When Michelle Obama came into the nation's view in 2008, it was clear that no First Lady since Jackie Kennedy would catch the fashion industry's attention in such a way. As of this past week, the rich, vibrant, American-made styles of the beloved Mrs. O in the White House are no more. Her legacy's epitaph will list her designers: Thai immigrant Thakoon, Cuban Narciso Rodriguez, Indians Prabal Gurang and Naeem Khan, Korean Doo-Ri Chung, Nigerian Duro Olowu, Greek Mary Katrantzou, and Japanese Tadashi Shoji.
It is said that style imitates life, so it is only reasonable that the Obama administration has left us with a legacy as rainbow-colored as Mrs. Obama's frocks. We are poised at a style precipice- our new First Lady is possibly, even the staunchest Democrat can admit, the most physically beautiful woman to hold the office. But, if style does imitate life, it should come as no surprise that Mrs. Trump favors a very different type of designer.
Classic, old guard, and chic are the praises typically sung of Melania Trump. It is true that the 46-year-old Slovenian former model embodies a fluid and catlike sleekness in her style that is a result of the expert tailoring of Europe's most exclusive labels, but unfortunately, this is where the praise ends. Like her radically hegemonist husband, Melania favors institutions headed up by white men . Dior, Ralph Lauren, Louboutin, Calvin Klein, and Zac Posen are favorites-although it must be noted (because someone else surely will) that twice she was seen in Balmain, whose creative director is mixed. What the Trump campaign and administration does not seem to understand is with this non-statement, they are providing a backdrop for the entire term.
The morning of the inauguration, the fashion world held its breath to see what Melania would have chosen. As expected, she wore Ralph Lauren, one of the only designers who came out publicly to say they would dress her. He was widely rumored to be creating her outfit, which many observed could be an homage to that style icon of First Ladies, Jaqueline Kennedy. It’s a fitting tribute if intentional- Jackie O appreciated the significance of her office. "It's so important,” she once said, “the setting in which the presidency is presented to the world, to foreign visitors. The American people should be proud of it.” Appearances matter for families in the White House. They make a statement.
As a contrast to this throwback to the early 1960s (not isolated in the inaugural festivities), at Barack Obama's first inauguration, Michelle reached out to Isabel Toledo for her ensemble. A Cuban- American Political refugee woman dressing a black woman at one of this century's most historic events. Now that's a statement from someone who understands the significance of the First Lady’s role in establishing how the presidency is presented to the world.
As for the inaugural ball, in both 2009 and 2013 Michelle Obama chose gay, immigrant, Asian-American Jason Wu, who was only 26 at the time of the first ball. Herve Pierre, who created Melania Trump's ball gown, is a veteran having worked with Dior, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Vera Vang, and Bill Blass, which are some of the most exquisite (read: expensive and exclusive) houses in the fashion world. Tradition, wealth, luxury, and prestige are the buzzwords surrounding Mr. Pierre.
We can compare the pre-inaugural looks of both women and draw further conclusions. For the 2008 election night, Michelle Obama wore Narcisco Rodriguez, a Cuban American designer. Mrs. Trump in 2016, on the other hand, was unable to find a designer to dress her for the event. She was forced to purchase a Ralph Lauren jumpsuit off the rack.
It must be faced: Melania's fashion choices are a clear indication of where the Trump administration stands on the rights of minority peoples, women, the LGBT community, and the immigrant community. By choosing, deliberately, to exclude designers from these communities, the Trump White House is telling the country that this a First Lady for the people, but only if those people are straight, white, male, and American born.
If Melania continues down the road she has traveled this far, all the progress and culture that have been cultivated under the Obamas will be erased- whitewashed, like everything else proposed by the emphatically nationalist Trump.