ON THE RUNWAY
Not quite three months after standing supportively, and silently, behind her husband, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, as he resigned his position after losing the Brexit vote, Samantha Cameron is about to do what, to my knowledge, no spouse of a global leader has ever done before.
Start a fashion brand.
Confirming the news, which was first rumored in October when she registered the company name “Samantha Cameron Studio Limited,” Mrs. Cameron told British Vogue, which will reveal first looks in its December issue: “I felt that there were a lot of American and French brands out there that fit that bracket of designer contemporary with the right price point and the right styling. But there aren’t that many British brands which fill that space.” She is aiming to fill it.
The new line, which consists of 40 styles, will be called Cefinn and will be available at Net-a-Porter, Selfridges and cefinn.com.
As to the clothes and their style, “Well obviously you’re thinking about yourself, but at the same time it can’t be all about yourself because that would be pointless,” she said to British Vogue. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying stuff on my friends.”
An image released by the magazine shows her in an ecru midcalf trumpet skirt with a white windowpane print and matching belted shell. It looks perfectly proper and accessible (and less obviously “fashion-y” than some of the looks she wore during her husband’s time in office).
On the one hand, this career segue makes a fair amount of sense. Before she landed in 10 Downing Street, Ms. Cameron was the creative director of the British brand Smythson and responsible for turning it into a buzzy heritage handbag house. As W.P.M. (wife of the Prime Minister), she remained a part-time consultant for the brand — attending Smythson’s New York store opening last March, for example. Her sister, Emily Sheffield, is the deputy editor of British Vogue.
As W.P.M., Ms. Cameron’s clothing choices were deliberate (and diplomatic), in the model of Michelle Obama, and as a result widely watched: She was applauded for wearing pieces at many different price points and by many different British designers, including Marks & Spencer, LK Bennett, Peter Pilotto, Christopher Kane, Erdem and Roksanda.
She also became the ambassador to the British Fashion Council, making it her official duty to support the industry, and hosted numerous cocktail parties for London Fashion Week on Downing Street.
And, given the way pretty much anyone with a public profile and popular image, from rock stars to athletes, has seized on fashion as a career forward, it was probably only a matter of time before politicians or their spouses joined the trend.
Especially considering how much time and thought they are now forced to devote to what they wear, and all its possible meanings, they may as well put all that background research to good use. (A crisis strategist once told me he spent hours discussing tie color with a client who was a head of state when they could have been talking about the peace accords.)
Mrs. Cameron is in her mid-40s — she clearly has more career left in her — so why not? And other former Downing Street wives (and other political wives) have continued their pre-government careers post-government.
It’s just that the next step has been a little more obviously worthy than fashion.
Consider perhaps the most famous former first lady with a career (at least in recent times), Hillary Clinton. Or Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a Queen’s Counsel. When her husband left office, she established the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which focuses on empowering women in developing economies.
Or Sarah Brown, the wife of Gordon Brown, another former prime minister, who founded the children’s charity Theirworld and became the executive chairwoman of the Global Business Coalition for Education (among other things).
There are exceptions: Carla Bruni Sarkozy, a former model and the wife of former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, became the face of Bulgari jewelers the year after her husband left office, and it didn’t raise many eyebrows.
But in this case, “The response to what she does is going to be in part about how we process political figures,” Robert Burke, a luxury consultant and founder of Robert Burke Associates, said of Mrs. Cameron. “She’s going to be judged through the lens of her name, and her name is Cameron.”
And that’s even if the name on the label in the clothes is different; even if they are clothes for many, as opposed to the exclusive few. Especially if she continues to be her own best model.
Her products will be assessed not just as a nice skirt, say, or a pretty dress, but as a nice skirt and a pretty dress by the woman married to the former Conservative prime minister of Britain, the man who lost the Brexit vote, with all the implications and emotions that are attached to perceptions of him and his party. It is thanks to both, after all, that Mrs. Cameron is as well known as she is. You can’t detach the designer and her history.
And though the new generation of first ladies has taught us that fashion is an increasingly powerful personal and political tool, and a universal one, it is still widely dismissed as frivolous and unseemly. (I have the social media responses to many column about the politics of dress to prove it.)
As a result, for someone in her position, to make clothes her focus is a risk.
I honestly hope her brand is a success, because if it is, it may legitimize fashion as the serious choice it clearly is, and help break yet another expectation that wives of leaders behave a certain way and reside in a certain box. But I don’t think it will neccessarily be a seamless transition.
Something to watch for in the new year.