Clothes Don't Make A First Lady, But They Can Make A Statement

Jan 9, 2017
Originally published on January 9, 2017 6:19 pm

From head to toe, a first lady's look is heavily scrutinized, and Melania Trump will be no exception. But Trump is no stranger to the spotlight: In 2005, she was on the cover of Vogue in her Dior wedding dress, and she's modeled for Harper's Bazaar and posed nude for GQ. She also once sold her own line of costume jewelry and watches on QVC.

With the whole world watching, the first lady can make a fashion statement like no one else. She can also make a difference during the campaign. In October 2008, just days before the election, Michelle Obama appeared on The Tonight Show wearing a mustard yellow sweater and printed silk shirt. When Jay Leno asked her what she was wearing, she told him her outfit was from J. Crew. The audience roared with excitement: "We ladies, we know J.Crew," Obama said knowingly. "You can get some good stuff online."

Chicago boutique owner Ikram Goldman worked as Obama's fashion consultant at the time. She says, "The idea of her being inclusive was very important, and I think it was important to other people who were looking at her to feel like they can have access to that as well."

Obama also championed young American designers like Jason Wu, whose career took off after she wore his one-shouldered, white chiffon gown to President Obama's 2009 inaugural balls. Goldman helped select the gown but kept it a secret until that night. She says when Wu saw it on TV, he called her. "He was crying. He was shocked. He was happy. He couldn't believe it," Goldman remembers.

Obama was embraced by the fashion industry, but Melania Trump comes from it. A former model, Trump seems to have a preference for European designers. She's often seen wearing such luxury brands such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, most of which she reportedly bought off the rack.

"Expensive" and "body conscious" are among the first words Robin Givhan uses when asked to describe Trump's style. Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for The Washington Post, says, "It speaks to a bank account; it speaks to a particular kind of social life; and it speaks to a particular tribe of women who exist in New York, in particular. ... They lead very comfortable lives. ... They have both the time and the energy to attend to themselves." Givhan says Trump's look has "a polish to it, a glamour to it, but not in a particularly personal or individual way."

Like Michelle Obama before her, Melania Trump's choices are already making an impact. For her speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, Trump wore an ivory, cotton and silk dress with sleeves that billowed at the elbows. The $2,195 dress (by Serbian-born designer Roksanda Ilincic) reportedly sold out in the days following Trump's speech.

Meanwhile, retailers in Washington, D.C., are getting ready for a very different style of first lady. The ladies consignment shop Inga's Once Is Not Enough is something of an institution in the nation's capital, especially for women who need to dress for high-powered, formal events on a federal government salary. Sorting through the racks, owner Inga Guen says she would love to dress Melania Trump. She pulls out an olive green Oscar de la Renta dress, hand-embroidered with ivory beading, and a black cashmere jacket with a fur collar by Valentino. "She would look très chic — très, très, très chic — in this," Guen says.

Guen describes Trump's style as daring and slightly eccentric with a European sensibility. She says she's already had three new clients come into her shop who've been hired by the new administration. "I have no idea how they heard about me, but I dressed them and they were so, so very happy to have met Melania Trump," she says. Asked whether their style was anything like Trump's, Guen replies, "Au contraire, it was not similar to her at all. But I said, 'We have to put a little bit of oomph in your wardrobe right now, we have to be a little bit glamourous.' "

Guen hopes to do business with Trump, but the fashion industry is splitting at the seams over whether to work with her. Some designers have said absolutely not; others say it would be an honor to dress any first lady.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

From head to toe, a first lady's look is heavily scrutinized. Melania Trump is used to that sort of attention. She was on the cover of Vogue in her Dior wedding dress. She's modeled for Harper's Bazaar and Sports Illustrated's swimsuit calendar. She also sold her own line of costume jewelry and watches on QVC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELANIA TRUMP: They are really special unique pieces designed from my own ideas, as well from my own jewelry box.

MCEVERS: Soon the whole world will be taking note. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, what any first lady wears says a lot.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The first lady can make a fashion statement like no one else. For that matter, she can make a difference during the campaign. Take the time Michelle Obama appeared on "The Tonight Show" wearing a mustard yellow sweater and printed silk shirt. When Jay Leno asked her what she was wearing, she responded J. Crew.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

MICHELLE OBAMA: We ladies, we know J. Crew.

(CHEERS)

BLAIR: The message came through. Ikram Goldman was Mrs. Obama's fashion consultant at the time.

IKRAM GOLDMAN: The idea of her being inclusive was very important. And I think it was important to other people who were looking at her to feel like they can have access to that as well.

BLAIR: Obama also championed young American designers. And when the first lady of the United States wears something you made, it's life-changing. Jason Wu's career took off when she wore his one-shouldered white silk chiffon gown to President Obama's inaugural ball in 2009. Goldman helped select the gown, but kept it a secret until that night. She says when Jason Wu saw it on TV, he called her.

GOLDMAN: He was crying. He was shocked. He was happy. He was - he couldn't believe it.

BLAIR: While Michelle Obama was embraced by the fashion industry, Melania Trump comes from - it. Trump was a model and often wears European designers - Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana - most of which she's reportedly bought off the rack.

ROBIN GIVHAN: It speaks to a bank account. It speaks to a particular kind of social life.

BLAIR: Robin Givhan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for The Washington Post. She describes Melania Trump's look as body conscious and expensive.

GIVHAN: There is polish to it, a glamour to it, but not in a particularly personal or individual way.

BLAIR: But already her choices are making an impact.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Thank you very much. You have all been very kind to Donald and me.

BLAIR: For her speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, Mrs. Trump wore an ivory cotton and silk dress with sleeves that billowed at the elbows. The dress, by Serbian-born designer Roksanda Ilincic, goes for a little more than $2,000. It reportedly sold out in the days following Trump's speech. Meantime, Washington, D.C. is getting ready for a very different style of first lady.

INGA GUEN: She would look tres chic, tres, tres, tres chic in this. And then we have another Oscar de la Renta.

BLAIR: For 22 years, Inga Guen again has owned a dressy consignment shop in Washington. She describes Melania Trump's style as daring with a slightly eccentric European sensibility. She says she's already had three new clients come into her shop who've been hired by the new administration.

GUEN: I have no idea how they heard about me, but I dressed them. And they were so, so very happy to have met Melania Trump.

BLAIR: There's been some seam-splitting in the fashion industry over whether or not to work with Melania Trump. Some designers have said absolutely not. Others say it would be an honor to dress any first lady. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESMOND AND THE TUTUS SONG, "KISS YOU ON THE CHEEK - KING OF TOWN REMIX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.