If you like your fashion scandals with a side of pyrotechnics—see: Dolce & Gabbana fans setting fire to their designer merchandise, or tweens taking matches to James Charles eye shadow palettes—you will be sorely disappointed by the LVMH non-troversy of last week.
After LVMH CEO and chairman Bernard Arnault accompanied Donald Trump to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Louis Vuitton factory in Johnson County, Texas, there would be no mass burning of logo’d satchels or luggage. Those who do not work in the brand, were the loudest in their disapproval; the actress Debra Messing, a noted nemesis of the president, tweeted against the photo op, as did celebrity stylists Karla Welch, Elizabeth Stewart, Alexandra Mandelkorn, and makeup artist Rachel Goodman.
Shannon Coulter, founder of the #GrabYourWallet Alliance, which tracks companies profiting from the administration's policies, called for a boycott of LVMH. After The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman reported on the snafu, a few shoppers replied to her tweet promising to throw their Vuitton wallets away or return their newly-purchased handbags.
But despite the chatter, other big names who work under the LVMH name, like Fenty’s Rihanna, Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller, Fendi’s Silvia Fendi, Marc Jacobs (the man), Dior’s Maria Grazia Chirui, and Kenzo’s Felipe Oliveira Baptista, stayed silent. Those creative directors did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Beast.
Only one designer went rogue—Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director for womenswear at Vuitton. He punctuated his weekend by posting a screenshot of the album cover for Evelyn Thomas’ 1984 synth classic High Energy. Ghesquiere captioned the photo, “Standing against any political action. I am a fashion designer refusing this association #trumpisajoke #homophobia.”
A representative for Ghesquière declined The Daily Beast’s interview request. Friedman called Ghesquière’s post “a pretty radical move” and labeled him the potential “poster boy for fashion-against-Trump.”
Maybe. It’s admirable that Ghesquière would speak out while most of his peers stay silent. Most people understand the schism between corporate higher-ups and creatives. Ghesquière didn’t have to say anything, but by doing so he’s leading the dissent—if taking a photo of the Spotify song one is listening to and hitting “post” on Instagram can be considered a protest.
With no angry, wealthy mobs throwing a match and gasoline into a trash can full of shoulder bags, Ghesquière’s statement may very well be it. As Robin Givhan of The Washington Post wrote, LVMH seems to accept Trump with a “public shrug.”
“The ribbon-cutting was jarring in its utter nonchalance, in its unflinching fealty to corporate normalcy during these most abnormal times,” Givhan wrote. “Can there be neutral ground when the players are a president who has made women in general, along with immigrants and members of the LGBT community, feel as though they are under siege, and a billionaire mogul who reaps tremendous profits from those very people?”
But yet, as those who dismiss fashion as frivolous are always quick to point out these days, there are more pressing reasons to call out Trump. Impeachment could be near, his administration is in shambles, and more than 10,000 Kurds have died trying to fight the Islamic State.
Do we really need to talk about purses at a time like this? Especially if those pricey bags will now come with “Made in the USA” tags, giving jobs to a reported 150 Texans, according to the Dallas Morning News? (As part of singing the Trump administration’s “Pledge to American Workers,” LVMH promised to open 1,000 more positions over the next five years.)
Another important question: Do those who can afford the leather goods, which retail from $740 for a monogrammed wallet to $2,900 for a “lightweight and feminine” backpack, care at all about who christened the workshop that made it?
“Consumers choose to forget or turn a deaf ear because they don’t want their brand spoken about in a negative light, and they want to own their products without any kind of baggage,” Laurence Newell, managing director of the Americas for consultancy company Brand Finance told The Daily Beast. “Louis Vuitton is a 150-year-old brand that is so coveted and desired, so expensive, that people probably choose to forgive and forget.”
The fashion establishment has a spotty history when it comes time to stand up to its rich, but perhaps ethically compromised, benefactors. Just this summer, The Washington Post revealed that billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross and his wife Kara would host two events in the Hamptons that raised $12 million for Trump’s reelection campaign.
At the time, Kara sat on the board of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Though some in the industry called for Kara’s ousting, chairman Tom Ford told WWD those requests were “totally wrong.”
“To have done that would have been the same kind of censorship that our current administration tries to do with the press—tries to manipulate, in a sense, real freedom of speech,” Ford said.
Any debates over the validity of this argument were rendered mute when Ross exited the board in September to make room for new and more diverse members. As reported by The Daily Beast, Stephen Ross’ seat on the board of arts venue The Shed led to criticism from New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. None of the New York Fashion Week shows expected to be held at the Shed took place.
Is it all that surprising that Trump, a notorious showboat who joked at the ribbon cutting that shopping Vuitton “cost me a lot of money over the years,” would be a fan of the brand? With its manic, repeated logo and penchant for slapping huge shiny buckles over cowhide, LV has worked hard to align itself with the ostentatious.
To quote one astute Twitter user, “No authentically fashionable person carries LV. And I felt that way *before* the Trump pic.”