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Donald Trump inauguration

How will Melania Trump’s fashion sense shape up against Michelle Obama and China’s Peng Liyuan?

Wife of US President-elect Donald Trump faces a daunting challenge as she enters the White House

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 9:21pm

Since Peng Liyuan wowed the world with her elegant style during her maiden trip to Moscow as China’s first lady in 2013, her stylish dress sense has been hailed by the world’s media, which constantly compared her with her US counterpart, Michelle Obama, who has been feted as a fashion icon.

In the future, Peng is likely to find herself standing beside a US first lady with a very different style.

China’s first lady Peng Liyuan’s fashion style has made her a global sensation

When she enters the White House on Friday, Melania Trump will be the first first lady who is the third wife of a US President – and also the first who has posed for a naked photo shoot, and the first who is not a native-English speaker.

Mrs Trump is still exploring her style as the first lady. However, her interest in fashion is obvious
Guo Chao, fashion director of L’Officiel magazine

Alongside her husband, a real-estate tycoon-turned-reality-show-celebrity, and now politician, the Slovenian-born former model has clearly enjoyed her high-flying lifestyle.

She has frequently been seen jetting across the US between Trump’s 5th Avenue penthouse in New York and his luxury estate in Palm Beach.

Yet she has also had to endure numerous controversies along the way because of her husband – some sparked by his outspoken personality and sexual assault allegations made about him over the years.

In terms of fashion, the future US first lady has been seen to favour slim-fitting dresses, but her choices of outfits became more sober and straightforward as her husband’s presidential election campaign progressed last year.

Guo Chao, a fashion director at L’Officiel, the French fashion magazine, said that Trump’s taste in clothes could sometimes be unpredictable.

“Compared with Mrs Obama, Mrs Trump is still exploring her style as the first lady. However, her interest in fashion is obvious. What we could expect from her in the future will not necessarily be perfect, but will be wonderful.”

What Melania Trump will wear at Friday’s inauguration ceremony is already a hot topic for the world’s media. She also has a lot to live up to.

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Her predecessor as first lady, Michelle Obama, will hand over the keys to the White House and leave behind an impressive eight-year legacy of sartorial diplomacy.

It is a legacy in power dressing that her successor, Melania, may find quite difficult to trump.

Obama started things off with a surprise choice of attire – in front of millions of television viewers – as she made her debut on America’s most significant night-time talk show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in October 2008, the month before her husband won the US presidential election.

Her outfit – simple, straightforward, yet stylish, understated and easy on the eye – set the tone for her sense of fashion over the next eight years.

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The expensive looking gold pencil skirt, yellow and brown tank-top and yellow cardigan – made by the American label J Crew – together cost less than US$500.

Michelle Obama is an intellectual. Her style is not glamorous, rather simple and straightforward. She’s a professional, and her clothes reflect that she’s a lawyer
William Tang, Hong Kong fashion critic

Obama, a Princeton-Harvard-trained lawyer, is widely considered to be the best – and arguably the only real – fashion icon out of all the nation’s First Ladies since Jacqueline Kennedy, whose husband, John F Kennedy, served as US president from 1961-63.

Obama’s choice of outfits over the course of her husband’s two terms in office have helped to promote American fashion brands and designers and had a huge impact around the world.

Some of her choices have been stunning, including a sleeveless shimmering chainmail, rose-gold Versace gown worn at her final state dinner in October.

At the 2015 state dinner for the visit of China’s President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng, Obama wore a striking black mermaid gown by Vera Wang.

“Michelle Obama is an intellectual,” William Tang, a fashion critic from Hong Kong, said.

“Her style is not glamorous, rather simple and straightforward. She’s a professional, and her clothes reflect that she’s a lawyer.”

Tang added: “Mrs Trump has a very different sense of style. She was a model before – she’s very good looking.

“What she wears is more conspicuous and more expensive. One can immediately tell that she’s a rich lady.

“During the US Presidential campaign she started to dress more conservatively, because for most Americans, they still prefer conservative [people],” Tang said.

“However, the brands and materials she chose were still really luxurious. From a fashion point of view, she knows how to dress well.”

Trump could well find that the Chinese public are appreciative of her stylish, luxurious sense of fashion.

During the US Presidential campaign Melania Trump] started to dress more conservatively, because for most Americans, they still prefer conservative [people]
William Tang, Hong Kong fashion critic

“She has good taste – she wears what I imagine America’s elite will be wearing”, said Ma Sitong, a Chinese independent fashion designer.

“For example, her Dior wedding dress was very expensive and luxurious. When you marry someone who’s so rich, I think your taste improves.”

She added: “Melania Trump’s sense of style reflects her image as a professional woman, someone who runs her own very successful company – like the kind of women I often see in American TV dramas – someone that is independent and very capable.

“In contrast, Mrs Obama’s dresses have often had the style of dresses from the 1950s and 60s, when women often didn’t need to work. Perhaps she prefers to be a woman behind her husband.”

Peng may appear not only at the same public occasions alongside the new US first lady, but also America’s “first daughter”, Ivanka Trump – a businesswoman with her own eponymous line of clothing, jewellery, perfume and accessories, whose sleek fashion sense has been complimented by the media.

Melania Trump’s sense of style reflects her image as a professional woman ... someone that is independent and very capable
Ma Sitong, Chinese independent fashion designer

Already, Ivanka – the daughter of Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana Trump – has been more in the spotlight than her stepmother, Melania, and will most likely take on the role of a White House hostess when Mrs Trump spends her time in New York.

Young, beautiful and Ivy League-educated, Ivanka stepped onto the stage during her father’s election campaign and impressed the media and audiences around the world with her confidence and charisma.

Just like Ivanka’s own fashion brand, her fashion choices represent the “millennial generation” – young stylish professional women who are busy living their lives while combining work, love and their families.

So, what will happen the first time Melania Trump and her stepdaughter, Ivanka, stand beside Peng? What will Peng be wearing as she meets the former Slovenian model or the first daughter?

Fashion critics have lauded Peng’s sense of style.

She has been praised by both mainland and international media for her fashion choices on state visits.

Her stunning outfits have led to her being compared with two other fashion icons – the outgoing US first lady Michelle Obama and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who is the wife of Britain’s Prince William.

Peng has been seen to favour tailored jackets, nipped in at the waist, modernised Chinese qipao dresses, Chinese floral motifs and mandarin collars.

“Peng Liyuan’s style has been very successful,” Tang said.

“She’s certainly very popular among Chinese people. I think Peng ‘won’ when standing side by side with Mrs Obama.”

Ma believes that Chinese people will be more likely to accept Melania Trump as a first lady than Michelle Obama.

Fashion face-off set for China, US first ladies Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama

“They [Mr and Mrs Trump] will bring a different kind of spark when ... standing next to President Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan. I’m really looking forward to that,” Ma said.

Tang added: “What Peng can do is to keep everything simple – as she often does – but also with a touch of Chinese style.”