[What Melania Trump Wore and What It Means] What the First Lady chooses to wear on her first day in her new role is historically significant

What the First Lady chooses to wear on her first day in her new role is historically significant. Her inauguration ensemble will be photographed, broadcast around the world, analyzed, and eventually, make its way to the Smithsonian.

Melania Trump in Ralph Lauren for the Inauguration.

Melania Trump in Ralph Lauren for the Inauguration.

First Ladies often use the occasion to set the tone for their image throughout their term. Jackie Kennedy wore a simple yet chic suit, coat, and pillbox hat designed by Oleg Cassini, who was her preferred designer throughout. Kennedy had already established herself as a fashion icon amid New York’s elite society. As one of the first First Ladies to have a televised inauguration, Kennedy had a keen sense that her fashion choices would drive trends for decades to come (more on that in a minute).

Michelle Obama wore a citron-colored Isabel Toledo dress and coat, Nina Ricci cardigan, Jimmy Choo heels, and J.Crew leather gloves to her husband’s first inauguration. That fashion mix—a dress and coat by an American designer, accessories from an accessible-everywhere brand like J.Crew—set the tone for how Michelle Obama would use fashion to support American designers, particularly designers of color, and to present an image of accessibility—of “just like us”-ness. “First ladies traditionally stick to one designer, but Mrs. Obama made a point of wearing clothes from a wide range of young, multi-cultural designers, which sent a message of inclusiveness and great support for the fashion industry”.

Michelle Obama in Isabel Toledo in the 2009 Inauguration.

Michelle Obama in Isabel Toledo in the 2009 Inauguration.

While dressing the first lady for her first appearance as a resident of the East Wing is usually a clearcut honor, the latest iteration of this cyclical event has caused more controversy than celebration. Melania Trump’s fashion choices have been divisive since the start of her husband’s campaign. Many designers, loyal to Michelle Obama and the support she had given them, or just opposed to Trump’s platforms, voiced opposition to dressing the incoming First Lady.

Controversy aside, what the first lady wears–as Jackie and Michelle and all those before and in between understood—makes history. It sends a message. It is, like it or not, part of history. (The Smithsonian agrees.) For the inaugural parade today, Melania Trump has chosen to wear a powder blue shift dress, cropped wrap, elbow-length gloves, and matching pumps by Ralph Lauren. Her look takes a very literal page from Jackie O’s inaugural look and overall style.

Jackie Kennedy & Melania Trump.

Jackie Kennedy & Melania Trump.

It’s a look that, overall, is very safe, if a bit costume-y (dye-to-match pumps!). As our first reality TV President enters office, this is a family that is undeniably aware of what works on TV, and this look is very on-the-nose, Jackie Kennedy-inspired, “presidential.”

What’s the larger significance of this look? That Trump chose an American label is likely no accident—during past campaign appearances she has worn European labels like Gucci, Roksanda Ilinčić, and Dolce & Gabbana, despite her husband’s campaign platform of supporting not just American brands, but products made in America. Of course, Trump’s own fashion line is made in Asia, as is much of his daughter’s. (Though that’s a hard game to win: much of American fashion, including some of Ralph Lauren’s label, is produced in Asia.) Ralph Lauren is also a notable choice considering this was Hillary Clinton’s preferred label throughout her campaign–she wore the designer to accept her nomination at the Democratic National Convention, the presidential debates, her opening campaign rally, and her concession speech.

Clinton in Ralph Lauren at the DNC, second presidential debate, and her concession speech.

Clinton in Ralph Lauren at the DNC, second presidential debate, and her concession speech.

ver the past eight years, Michelle Obama showed us the power, grace, and diplomacy that the first lady can impart through her fashion choices. Fashion was of course not the only industry or world that she impacted—far from it; but it was a realm in which her influence was deeply felt. Will Melania’s impact be as profound?

[Exhibit] The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958

The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958 focuses on a pivotal time in the history of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. The exhibition explores the dynamic collaboration among Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who reinvigorated Harper’s Bazaar by combining their individual talents.  Drawing from The Museum at FIT’s extensive collection of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s color photographs—donated by the photographer herself—the exhibition highlights original photographs shown alongside nine garments by Christian Dior, Charles James, Mainbocher, Claire McCardell, and Carolyn Schnurer that exemplify the vast array of captivating styles featured in Harper’s Bazaar.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952; Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952; Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952.

The exhibition opens with an embroidered, elephant-motif top by American designer Carolyn Schnurer. This piece epitomizes the designer’s whimsical sportswear, perfectly suited to an American woman’s lifestyle during the era. It is paired with a photograph of the same garment in an inverted color scheme that was featured in the December 1952 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

The exhibition continues with sections dedicated to each of the three women, showcasing their individual contributions. Carmel Snow had a forward-thinking attitude and, to quote her niece and successor Nancy White, was a “genius for picking other people of genius.” Diana Vreeland took an imaginative approach to fashion styling, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe explored advancements in color photography and pioneered on-location shooting in destinations such as Egypt and São Paulo. Their talents combined to make Harper’s Bazaar a definitive fashion magazine of the time.
[L to R] Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947; Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954.

[L to R] Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947; Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954.

The impact of the women’s collaborative process is demonstrated through a series of photographs and documents. On display are personal letters between Carmel Snow and model Mary Jane Russell describing a memorable fashion editorial from the Paris collections of 1951. Behind-the-scenes photographs and outtakes document the famous 1942 Arizona desert photo shoot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house—styled by Vreeland—during which she stepped in front of the camera after model Bijou Barrington fell ill from heat stroke.
[L to R] Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947; Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952.

[L to R] Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947; Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952.

Video footage from the documentaries Louise Dahl-Wolfe: Painting with Light and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel offer a glimpse into each woman’s personality. Copper-plates and the resulting color proofs reveal the steps of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s working process.  Additionally, four large scale reproductions of Dahl-Wolfe photographs featured in the magazine will be paired with related garments that mimic the fashion seen in the images.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953; Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942; Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953; Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942; Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942.

  • A gray wool jersey swimsuit by Claire McCardell in the designer’s signature style is shown with a photo of a similar design from the May 1946 issue of the magazine.
  • A 1948 Mainbocher gray wool suit with exquisite scrollwork is paired with a photograph in which the model wears a pith helmet and holds an hourglass, exemplifying what the magazine called “the covert look.”
  • A 1954 Christian Dior black coat is used to simulate Dior’s famous Mystère coat from his groundbreaking 1947 collection, as it appeared in a Dahl-Wolfe photograph. The similarities between the two garments highlight the lasting impact of the collection that Snow christened “A New Look.”
  • An evening gown by designer Charles James is juxtaposed with a Louise Dahl-Wolfe photograph that mimics the structural silhouettes of American evening wear represented in the magazine.
[L to R] Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946; Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946.

[L to R] Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946; Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946.

The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936-1958 is the first exhibition to focus on the interaction between these three individuals, highlighting collaboration as an essential component of the creative process. With their brilliant colors, arresting compositions, and faraway locales, the Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs that comprise the heart of the exhibition convey an idea of fashion as a conduit to a more vivid existence.

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[Exhibit] The Costume Institute’s: ‘Manus X Machina’

The Met's next fashion exhibit will seek to reconcile the oppositional relationship between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina).

The Met’s next fashion exhibit will seek to reconcile the oppositional relationship between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina).

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s  press preview for the Costume Institute’s upcoming exhibit, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” head curator Andrew Bolton touched on the traditionally dichotomous relationship between the handmade and machine-made in fashion, and the blurring of the two disciplines in the creation of haute couture and ready-to-wear.

Bolton started off by noting that since the birth of haute couture in the 19th century, the hand and the machine had been constructed as “discordant instruments of the creative process,” with the former seen as a symbol of “detrimental nostalgia” by its opponents, and the latter as a symbol of inferiority and dehumanization. With this exhibit, which opens in May, the Costume Institute hopes to “suggest a spectrum of practices whereby the hand and the machine are mutual protagonists in solving design problems.”

[L to R] Chanel Haute Couture Suit 63-68, Chanel Haute Couture wedding ensemble F/W 2014-2015

[L to R] Chanel Haute Couture Suit 63-68, Chanel Haute Couture wedding ensemble F/W 2014-2015

To that end, the exhibit will feature more than 100 pieces of haute couture and ready-to-wear, to be shown at both the Robert Lehman Collection galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries. The latter will focus more on the traditional aspects of haute couture, and will resemble a traditional maison de couture, while the former will present a series of case studies, “unraveling the mythologies of the hand/machine conundrum.” Traditional métiers of haute couture, such as embroidery and featherwork, will be presented alongside innovative techniques like 3-D printing and computer modeling.

YSL Couture evening dress F/W 69-70

YSL Couture evening dress F/W 69-70

Some items at the press preview included: a machine-sewn, hand-finished white synthetic scuba knit Chanel haute couture wedding ensemble, which, according to Bolton, served as the inspiration for the exhibit; an Iris van Herpen haute couture dress with hand-stitched strips of laser-cut silicone features and hand-applied gull skulls; and a Chanel haute couture suit with 3-D printed white polyamide overlay.

[L to R] Iris van Herpen couture dress F/W 2010, Iris van Herpen couture dress F/W 2013-2014

[L to R] Iris van Herpen couture dress F/W 2010, Iris van Herpen couture dress F/W 2013-2014

The exhibit will run from May 5 to Aug. 14, and designers in the exhibit will include Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Alber Elbaz, Karl LagerfeldIris van HerpenRei Kawakubo, Raf Simons, Miuccia Prada, Christopher Kane and more.

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