Designing the legacy of Melania Trump

Herve Pierre created United States First Lady Melania Trump's (left, with President Donald Trump) inaugural ballgown, a vanilla silk crepe evening column.
"When you work with a woman, it’s not about the clothes. It’s about the way a person is living: the way she eats, the way she organises, her flowers.’’ - DESIGNER HERVE PIERRE (above) on the most important thing he learnt before going out on his ownPHOTOS: NYTIMES
Herve Pierre created United States First Lady Melania Trump's (left, with President Donald Trump) inaugural ballgown, a vanilla silk crepe evening column.
Herve Pierre created United States First Lady Melania Trump's (right, with President Donald Trump) inaugural ballgown, a vanilla silk crepe evening column.PHOTOS: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Herve Pierre, 51, the former creative director of Carolina Herrera who as the designer of United States First Lady Melania Trump's inaugural gown shot to fame in January, reveals how he ended up as her stylist, where he shops and whether he will start his own label.

This interview, the latest instalment of a New York Times video series on the private working worlds of designers, has been edited and condensed.

What was the most important thing you learnt before you went out on your own?

When you work with a woman, it's not about the clothes. It's about the way a person is living: the way she eats, the way she organises, her flowers.

Now I ask a question every time I put an idea on paper: Where is this woman going?

If you don't have a purpose, it's just an idea on paper and the dress means nothing.

Can you give me an example?

Years ago, when I was at Balmain in Paris, we were doing a dress for the Queen of Jordan, I think.

She didn't want her left arm to move because she just needed to do "How do you do, how do you do" with her right hand.

And she didn't need to sit either. It was a little strange, but okay. You have to respect the lifestyle of the customer you're dressing.

You left Carolina Herrera last year after 15 years.

I was a little scared in the beginning... I was on one side of the gate, the golden gate, and suddenly I was in the wild.

But a big corporate environment can be difficult, specifically with the number of collections.

I was a bit burnt out. If you don't travel, if you have 200 samples to make in the next three months, when do you get inspired?

So now you are consulting for designers, the ballet and private clients?

Yes. I have more freedom. And I can pick my customers.

Let's talk about your most famous client. Did you know Mrs Trump beforehand?

I had never met her. I met her on Jan 3. She gave me a couple of key words. She didn't want a big ballgown. She wanted something sleek, ivory, vanilla. It had to be really, really right because it was going to be part of history - part of this country's history, but also part of what I will have achieved.

You are designing for her and helping style her wardrobe?

Yes. I do a bit of styling... but it's not really my forte. What interests me in this relationship is not just finding pretty clothes.

It's more about the legacy of this woman. Everybody has a different reaction to what she's wearing.

Some of the reactions are pretty polarising.

The beauty of this country is it's a democracy, so some people want to dress certain people and some people don't want to. I choose to.

If you forget about the (politics), or whatever, that's behind it, the needs are so interesting to answer.

Even if I'm not creating the clothes, it is very creative to consider how it's going to be perceived.

And when you decide, you divide.

I'm not always right. I make mistakes, and same for her. There's no How To Be The Perfect First Lady book. You learn on the spot.

You already had some experience dressing first ladies?

But not under my name. At Oscar (de la Renta), I worked on dresses for Mrs Hillary Clinton.

When I was at Herrera, the Obama administration had a state dinner for the French President. At the time, he did not have a wife, but a mistress.

So the embassy sent us a note asking that we not use black for the first lady of America because the French - I don't know if "mistress" is the right word? - was wearing black.

It could have been a little bit too sad to see both in black. But after I started to do the dress, which was a blue, the French President broke up with the mistress, so I was able to use black for Mrs Obama's dress.

How do you find the clothes for the First Lady?

My favourite place to shop... actually, there is none because each time it's a good experience.

I go to Bergdorf (Goodman), I go to Saks. Michael Kors, Dior.

What is challenging is when I cannot say what it is for. I always ask: "Was it already on the red carpet? Did somebody already wear it?" Because I don't want her to be on the Who Wore It Better list.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Designing the legacy of Melania Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe