On the Runway: Fashion Begins to Speak Out Against President-Elect Donald Trump

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On the Runway: Fashion Begins to Speak Out Against President-Elect Donald Trump

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

American fashion is emerging from its shellshocked postelection state, and is beginning to wrestle with how it is going to handle the advent of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. And just like everything else affected by the recent vote, a great divide has opened up.

Diane Von Furstenberg, chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a very public supporter of Hillary Clinton, has sent a letter to the more than 500 members of the council urging them to consider, “How can we help on the eve of this new era?” and suggesting that the answer was to “embrace diversity, be open-minded, be generous and have compassion” and to “be an example of good.” Nonetheless, last week, Sophie Theallet, a French designer and self-described “immigrant” to New York who has made a signature out of elegance for all body types and ages, became the first C.F.D.A. member to declare publicly that she would not dress Melania Trump.

Ms. Theallet posted an open letter on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter explaining her position and inviting fellow designers to join her.

This got a lot of people very excited, and prompted headlines such as “Designer Sophie Theallet calls for Fashion Boycott of Melania Trump.” The post with the open letter has been retweeted about 7,700 times and liked around 14,000 times on Twitter alone, and it has provoked both cheers and vitriol in the comments, as might be expected. Mrs. Trump has not been associated with any of Ms. Theallet’s looks, however, and it is unclear whether the soon-to-be first lady had any intention of asking to wear Ms. Theallet’s clothes, so it is possible the stand is less dramatic than it first appears.

As of Monday, four days later, no other designer had officially joined Ms. Theallet’s cause, and she was declining all requests for further comment on her stand and on how it had been received.

Still, it broke the ice.

Humberto Leon, half of the design team behind Opening Ceremony and Kenzo (the other half is Carol Lim), who is not a member of the C.F.D.A., did post a message of encouragement on his Facebook page. “No one should and if she buys your clothes, tell people you don’t support it. You know who you are!” he wrote of dressing Mrs. Trump.

(Again, Mrs. Trump has not been associated with Opening Ceremony or with Kenzo.)

The day after Ms. Theallet’s letter, Fashionista, a fashion website with more than 2.5 million monthly readers, offered an editorial explaining, “How we plan covering (or not covering) Melania Trump’s fashion choices.”

“We plan on having no part in normalizing the Trump family, particularly when it comes to cataloging the first lady’s fashion choices,” it wrote. “As individuals, we don’t want to contribute to humanizing or making light of an administration that poses such serious threats to women, minorities, immigrants and more, and that has so many other troubling implications that we can’t ignore — but that we also can’t talk about in sufficient depth, because this is first and foremost a site about fashion and beauty. We won’t go so far as to say we’ll never write about what Mrs. Trump is wearing, but we’re going to reserve it for strictly newsworthy occasions.”

As to what those might be: the Met Gala, state dinners, the usual. What they might not be: stepping off Air Force One.

It will be interesting to see if such public statements of intent continue. More common, so far, has been the reaction of another designer, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not ready to take an official position, but who told me that he had been contacted by a member of the Trump family who wanted to borrow a dress for a public occasion and had simply pretended he did not get the message.

In any case, the conversation is heating up and the stakes are rising.

Personally, I think it makes more sense for everyone involved to take a deep breath and see what happens when Mr. Trump actually goes to Washington (or stays there for at least part of the week).

It is absolutely fair to ask questions and to watch closely: the choices Mr. and Mrs. Trump make about how they use (or don’t use) what they wear; whether they support homegrown industry or, as in the past, brands made overseas; what messages they send with their clothes — if they are about aspiration (the Reagan model), or accessibility (the Carter model), or diplomacy (the Obama model), or something altogether different (given the campaign, very possible).

And it is fair to ask whether it is better, in the end, for American fashion to reject an American president, or to try to effect change from within, in whatever way it can.

There will be plenty of time to judge, and plenty of evidence to judge by, when Mr. Trump actually takes office. That judgment will start with what is worn to the inauguration, an event that will send a very clear signal about his and his family’s intentions when it comes to sartorial semiology: whether it will be full of content, or simply style and fancy, signifying nothing.

Then we can all stop guessing, and start assessing.

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