Fashion begins to speak out about dressing and covering the Trumps

Melania Trump arrives before the start of the third US presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct 19, 2016.
Melania Trump arrives before the start of the third US presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct 19, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTimes/Washington Post) - American fashion is emerging from its shellshocked post-election state and is beginning to wrestle with how it is going to handle the advent of Mr Donald Trump as the 45th United States president. And just like everything else affected by the recent vote, a great divide has opened up.

Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and a very public supporter of Mrs Hillary Clinton, has sent a letter to the more than 500 members of the council urging them to consider, "How can we help on the eve of this new era?", and suggesting that the answer was to "embrace diversity, be open-minded, be generous and have compassion" and to "be an example of good".

Nonetheless, last week, French designer Sophie Theallet, a self-described "immigrant" to New York who has made a signature out of elegance for all body types and ages, became the first CFDA member to declare publicly that she would not dress Mrs Melania Trump.

She posted an open letter on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter explaining her position and inviting fellow designers to join her.

This got a lot of people very excited, and prompted headlines such as "Designer Sophie Theallet calls for Fashion Boycott of Melania Trump". The post with the open letter has been retweeted about 7,700 times and liked around 14,000 times on Twitter alone, and it has provoked both cheers and vitriol in the comments, as might be expected.

Mrs Trump has not been associated with any of Theallet's looks, however, and it is unclear whether the soon-to-be first lady had any intention of asking to wear Theallet's clothes, so it is possible the stand is less dramatic than it first appears.

So far, Mrs Trump does not appear to have worked directly with any designer for her public wardrobe - none are claiming credit for the clothes she has worn for big public moments - but has instead shopped retail. So if she decides to hop on to buy a Theallet dress, there is nothing the designer can do about it. Theallet's point is that she will not create one-off garments for her nor tout any association with the former model.

As of Monday, four days later, no other designer had officially joined Theallet's cause, and she was declining all requests for further comment on her stand and on how it had been received.

Still, it broke the ice.

Humberto Leon, half of the design team behind Opening Ceremony and Kenzo (the other half is Carol Lim), who is not a member of the CFDA, did post a message of encouragement on his Facebook page.

"No one should and if she buys your clothes, tell people you don't support it. You know who you are!" he wrote of dressing Mrs Trump.

(Again, Mrs Trump has not been associated with Opening Ceremony or with Kenzo.)

The day after Theallet's letter, Fashionista, a fashion website with more than 2.5 million monthly readers, offered an editorial on "How we plan covering (or not covering) Melania Trump's fashion choices".

"We plan on having no part in normalising the Trump family, particularly when it comes to cataloguing the first lady's fashion choices," it wrote. "As individuals, we don't want to contribute to humanising or making light of an administration that poses such serious threats to women, minorities, immigrants and more, and that has so many other troubling implications that we can't ignore - but that we also can't talk about in sufficient depth, because this is first and foremost a site about fashion and beauty.

"We won't go so far as to say we'll never write about what Mrs Trump is wearing, but we're going to reserve it for strictly newsworthy occasions." As to what those might be: the Met Gala, state dinners, the usual. What they might not be: stepping off Air Force One.

Meanwhile, according to Washington Post, outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has decided to ask its customers to show their politics by shopping.

Its fashion writer Robin Givhan wrote that the brand plans to donate 100 per cent of its global online and in-store sales from Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year - to environmental causes. The idea emerged from a brainstorming session as the company considered how to respond to the outcome of the presidential election and the installation of a commander in chief who has called climate change a myth ginned up by the Chinese government.

"We wanted to do something on Black Friday to make a big statement, to fund grass-roots activism and engagement," Patagonia chief exective Rose Marcario said in an interview. "We shouldn't let anyone of any political stripe destroy our planet."

Givhan wrote that a San Francisco marketing executive named Shannon Coulter has also launched #grabyourwallet, a social media campaign that includes a list of major retailers that carry Trump-branded merchandise and an appeal to boycott them, including the companies or people who own the outlets. The list includes Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Amazon, Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor.

She came up with the list after she saw a videotape in which Mr Trump made light of sexually assaulting women and then saw pages of Ivanka Trump merchandise online.

It is not just Trump products that are being shunned. Shoe-maker New Balance, which manufactures in the United States and has opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, also got caught up in the Trump controversy. That occurred after Mr Matthew LeBretton, its vice-president of public affairs, said in an interview: "The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction."

Many critics seized on his comments as an endorsement of Mr Trump, Reuters reported, and some consumers burnt their New Balance shoes. Backlash flared again after a neo-Nazi website proclaimed New Balance the "official shoes of white people".

The company said the original comments were only meant to reflect its opposition to the TPP, not support for Mr Trump.