In the aftermath of the election, the fashion world has been relatively quiet on the issue of how it will interact with future first lady Melania Trump.
It’s an unsurprising silence given the industry’s almost uniform support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Vogue’s Anna Wintour kicked off New York Fashion Week in September with a group runway show doubling as a Clinton fundraiser, lavishing praise on the “impossibly chic” Clinton advisor Huma Abedin and first daughter Chelsea Clinton.
It’s something of a tradition for the biggest names in fashion to offer both financial support to campaigns and sartorial services to first ladies. Jackie Kennedy was famously swaddled in Chanel and Dior. Nancy Reagan was often dressed by her close friend Oscar de la Renta. And French designer Sophie Theallet frequently provided clothes to Michelle Obama.
And it was Theallet who was the first industry name to vocalize her post-election dissent, in an open letter published last week that called on fellow designers to boycott dressing Melania, a former fashion model, because of the “rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign.”
One might have expected other leading designers and fashion figures—typically vociferous in their support of socially progressive issues—to transform their support for Hillary into a shunning of Melania. But most have remained quiet—or been quietly dismissive—about the incoming administration, with the exception of Tommy Hilfiger, who recently told Women’s Wear Daily that “any designer should be proud to dress her.”
Hilfiger called Melania “a very beautiful woman,” and offered a more-superficial-than-substantive defense of his position: “I don’t think people should become political about it. Everyone was very happy to dress Michelle [Obama] as well.”
But the fashion industry has always been “political,” whether deliberately or not (and Hilfiger’s nonpartisan plea was controversial enough to provoke coverage by nearly every major American media outlet).
And the Trumps will be the most connected to the fashion industry of any incoming president in American history (even if most of the fashion is, like Trump’s rhetoric, more populist than couture). Melania has promoted her own lines of jewelry and skin care products; Donald Trump has hawked ties; Ivanka Trump sells clothes and shoes; while even her mother, Ivana Trump, peddled “House of Ivana” perfume, jewelry, and clothing on various home shopping networks.
Regardless of Donald Trump’s odious politics, it would be difficult to replicate the fashion industry’s love affair with the soon-to-be-former first lady, who buoyed a diverse group of young designers like Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung while also wearing bigger, more established names like Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez.
And her embrace of more affordable brands like J.Crew made her even more appealing as a style icon. She also represented a greater shift within the fashion world: In the eight years since she’s been in the White House, American fashion runways and magazines—once paraded by predominantly white models—have become more ethnically diverse.
So would Mrs. Obama’s designers join the anti-Melania resistance? Representatives for Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung, Thakoon, and Narciso Rodriguez did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. Barbara Tfank, who dressed Michelle Obama on numerous occasions, declined to comment. When approached by Women’s Wear Daily after Theallet’s open letter, Michael Kors, Caroline Herrera, Rosie Assoulin, and Diane von Furstenberg also declined to comment, while others spoke only on condition of anonymity.
One unnamed designer wouldn’t discount the idea of a boycott, and instead was “going to be trying to figure out ways to stand up and fight for what I believe is right.”
But those who are talking tend to hew closer to Hilfiger’s position: We don’t like him, but we won’t necessarily punish her. Caroline Herrera told the Business of Fashion that she expects designers will eventually come around to the idea of dressing Melania. “I think that in two or three months they’ll reach out, because it’s fashion,” she said, and Melania will be “representing the United States.”
Reached by The New York Times, Rag & Bone chief executive Marcus Wainwright, one of the designers who contributed to Hillary Clinton’s “Made For History” campaign merchandise, was careful not to be overtly discriminatory against the Trumps, saying it would be “hypocritical to say no to dressing a Trump. If we say we are about inclusivity and making American manufacturing great again, then we have to put that before personal and political beliefs.”
While the average Trump voter might not be a regular Rag & Bone customer (studded black jeans for women cost a cool $295), Hilfiger has made his fortune catering to the masses. Perhaps his comments, and his colleagues’ silence, are designed to transcend politics—and avoid annoying 60 million potential customers.