Today, America gets a new First Lady. She’s beautiful – a former model! – with an impeccable wardrobe and the money to buy all the couture she wants. So why, when President Trump and his family are long out of the White House, and his administration is enshrined in the annals of history, will Michelle Obama – a woman with no connection to the fashion industry before she came into public view – be remembered as the more iconic of the two?
It’s simple. Becoming an icon is about more than just a pretty face and an international platform.
Admittedly, Melania Trump looked stunning this morning as she walked into St. John’s Church, wearing a head-to-toe baby blue outfit designed by the reigning king of American sportswear, Ralph Lauren. The knee-length dress, high-necked bolero jacket, matching gloves and stiletto pumps all convey a message of class and elegance, drawing immediate – and likely intentional – comparisons to Jackie O., who wore the same color Oleg Cassini suit fifty-six years ago today: January 20, 1961, the day her husband John F. Kennedy was inaugurated.
The soon-to-be FLOTUS’s appearance this morning should put to rest any ongoing chatter about whether top-tier designers are willing to work with her. Ralph Lauren, and rumored inaugural ball gown designer Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel, are among the most powerful, and established, men in the industry. And while designers like Sophie Theallet, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford are entitled to decline working with Trump as a way to resist the incoming administration, the conversation was always much ado about nothing – the Trumps have the money to fill Melania’s new White House closets with all the clothing she sees fit to wear over the next four years.
That said – and as good as she looks – Melania Trump’s outfit this morning does not portend icon status.
In her first major statement as the de facto First Lady, Trump has made the decision to echo the styling of a former First Lady: one who arguably had the largest fashion influence of any American President’s wife until, perhaps, Michelle Obama. That choice is simultaneously safe and questionable – safe, because no one doubts that the Oleg Cassini suit worn by Jacqueline Kennedy represents a key historical fashion moment and questionable, because Trump has already had issues with, um…distinguishing herself from those women who came before her.
In comparison, for Barack Obama’s January 20, 2009, inauguration, Michelle Obama wore a yellow-gold dress and coat by Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo. This look was the first of many that communicated her priorities as a public figure, by way of her wardrobe: she made a practice of featuring emerging, multicultural designers who could benefit from the publicity. Women’s Wear Daily just published a series of handwritten notes from designers like Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung and the people at J.Crew, all thanking Obama for her support during her eight years in the White House.