Hollywood Image Makers Dissect Melania Trump's Convention Fashion Choices
"She’s telling her own story," says 'Veep' costume designer Kathleen Felix Hager. "She’s a privileged, wealthy woman who has access to a lot of things. That's who she is, and I don’t think it's wrong for her to be true to her own aesthetic. It’s just up to us to say, 'Is that what we want our first lady to be?' "
Although much of the news surrounding Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland is centered around allegations that she plagiarized parts of her speech from Michelle Obama, when it comes to getting dressed, Melania has a style all her own. And it’s worth looking at how she presented herself to the world on the biggest public stage she’s taken since her husband Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency.
In many ways, Trump’s look was more red carpet than White House. The silhouette was quite body-hugging, clinging to her posterior as she walked, and semi-sheer (revealing her nipples, some in the room observed, decrying a "wardrobe malfunction" that was not seen by viewers at home).
Trump, a former model who stands 5'11", chose a sleek white silk crepe gown with feminine bell sleeves by Roksanda Ilincic, a designer who is based in London, but hails from the former Yugoslavia, as Trump does. She bought the $2,190 dress from Net-a-Porter, according to WWD.
RNC SPEAKER: Melania Trump in a Roksanda Ilincic dress. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/WireImage)
In recent years, the cast of powerful female politicians on the real world and Hollywood stage has proved that it’s OK for women to embrace their femininity. Michelle Obama’s bare arms and strapless dresses; Sarah Palin’s popular red Naughty Monkey pumps; Veep star Selina Meyers’ (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) body-hugging sheaths; House of Cards’ character Claire Underwood’s (Robin Wright) sexy pencil skirts; and Scandal star Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) sophisticated white pantsuits come to mind as examples.
Trump’s brand of power style is “sort of this very glamorous glamazon really, a little bit over the top with the perfect blowout and perfect makeup,” says Veep costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager. “She wears this white, seemingly angelic dress but it’s very body conscious, with sleeves that are maybe a little fashion forward. She has a steely elegance, but it’s also sort of sharp-edged, with the sky high pointy shoes, it has a severity to it.”
Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo notes Trump’s penchant for clean lines and subtle design embellishments, a capelet, a puff or a bishop sleeve, for example. (It’s a look not unlike that of Scandal character Pope's as it turns out.)
LEADING LADIES: Kerry Washington as Scandal's Olivia Pope, left, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Veep's Selina Meyer. (Courtesy of ABC; Courtesy of HBO)
Paolo also notes the stagecraft involved with Trump’s convention dress. “From every angle, the white of the dress was set within a backdrop of red. While watching the speech I was very aware that the white of the stripe section of the flag was not behind her, so in terms of staging and angles it was very well designed.”
The question is how Trump’s look Monday night advanced the Trump script. Did it soften her image or her husband’s?
Felix-Hager thinks not. “She projects a very wealthy, privileged existence. If you were to open a fashion magazine, that’s what she looks like. Our current first lady projects an image that's much more accessible. While she has access to the same designers, her choice of color and print, her openness about shopping at J.Crew, women can relate to that much more than this made-up, coiffed, perfect image that Melania projects. You can’t argue with the fact that she’s a beautiful woman and has taste, but it’s not attainable for the normal human being.”
Then again, perhaps it’s wrong to suggest Trump change her style to suit her husband’s narrative.
“She’s telling her own story,” Felix-Hager says. “She’s a privileged, wealthy woman who has access to a lot of things. That’s who she is, and I don’t think it’s wrong for her to be true to her own aesthetic, it’s just up to us to say, 'Is that what we want our first lady to be?' ”
I was surprised Trump didn’t go with an American designer. Even if she didn’t feel obliged to do so to go along with her husband’s message of Making America Great Again, she could have done it to support the fashion industry here, with which she has close ties. (In Monday's speech, she credited her fashion designer mother Amalija Knavs for introducing her to the world of fashion and beauty, which eventually brought her to America, via the runways in Paris and Milan.)
“The look she chose could have been achieved by many amazing American designers, such as Michael Kors, Narciso Rodriguez or the current First Lady's favorite, Jason Wu,” says stylist Cristina Ehrlich, who works with Brie Larson, Louis-Dreyfus, Allison Williams and others.
Of course, many politicians and political spouses have worn clothing by international labels, and at inauspicious times, too, including Hillary Clinton, who in June was criticized for wearing a $7,497 Armani leather coat when delivering a speech about inequality, and Michelle Obama, who got flak in 2009 for wearing Lanvin sneakers at a food bank event.
In 2012, when Michelle Obama delivered her speech at the Democratic National Convention, she chose a custom pink brocade sleeveless fit 'n’ flare dress by Tracy Reese, an American designer, with matching J.Crew pumps.
FIRST LADY: Michelle Obama in a Tracy Reese dress at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)