Who will dress Melania?
With the big event just days away, two names churning about the rumor mill make all the sense in the world. As my colleague Rosemary Feitelberg reported on Monday, one of those names is Ralph Lauren. The other: Karl Lagerfeld. Yes, that Karl Lagerfeld.
If accurate, that rock-star combo will transport Melania Trump to Inauguration Day fashion Nirvana. Her wardrobe choices for the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and later, for the inaugural balls, are the most loaded fashion matter ever to involve the White House. That includes whether Jackie Kennedy enlisted Oleg Cassini to “interpret” European clothes, whether Nancy Reagan “borrowed” too liberally from designers, and the freedom-of-the-press brouhaha that resulted when WWD’s John Fairchild refused supplied, embargoed details about Luci Baines Johnson’s wedding gown, preferring to report out and publish in advance a sketch of the Priscilla Boston dress. Then there’s Michelle Obama. While her every sartorial move was anticipated, analyzed and dissected, almost always, that conversation came from a place of fascinated admiration.
Trump finds herself in a very different position. Despite a client CV of the sort designer houses typically salivate over — beautiful, thin, stylish, rich — within fashion and without, she is a lightening rod of polarity. Though several designers — Tommy Hilfiger, Thom Browne and Carolina Herrera among them — have said they’d be happy to dress her, numerous others have said no, while still more have avoided the question like Donald Trump doesn’t avoid Twitter.
The Lauren-Lagerfeld duet would prove a major coup for Melania Trump. Conversely, for the designers, it’s a risk, as anyone dressing her, for a while at least, will become the object of a two-sided social media storm. Yet given the pair’s stature at fashion’s pinnacle, saying yes to Trump may send a message to less secure designing colleagues, some of whom have prior relationships with her but now fear bottom-line business repercussions. That message: Go with your gut.
Over the years, Lauren has kept his politics private while wearing his patriotism proudly, and at times, expensively, as when he donated $10 million to restore the Star-Spangled Banner. Though he chooses not to endorse candidates, he became Hillary Clinton’s go-to designer throughout the presidential campaign. He has also been a favorite of first ladies on both sides, dressing Obama, Reagan and Betty Ford. History thus suggests that Lauren views dressing the first lady of the United States as an honor, and, if asked to do so, perhaps even a responsibility. Trump, meanwhile, has already displayed her affinity for Lauren’s clothes, choosing his black jumpsuit for the third debate, and for election night, his fluid white jumpsuit that infused elegance with a dose of drama.
As for Lagerfeld, as recently as eight years ago, it would have been considered more high crime than misdemeanor for a first lady to step out in non-American clothes at any time, let alone at the inauguration. Obama changed that. While she deserves great credit for her focus on emergent American designers, by virtue of her wild popularity and pioneering sartorial spirit, Obama also made first lady citizen-of-the-world dressing an acceptable option — and even one laudable one, a diplomatic outreach of sorts.
She blazed the international trail. That fact, combined with American fashion’s prevailing anti-Trump disposition, opened the door for Trump to go European for one of her inaugural looks. It would be illogical for her critics to praise those Americans who have declined to dress her and then criticize her for looking elsewhere. (Illogical though not unlikely in this wacky social media age, but that’s another story.)
Like Lauren, Lagerfeld steers clear of politics, save for when he can’t help himself, as happened years ago when he voiced dismay at France’s then newly applied 35-hour workweek. But then, for him, work is psychological oxygen. Two of his favorite one-liners: “Lots of class but working class,” and, “I don’t make art. I make dresses.”
Does he ever. Given Lagerfeld’s couture credentials, and the fact that we tend to think of Lauren’s work as the essence of polished sportif, one’s first assumption is that Lauren would design Trump’s day look and Lagerfeld, her gown. But it could go the other way. Lauren is no stranger to big evenings. His collections offer a lovely, extensive range, and he’s had some major red carpet moments.
At the same time, while Lagerfeld is thought to be designing for Trump, the affiliated brand under which he’s doing so is unclear. Though Chanel first comes to mind, he has two other seats of employment, his eponymous brand and Fendi. The latter has deep de facto couture abilities, as witnessed by the otherworldly show he staged in July at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Meanwhile, last week, his boss there, Bernard Arnault, had a friendly meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower. While it’s doubtful (but not impossible) that they discussed Trump’s short-term wardrobe, Arnault did express interest in expanding LVMH’s factory presence in the U.S. Currently, the group produces some Louis Vuitton products in California (who knew?), and is considering manufacturing sites in North Carolina and Texas. Might not a dress — particularly a grand evening dress — make a sound first step between friends?
Then there’s the designer’s own brand. Across endeavors, Lagerfeld has long shown a strong loyalty to the U.S. and its customer base. He did so through the Chinese explosion when much of international fashion looked at the American market as mature and uninteresting. His joint venture with G-III, under the label Karl Lagerfeld Paris, proves his desire to bring his particular élan to a broader U.S. customer base. In that context, a day look on Trump could make for savvy marketing.
Confirmations? Zippo. Nor are there denials.
One thing is certain. On Friday, Trump needs two special outfits, one for day, one for night. Absent credible alternate rumors, and so far, there are none, indications are very strong that she has enlisted Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld to provide those looks, in one order or the other. Of course, Trump could always change her mind. If that were to happen, she’d have to go to off the rack (again, no indications of custom backup) — and risk alienating two of fashion’s greatest gods. On the front end of the Trump administration, does the woman need another headache? Just sayin’.