New York-based designers unhesitatingly and publicly vociferous in their support for Hillary Clinton were virtually mum when asked whether they would join Sophie Theallet in her call to boycott dressing incoming First Lady Melania Trump. And those who would talk would do so only off the record.
Even Theallet did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, nor did a spokeswoman for Melania Trump. Spokespeople for Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors and Dennis Basso declined to comment, as did one for Ivanka Trump, a designer in her own right. Representatives for Carolina Herrera, Rosie Assoulin and Thakoon Panichgul said they were unavailable.
Clinton had a small army of fashion supporters during the presidential campaign — Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Wintour, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Prabal Gurung, Thakoon Panichgul, Elie Tahari, Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and Tanya Taylor among them. The Council of Fashion Designers of America had no comment Friday. Most of the 25 American designers asked to comment about Theallet’s open letter and their views did not even respond.
French-born Theallet triggered a firestorm Thursday afternoon by sending an open letter vowing not to dress the incoming First Lady and asking other designers to follow suit. In a widely circulated e-mail, Theallet wrote, “As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady. The rhetoric of racism, sexism and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by,” she wrote. “I encourage my fellow designers to do the same.”
They might do so; they just won’t publicly admit it. One designer, who requested anonymity, said Friday, “It’s going to be hard-pressed for all these people to align themselves with her, including Anna [Wintour.] All these people were so pro-Hillary. You can’t turn on a dime.
“This is going to be a whole different thing. Melania knows fashion and she’s going to buy her own clothes. She could have hooked on to one person to dress her for all these events,” he said then, not resisting the chance to take a swipe, added, “She wore a one-shoulder jumpsuit on Election Night. That wasn’t so business attire. Don’t you think she should have been in a tailored dress?”
Regardless of his blue-state leaning view, the designer said he would consider dressing Trump for the inaugural given the chance. The free publicity that comes with dressing the First Lady may sway designers to overlook their personal preferences. Love him or hate him, voters tune into Trump, considering 84 million watched his final debate with Clinton, compared to the nearly 21 million who tuned in to Barack Obama’s 2013 inaugural. One designer also predicted a Beltway-shaking shift with state dinners, suggesting all those pro-Hillary designers and Hollywood types won’t make the cut. “People can’t have been so strong with their convictions and then say, ‘Oh, yeah I’m going to go to dinner there,” he said.
Wherever they stand, New York designers live in a city with 900 fashion companies accounting for a $98 billion industry that makes up 5 percent of the city’s workforce. And while Donald Trump has pledged repeatedly to revive American manufacturing across all sectors, fashion designers aren’t exactly lined up waiting. All too familiar with Trump’s Brioni-suit wearing ways, one New York-based designer said, “He talks so much about manufacturing in the U.S. I say, ‘Put your money where your mouth is.’ We’re based here in New York but I don’t want to dress Melania. That’s not going to happen. Through association Melania is the poster board for him and his beliefs and value systems. I do think that flies in the face of many, many designers.”
But expecting Trump’s European heritage to pay off, Oleg Cassini Inc.’s Peggy Nestor said, “She will be the new Jackie Kennedy, memorable and able to converse with international heads of state.”
Democratic with her designer choices, Trump has worn Ralph Lauren, Balmain, Michael Kors, Gucci, Fendi, Roland Mouret and Dolce Gabbana for her more recent photo-ops. Apparently beholden to no specific designer, the future First Lady shopped in New York City boutiques and online in recent months.
Vocal in her personal life, one designer didn’t want to go public with her anti-Trump views for fear of jeopardizing her company in any way but said she was embarrassed about not doing so. “The emotions are so raw and tensions are so high,” she said. “Many of us are feeling right now, ‘What can we do?’ Where do we have a voice?’ Many people, not just designers, feel that our country has just made a choice that is wrong. I’m going to be trying to figure out ways to stand up and fight for what I believe is right. This is Sophie’s way of feeling like she has voice. Frankly, I applaud her for standing up and saying it. I think she’s going to get a ton of flack.”
More from WWD: