Tom Ford latest fashion designer to say he won’t be dressing first lady Melania Trump, but does it matter?
Fashion industry waits to see whether Donald Trump’s wife will continue tradition of promoting the work of favourite designers, while aware it holds little sway over billionaire president
Tom Ford is the latest fashion designer to say he doesn’t expect to fly to the White House or Trump Tower to personally dress Melania Trump. He joins a growing list of designers, including Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet – who wrote an open letter urging her peers to avoid working with the new first lady.
Unlike Theallet’s pointed statement, Ford was fairly diplomatic in his response to a question that’s been gnawing at the fashion community for several days.
“I was asked to dress her quite a few years ago and I declined; she’s not necessarily my image,” he said, and added: “Even had Hillary won she shouldn’t be wearing my clothes, they’re too expensive. They’re not artificially expensive, it’s how much it costs to make these things. I think the first lady has to relate to anybody.”
Donald Trump’s win on November 8 proved a conundrum for the fashion industry – one that’s more challenging than a debate about the politically correct price point for a first lady’s dresses.
Designers enjoyed an almost unprecedented golden age with Michelle Obama, who used the garments she wore to convey the importance of the American industry and the young talent giving it new life.
Obama helped elevate many up-and-coming designers in the public’s consciousness. Like Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung and Theallet, they were diverse, with backgrounds and lineages from all over the world. Michelle Obama wore Vera Wang to a state dinner for China’s President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan.
While Clinton most likely wouldn’t have had the same type of selling power as Obama, who could clear a skirt and sweater set from the shelves of J. Crew as fast as Kate Middleton, she would have continued to champion American designers. That support is a main reason why most fashion industry types publicly endorsed Clinton and helped throw elaborate fund-raisers in her honour.
Following her loss, the community has been faced with a question: will they work with the Trumps? As some have noted, it’s more of an academic exercise: their answers are unlikely to have much bearing on policy or Trump’s agenda – unless Trump takes offence at a perceived snub and turns to his favourite form of pushback: a Twitter tirade.
Like most aspects of the first lady’s office, there are no rules regarding wardrobe. Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan had favourite designers who acted like in-house couturiers. Oscar de la Renta, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was a de facto choice for both Bushes, Barbara and Laura, and Clinton during her time in the White House.
But a first lady doesn’t need to be dressed by a designer – it’s largely based on tradition, and is similar to the relationship between designers and actresses.
Designers and fashion houses almost always loan dresses to stars they want seen wearing their creations. Red-carpet watchers know that Ford is notoriously picky about who he loans to; there’s typically only one or two Ford creations at the Oscars.
Wearing one of Ford’s gowns has become such a coveted honour that Hayden Panettiere went rogue and bought one to wear to the Golden Globes in 2014. A mini-frenzy ensued.
So it’s not out of character for Ford, who is focusing more of his time on producing films than dressing stars, to say he doesn’t foresee taking a call from Melania. And it doesn’t seem out of character for Melania, the wife of a billionaire, to say: “Who needs you people? I’ll walk to Bergdorf’s and buy whatever I want.”
But think of the frenzy that could ensue if she walks into the first Inaugural Ball in an off-the-rack Ford or Theallet gown.