Should we cheer Melania Trumps gold-green brocade sash?

Kusum Tewari

When President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disembarked from Air Force One at Gujarat’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel airport on February 24, all eyes and cameras were on them. While the President wore a navy blue suit, a bright yellow tie and a lapel pin, with the US flag, typical of his businessman-like sartorial sensibilities, the first lady, for her maiden visit, wore a pristine white jumpsuit in crème crepe, accentuated by an 18th century green and gold brocade sash around her waist, which evoked a cummerbund. It was designed by Nicolas Caito and Hervé Pierre, the creative team behind the New York-based fashion house Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre. Pierre also created Trump’s vanilla silk crepe off-shoulder gown for her inaugural ball as the First Lady in 2017.

A sketch of Melania Trump's dress that she wore upon her arrival in India
A sketch of Melania Trump’s dress that she wore upon her arrival in India

“The sash was cut in an early XX century Indian textile documents I found in Paris through very good friends who are collectors… The sash is made out of green silk and gold metallic thread. We used the border which was the most interesting piece we could use as it was a vintage piece,” said Pierre on Instagram on Monday.

The First Lady’s style choices are a powerful political tool to engage with the host country on diplomatic visits. Over the 36-hour trip, Trump will attend a state dinner in Delhi on Tuesday evening and going by her predecessor Michele Obama’s wardrobe choice for this formal event, she is likely to wear an Indian designer. Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau too wore Indian outfits for their state visit 2018. Designer Troy Costa, who is frequently called upon to style Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, believes Trump “will most definitely wear an Indian designer”. “Her outfit will incorporate embroidery or embellishments that are synonymous to India with the intent to embody a sense of solidarity. It might be a kurta in a pastel shade, because she is partial to soft and feminine colours,” says Troy.

“Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit,” wrote Michelle Obama in her autobiography Becoming while referring to her wardrobe as the President’s wife. It is interesting to note that when Trump stepped into the White House as First Lady, she wore a powder blue suit as homage to Jackie Kennedy Onassis who had donned a similar outfit for the same occasion during her time.

Celebrity stylist Ami Patel, whose clients include Priyanka Chopra and the Ambani family, however believes it is unlikely that Trump will endorse Indian labels because she has a select set of designers she is comfortable with. It is not an anomaly. “When Kate (Middleton) came to India, the only Indian designer she wore was Anita Dongre. While the rest of her outfits were India-inspired, they were designed by well-known UK-based brands, such as Temperley London and Jenny Packham.”

Obama visited India twice in 2010 and 2015 and on both occasions she wore garments created by Indian-American designers such as Rachel Roy, Bibhu Mohapatra and Naeem Khan, which gave the designers’ careers a considerable fillip, while also making a strong socio-political statement. She was widely photographed in printed or embellished knee-length dresses paired with jackets of varying lengths which earned her the moniker, The First Lady of Style.

However, unlike Obama, Trump hasn’t yet shown a proclivity to culturally diverse designers. She prefers Hervé Pierre, Givenchy and Ralph Lauren. On multiple occasions in the past, Trump’s wardrobe choices haven’t received favourable reviews and were deemed insensitive. She wore a Zara “I-Don’t-Care-Do-U?” jacket while visiting migrant children at the Texas-Mexico border and a colonial-inspired outfit with a jacket and fedora on a solo trip to Africa. The green and gold brocade sash is a good start but it remains to be seen what Melania Trump will choose to say with her wardrobe during this visit.

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