While most of the world is trying to come to grips with the fact that America has elected a Twitter Troll to be President (a win powered by fake news on Facebook no less!), the fashion community is now faced with the question of what to do about the country's new First Lady. Less than two weeks after the election, American designer Sophie Theallet, a favourite of Michelle Obama, has become the first to publicly boycott Donald and Melania Trump.
Historically, dressing a FLOTUS has been the most prized feather in an American designer's cap. It's the milestone that puts a designer in a different stratosphere of prestige and firmly in the history books. And if lucky, the honour paves the way for a long-lasting relationship between creator and client — as in, Oleg Cassini and Jacqueline Kennedy, James Galanos and Nancy Reagan, and Oscar de la Renta and Laura Bush, to name a few.
A First Lady's endorsement can also drive sales and transform a company's business, as happened with J.Crew when Michelle Obama put it on the global map by wearing the brand's embellished, upbeat cardigans during the 2008 Presidential campaign. She went on to boost the careers of a very long list of emerging and established designers including Jason Wu, who created both of her Inaugural gowns.
But Melania Trump presents a, how do I put this, special case. She had a notoriously difficult time getting designer lends on the campaign circuit (most of what she wore was reportedly purchased off the rack.)
That's mostly because the fashion business is filled with prominent designers, editors and models who actively spoke out against Donald, a man whose bombastic, polarising language threatened the rights and security of the exact groups of people that drive the business – women of all backgrounds and members of the LGBTQ community. Not to mention his history of alienating any human who is not white (black people, Middle Eastern people, Mexican people, the list goes on) and Christian (we all know how he and some of his soon-to-be cabinet members feel about Muslims and Jews) — all very large groups of people, by the way, who consume fashion.
Sure the fashion world can be a tough crowd to crack. But this isn't a mere case of designers giving in to the commercial power of a reality TV star — we've seen that before with the Kardashians. This is instead an issue of looking past a politician's threat to civil rights, a man endorsed by America's oldest homegrown terrorist group, the Klu Klux Klan.
It's no wonder, then, that some in the fashion community have already come forward against the Trumps. In an Instagram posted yesterday, Sophie Theallet, a designer who frequently dressed Michelle Obama, explained why she won't be doing the same for Melania: 'As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas. The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice. Our runway shows, ad campaigns, and celebrity dressing have always been a celebration of diversity and a reflection of the world we live in.'
'…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.'
Well said, Sophie, well said.
Whether other designers and brands follow her lead remains to be seen. (So far, the popular website, Fashionista has.) But it's thrilling to see someone take a stand. Read Sophie's letter in full here: