post.
With about 100 accounts worldwide including Barneys New York, he has had his own company since 2006. “For me, the Trumps are like the Old World in terms of their ideology. But she had some beautiful looks like the Celine dress [worn upon arrival in Ghana],” Colson said. ”I’m not sure that it will bring me customers. I don’t know.”
He later added, “I even had a feeling it would be a problem for most of my customers – such a pity – then it means fashion is political like art.”
As for the Trump-prompted worldwide exposure, the designer said, “I can’t say that I was not a bit happy, too — my ego was, of course. It’s normal. It’s human. But, of course, I was more happy when it was Rihanna or Jennifer Lopez,” referring to two other celebrities who wore his designs this summer.