Who Melania wears at the inauguration on Friday will be as important, if not more so, than what she wears. There is little doubt that she will look polished, expensive and chic in her two outfits – a day outfit for the swearing-in, and a ballgown for evening. Anyone expecting an excess of cleavage or bling has not been paying attention to the makeunder (tone-it-down makeover, as also undergone by Kim Kardashian) that has seen Trump embrace a new look: neutrals (the camel coat she wore on election day), on-trend statement sleeves (the white Roksanda dress she wore last summer) and unexpected fashion flourishes (who can forget the Pussygate pussy bow?).
But to dress such a divisive figure is a bold fashion statement that will put a designer in direct opposition to Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, two very influential figures in the American fashion world, who have both said they will not dress her. So, her choice of designer name is a loaded one.
Ralph Lauren has emerged as the front runner. 2017 marks Ralph’s 50th anniversary, and an inauguration outfit would ensure he starts the landmark year on the front pages. Moreover, such is Ralph’s stature in the American fashion industry that even those opposed to dressing Melania would be unlikely to directly criticise him – especially on his anniversary. This would be a coup for the Trumps, as the Ralph Lauren aesthetic – navy blazers, suede belted jackets, blanket coats, Gatsby-esque gowns – represents a highly sophisticated, idealised version of the American dream, one that the Trump baseball caps speak of.
Karl Lagerfeld is being mooted as a contender. Lagerfeld, who has always taken a mischievous delight in being politically incorrect, is not to be ruled out, although it would be a boldly unpatriotic move on the part of the Trumps. If it were under the Chanel label, this would be a provocative choice, as Coco Chanel’s controversial political connections during the second world war would be likely to bring the word “Nazi” brought back into the conversation, while a bold line of comparison would be drawn between Melania and the Chanel-wearing Jackie Kennedy. However, Lagerfeld also designs for Fendi, whose proprietor Bernard Arnault had a meeting with Trump recently.
Tommy Hilfiger’s name appears to have fallen down the shortlist, but he must still be in the running, having been the most high-profile American designer to state publicly he would be proud to dress her. The Tommy Hilfiger brand has always been a firmly populist one, championing mass consumption over exclusivity. In September, Hilfiger staged a funfair, rather than a catwalk show, at New York fashion week. And Hilfiger, like Trump, has embraced the power of social media, hiring Insta-model Gigi Hadid to co-design a collection.
The rumour mill is in full swirl. And there is another debate yet to be had: who will dress Ivanka?